Body painters put to the test in TV contest
Season 2 of 'Skin Wars' features an eclectic cast from around the world.
A dozen artists – paints and brushes at the ready – begin creating their first assignment, inspired by chess pieces. The twist: their canvases are alive.
Welcome to “Skin Wars,” Game Show Network’s body painting competition that begins its second season on June 10, airing Wednesdays at 9 p.m. Hosted by Rebecca Romijn – who was airbrushed head-to-toe as Mystique in the “X-Men” movies – the contest offers the winning artist $100,000, a custom brush line and a trip to the World Body Painting Festival in Austria.
“The competition is tougher, and the quality of painting is exceptional this season. No one will be bored watching it,” promises judge Craig Tracy, a world-renowned champion body painter who runs a gallery for the art in New Orleans. “The challenges are so creative. We’re asking them to create miracles in four or five hours,” he says, likening the pressure to “boot camp for Navy SEALS. It’s insane, but they deliver.”
As a judge, Tracy looks for artistic technique and “magic, a spark of creativity that blows my mind.” To win, “it takes nailing the challenge, making it stand out and not being cliché, and amazing visuals. It’s the overall package,” adds executive producer Jill Goularte, who spends much of the year traveling to body painting festivals and networking within the community to scout contestants.
“We’ll get a pool of maybe 100, chisel it down to about 40, set up a stage for them to do a painting on models. We give them six or seven hours to paint. We can see their character, who they are, what their style ability is and what they can complete in the time frame,” says Goularte.
Of the 12 who made the cut, many hail from all over the United States, but several have international provenance: Lana Chromium was born in Russia, Marcio Karam is from Brazil, and Avi Ram is from Israel.
Ram took up airbrushing 10 years ago, teaching himself a technique he later employed on T-shirts and other items as the owner of the flea market shop in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, he opened five years ago, after coming to the States. The first season of “Skin Wars” inspired him to try painting flesh. “It’s a canvas that can move,” he explains of the lure. “It’s a challenge to paint different body shapes, and I love a challenge.”
Painting since she was a child in different mediums, Chromium painted on skin for the first time while at university and became a body painter six years ago after moving to San Diego. She loves its versatility and using different techniques, combining paintbrush and airbrush, in her pieces. “Body painting is a very unique art form for me,” she says. "It's temporary – you paint, take a photograph and wash it away. It's very inspirational. It connects art, body, and mind. It's always fresh and new.”
With its ticking clock, “Skin Wars” was absolutely that for the competitors. “It was a lot harder than I expected,” says Cheryl Ann Lipstreu, who wasn’t used to dealing with cutthroat competition and jealousy she attributed to having won competition titles, including the North American Body Painting Championship in 2013, two months after she’d first tried the art form.
Lipstreu, from Belews Creek, North Carolina, is a classically trained portraitist and muralist who was introduced to body painting as a model for world champion Madeline Greco, for whom she first posed on her (also painted) horse, Peanut. The first “Skin Wars” episode indicates she’s a frontrunner, underscored by how well she’s done lately.
In May, she returned to Los Angeles, where “Skin Wars” was filmed last winter, for the inaugural Body Fine Art Competition, and took the $5,000 first prize for her most elaborate opus to date. Lipstreu, who’s on a body painting tour of Europe this month from Madrid to the World Championship In Austria, also plans to create a body-painting magazine.
Chromium also competed at Body Fine Art with “Skin Wars” participants Lipstreu, Ram and Rio Sirah, and thrives on the competition – and the series provided plenty of that. “Every time, you need to surprise the judges and make your piece stand out to them while expanding your boundaries," says the mother of a 5-year-old budding artist daughter. “You never know on who you will be painting, or who you will be painting with. You always need to be alert and ready to paint using only your imagination.”
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