Bodies as Works of Art

This story appears in the Fall 2014 issue of Eidé Magazine. Read it here, or click to read it in the issue below. 

Story by: Meghan Jackson | Photos courtesy of The Chelko Foundation 

Bodypainting is one of the oldest established forms of creative expression; one that has been making its way back to mainstream pop culture through art and design. What was once used by indigenous peoples to show a rite of passage has resurged in recent years as a bona fide art form, and no one can attest to this more than The Chelko Foundation. Established in 2005 to commemorate artist Paul Chelko’s wife, Debbie, the foundation raises money for humanitarian grants with the mis- sion of creating a world free of gender bias. Their iconic annual fundraiser, The North American Bodypainting Championship, recruits artists from around the globe to create original works on live subjects while raising funds for their mission.

“We’ve changed venues every year because we’ve outgrown every one we’ve been at,” says Executive Director Randi Layne of the event’s success. The competition is the main and final gathering of the three-day affair called Living Art America. The first year of the fundraiser was in 2010, three years after Chelko’s passing, so you can imagine the serendipity Layne felt when she recently discovered candid photos of the founder and dear friend bodypainting a model in the 1970s.

“He liked to mix mediums, that was the way he painted more than anything,” Layne reminisces of Chelko. “He was a beautiful portrait painter as well as an abstract artist — oils, pen and ink. Paul was a prolific artist.” And while Chelko was in no way known as a bodypainter, he was featured as “The Amazing Painted Man” with a painted model on the December 1994 issue of Peachtree Magazine for his love of art and out-of-the-box way of thinking. So, when Layne explains her decision to host a bodypainting fundraiser to carry out Chelko’s legacy of empowering women through art, education and partnership, she knew it was something he would have approved of. “There was no way I could hold a fundraiser that was a typical fundraiser for the foundation. He would have never put up with that, ever.”