It had been 34 months or so since I’d last been in Saint Petersburg. The bookstore on Nevsky Prospect was crowded as always.
I was not there to shop, however. My wife’s son, Vadik Kelarev, was going to marry Rima Grang after a 4 year courtship and I was the husband of the groom’s mother.
Once I realized I’d be flying trans-Atlantic for the wedding, I figured maybe I could track down some Russian body paint artists and interview them. Add a day or two to my trip at most. Get some stories. I had no idea I’d end up with watching fine art be created in a demonstration created specifically for the American guy.
And so it was I found myself at Vadik and Rima’s wedding on November 3, watching them sign the official record of marriage in Wedding Palace No. 1, St. Petersburg.
Saint Petersburg is roughly the same latitude as Anchorage, so it is colder than Portland. Lying on the delta of the Neva River where it empties into the Gulf of Finland, it has been called the Venice of the North.
When I set out to find some Russian artists to meet, I recalled that last summer there was a young Russian artist who had finished 2nd at the 2011 World Body Painting Championships. Contacting her through Facebook, I learned Kristina Elizarova was teaching classes in various cities of Eastern Europe and producing the First Annual Body Arts Festival in Saint Petersburg (prior to my arrival November 1). She promised to assemble some of the leading painters and models to meet with me three weeks later.
And so it was, after the successful wedding we set out for Art-Obstrel!, where we met Kristina’s team. Our first day consisted of interviews with models and artists. Because of the language differences, the interviews were conducted with the assistance of an interpreter. I had sent Kristina some topics that I would ask the team members so perhaps they could ponder the theme. And although we had discussed the best way to communicate through an interpreter (ideally short 1 – 3 sentence answers), I found myself more than once watching a story unspool in 2 or 3 paragraph answers – which I could not understand and which my interpreter could only give me a 2 or 3 sentence summary. But… I’m thinking there were some good stories told.
The next day, everyone re-assembled at around 11 am for painting and presenting. Her crew consisted of 4 models, 5 artists and assistants, two photographers, a camera operator, the studio manager/tech guy and a a French man, John Supermorbak. I asked for a team photo – John was getting coffee – and thus:
I’ve been around body painters at various Portland events. I’ve never seen the paint cases of someone who competes at the World Championships.
I asked Kristina to estimate how much money it would cost to buy all the paints she had. She thought for a bit and then gave me a number in rubles which at current exchange rates would be roughly $2000.00. For instance, it took one cake of water color to pain Moon. One cake is 32 grams (a little over 1 ounce for the non-stoners) and can run from $8 to $20.
I do want to thank Andrew Shibanov, who was the camera operator through both days of shooting. All footage that is in the Kickstarter video or completed film from this shoot is his work. Here he has set up for a close-up of Alex Moon.
By the way, the 32 grams of blue to cover Alex Moon was just the beginning. Then she pulled out her Harder & Steenback “Infinity” airbrush and…
She also had an airbrush and knew how to use it.
Upon my return home, I began to read a bit more about the airbrush and how it is used and how it works. The effects you see here come from artists who have not only great eye-hand coordination, but delicate trigger fingers. Don’t try this at home.
Body paint art is rapid (relatively) large-scale art that also includes fine details. I am grateful to Alexandr Senchuk, who took almost all of these “behind the scenes” shots. Not only is he a great photographer; he is the fiance of Kristina Elizarova and is the man behind the 1st place finish for the 2011 World Body Paint Festival photo awards, digital art, when he created:
While the artists are the headliners of the body paint community, the models are also talented. They must stand (or sit) attentively for hours (including only short breaks, they were at work for 12 hours), adopt strange poses and then present the finished painting in poses and movements that best showcase the creation…
…only to remove it.
In Kristina’s Saint Petersburg painting demonstration, her team began painting (or being painted) around noon and finished long after midnight.
When it came time for the presentation and final filming and photos, everyone stopped whatever they were doing and watched the models hit pose after pose after pose.
Once the model had finished with photos, he or she immediately began to remove the paint.
Maria had to catch a 2:30 am train back to Moscow for the start of her week. Olga had her day job to return to at 8:30 am.
During the interviews of the models the prior day, I asked them if they could remember the details of each of the times they had been painted in the past. Each swore they could.
Watching them say their good byes and go into the cold night, I could understand why.