Body artist Natalie Fletcher blurs the line between landscape and portrait painting: using living, breathing canvases, she blends the human body seamlessly into its surroundings. In an exclusive interview with Creative Arts Advocate, she discusses her “Bodies Across America” project, using art to address negative body images.
Natalie Fletcher started out as a painter in the traditional sense, and experimented with various mediums and canvases throughout her four years of art school. As she was searching for a job after graduation, she came across an ad for a body painter, and applied on a whim. She got the job, and fell in love with the combination of interaction and creation that is unique to body painting. In 2014, Fletcher had the opportunity to participate in the body painting reality show “Skin Wars,” and wound up the Season One winner.
Although “Skin Wars” has helped to bring the art form into the public eye, body painting is still an unpopular form of artistry. Natalie does not let this bother her, however; in fact, in a conversation with Creative Arts Advocate, she divulged, “Part of me is glad not many people try this. I think if everyone tried working like this, they’d realize it’s the best way.”
In 2015, Natalie Fletcher concluded a 200-day tour of the U.S., painting volunteers in each state for her “Bodies Across America” project. Working in a range of locations—from public parks, to national monuments, to volunteers’ backyards—the painter smoothly camouflages her subjects into the background. She often lets the models choose the location themselves; not only are they often more familiar with the area, but additionally, while some are comfortable being painted in the middle of Times Square, others prefer more remote locales. Most of the models had never been painted before, and yet, they look perfectly at ease in the final photographs. Fletcher explains that she paints over the areas of the body that people are typically most self-conscious about first. Once people have a layer of paint covering their body, she observes, they visibly relax. She adds, “I always offer to strip down to my underwear too . . . I’ve only had a couple of people take me up on that though.”
In “Bodies Across America” and beyond, Fletcher’s work tends to center around body positivity and celebrating the human figure. Her creations reflect the idea that all bodies are beautiful, and that everyone has the capacity to be transformed from an “ordinary person” into a work of art. She elaborated in our interview, “I ask models not to send me a picture of themselves, because to me, it doesn’t matter what they look like . . . I had men and women of all sizes model for me, I had transgender models . . . I worked with people from ages 7 to 70.”
Using Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter, and even Tinder, Natalie Fletcher managed to connect with people who were excited to take part in the project in states where she originally knew no one. She recalls that she fell in love with each and every one of the volunteers she met on her national tour, declaring that after experiencing the whirlwind journey of “Bodies Across America,” she never wants to go back to “non-living” canvases.
After returning from her trip, Natalie collaborated with the Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation to raise awareness of psoriasis, which she herself has had for most of her life. Psoriasis is a chronic condition in which skin cells build up and form itchy, dry patches that can in some instances be incredibly painful. She recounts that when Novartis called her, they didn’t know she had been personally affected by the condition; Fletcher leapt at the chance to increase public empathy and understanding surrounding the issue. She explains that body painting not only opens viewers’ eyes to a little-known issue, but can positively alter a person’s body image.
After an exhausting but invigorating few years, Fletcher took some time off to relax and reflect on her recent projects. She divulged, however, that she is ready to start creating again—and is beginning by painting herself. The one drawback to working with “living canvases,” she explains, is that she often find herself in a situation where she feels inspired, but doesn’t have someone to paint. But as recent experiences have shown, Natalie Fletcher refuses to let inconveniences and obstacles derail her projects. Ready to dive back into painting, she remarks, “Artists, we aren’t in it for the money, we make art because we love it.”
To view more work from Natalie Fletcher, visit www.artbynataliefletcher.com