All-over paintjob

Remember finger painting as a kid, when getting yourself covered in the stuff was more fun than the actual act of colouring? Well, there’s no need for the fun to stop when you grow up. Enjoy the Algarve talks to Loulé-based bodypaint artist Uschi Kuhn about what it takes to transform a human canvas into a fantasy figure.

Pictures by Kyle Rodriguez

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine June 2016


Before she started, Uschi Kuhn changed her clothes three times. Not because she was afraid they’d get covered in stains, but to influence her mood. “First I dressed in white, then swapped it for black. Then I realised I needed more energy, so I put on a red top,” she explains.

Colours aren’t only to make people look pretty. For Uschi, they’re also a way of invoking feelings and expressing herself. The German artist has been decorating bodies for as long as she can remember. “When I was a child, about 4 or 5 years old, I’d use to cut off my Barbies’ hair and colour the dolls with nail polish. My parents weren’t too happy about that…” Still, they can’t have been surprised as art runs in the Kuhn family; the third generation of hairdressers, Uschi had a salon in Germany before she moved to the Algarve in 2003.

From her work in theatre make-up, ‘normal’ painting and sculpting, getting into bodypainting was a natural development. “A carpet shop next to my salon wanted to make their opening day more interesting. So I joined in and painted people into carpets.”

Soon it became a major part of her career. International competitions and shows followed, including a tasting colour event in Vilamoura in 2013, where she combined her colourful art with food, music and chakra’s (spiritual centres of spiritual power in the human body, red.). “One time I did a show for a vampire musical,” Uschi recalls. “I had the models walking with vampire teeth and fake blood coming out of the corners of their mouth. A few weeks later, Karl Lagerfeld did the same in Paris.”

In the studio in Loulé, model Julie Rushman stands as still as possible while Uschi slaps on some more green paint with a sponge. Not an easy job as she’s already been standing like this for over two hours. Uschi: “I only do her front, not her back or her legs. It’d take ages otherwise; we’d be here all day.” The Scottish Julie came in looking like a normal person, but is soon transformed into a fantasy figure. Covered in honeysuckle, she blends in perfectly with the subtropical background of Uschi’s garden where these wild flowers grow abundantly. No coincidence, as that’s where the artist got her inspiration from. “It’s based on a feeling I had when walking in my garden; Algarve springtime with sun, nature and flowers.”

During the painting, the importance of colours and their emotions shows again. On paper, Uschi had the honeysuckle image drawn out in orange and red tones. But after meeting Julie, she decided for green and yellow instead. “The colours I planned to use didn’t fit her; they were too aggressive, whereas Julie is more delicate,” she explains. “Colours are my world; you can use them to express everything.” Impulsive decisions like this one characterise her work. “I always go with the flow.”

Not wanting to be restricted in any way, Uschi doesn’t use stencils or motifs. She draws the outlines, then fills them in, using sponges, brushes, pencils and even her fingers to smudge the paint out. The paint is on a water basis, imported from Germany. While shaping the body, dark and light areas are important. Yellow flowers are added and even a bit of brownish purple for the branches.

Seeing Uschi’s steady hand, it seems an easy job, but her technique has evolved over time, while painting hundreds of bodies. Any tips for beginners? “Choose colours that suit your model. And make sure they’re comfortable. Just start and you’ll improve by doing.” Any no-go areas? “You can paint anywhere on the body, I’ve even done a girl’s bum once. It looked magnificent.”

In order to truly transform Julie, paint isn’t enough. “It needs to be a whole, which means not just the body, but also the face, hair and other accessories,” Uschi explains as she adds a self-made headpiece of which the flowers match Julie’s bright yellow false eyelashes. Branches of real honeysuckle complete the transformation, making it hard to see where Julie ends and the garden begins.

On shows, Uschi has used sparklers (yes, they were lit), tinfoil and even an entire water fountain as a headpiece, with water accidentally pouring out when the model bowed at the end, drenching the paintjob. But unlike a stage show, where she’d seal the paint with spray so it stays on, here a simple shower will do the trick to get clean again. Julie though, declines a shower and puts on her clothes over the painting, leaving like a honeysuckle leaf. Doesn’t she mind her clothes getting dirty? “Not at all, I’m leaving it on the whole day! It’s so pretty; I don’t think I can bring myself to wash it off afterwards.”

Want to know more? Contact Uschi via email or phone (+351-916357718).


See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine June 2016

Posted in Features, People.