Trina Merry: Body Painting & My Human Canvases

An Interview with the Body Painter

White Apple Blossom, Body Painting by Trina Merry

Trina Merry uses human canvas to paint her imagination. A former apprentice of the renowned body painter Craig Tracy, Trina’s work bears all the hallmarks of an installation, transient on the passage of time (after all, it only requires a little effort in washing the paints off from the body!).

Trina graduated with a BA in Film studies and worked in the art department in Hollywood on major films and TV shows. She was introduced to the art of body painting in the year 2006 and finally surrendered to its charms about four years ago. The results are there for everyone to view and appreciate.

You have studied film and were aware how representation and dramatisation of human body could be done on screen for the sake of the story. Did this aspect help you when you started in this art form? Did you also have formal training in painting?

I am attracted to new media art forms and interactive works. This is what first pulled me to choose film as a medium in college and to work in the art department in Hollywood. However, as I pursued them I began to feel as mechanical as the technologies we were using. The environment felt fabricated and lacked expression, so I chose to take a sabbatical and paint near Yosemite National Park. This was an amazing time of self–reflection in my work and it was during this time that I discovered bodypainting. My first major work using bodypaint was a video installation – a totem pole made out of televisions. After that project, I was infatuated with the art form because it was a process which is very product oriented, human and ancient yet contemporary. Since it is not yet taught in art schools, I was very fortunate to study fine art bodypaint under award-winning Craig Tracy who opened the first all bodypaint gallery in the world & has had lots of success as a leader & working artist.

How exciting is it to use the human body as a canvas for expressing an artist’s imagination? How much planning is needed beforehand for flawless execution of an image?

I find the human body to be the most interesting surface to work with. The body is a very immediate surface to work with and aids me in staying connected to the present. It’s incredibly difficult to paint on a human being – they keep breathing, have temperature needs, have to eat… it’s annoying. I can’t work on a piece, get mad at it and come back later, because the paint itself would be smudged at best, or the art piece could have walked off! So painting on human beings forces me to do my absolute best that day and work intensively. What comes out is a beautiful process that feels almost redemptive. My human canvases call it ‘transformational’ and it does indeed carry with it a feeling of being sacred. I’ve never experienced this working in any other medium. And it is the antithesis of working in Hollywood where you are creating a specific fake moment. My work is unpredictable, evolutionary, and incredibly real.

Human Motocycle, Body Painting by Trina Merry
Human Motorcycle

From the models’ part, this is also a gruelling physical exercise. Even considering that everyone involved in a project like this is a professional, has it ever felt to be a constraining factor for you? What importance does working in a ‘team’ has in large scale projects?

Certainly. This media has limitations just like other media. However, something very inspiring and humbling to me is seeing how far you can push the human body through will and discipline. My human canvases create extraordinary shapes and are dedicated to their craft. My art form could not exist without my human canvases, so they are incredibly important.

I think for all artists working on a larger scale, a team is a necessity.

Your ‘Human Motorcycle’ series received international fame. As an artist tell us of your impression of the whole project. Beyond this project do you have a personal favourite that you would like to share?

It’s been exciting and overwhelming but I’ve just stayed grounded. I learned how valuable branding and marketing are to my work which was unexpected. I aim to create exceptional work every time and of course, it feels amazing when other people connect with the work & place meaning on it.

The Human Motorcycle Project was wonderful. I suppose if I have to choose additional favourites it would be the Golden Gate Bridge and Splatter 1 & 2, though I’m always happy when people tell me what their favourite works are & what meaning it brings to their lives.

Splatter, Body Painting by Trina Merry
Metamorphosis, Body Painting by Trina Merry

If you are requested to reflect on the past year what would be the defining moment, learnings and/or experiences? Any specific exploration planned for the year 2013?

2012 has been a very rewarding year. I jumped full-time into being a working artist for a living, something many people just dream about, I just had a very successful pop–up art show where I sold 13 works, I created an installation for a museum, I worked on 3 major commercial ads this last year, and I got to break into a hospital and paint cancer patient Leslie Krom (article about her in Cosmopolitan Magazine). I am so thankful for all of the people in my life and the great achievements we have made!

In 2013 I will be working on creating 2 works a month making an extraordinary series, creating some interesting commissions (private and commercial), learning photography to create the work entirely, create more works & do artist lectures in museums, go to the World Bodypaint Festival in Austria and I will be doing research & looking for a gallerist in San Francisco to work with on starting a gallery in 2014.

Portrait of Trina Merry

A little bit more about Trina Merry

Over a cup of coffee, Trina becomes ‘curiouser and curiouser’ as she studies Alice in the Wonderland. She also likes going through the pages of White Noise and America. Casablanca, V for Vendetta, Gattaca, Inception and Melancholia are the movies that fascinate Trina. To borrow a line from her favourite singer Jimi Hendrix’s creations, the city of Paris keeps on crooning ‘Hear my Music’ in Trina’s ears and she finds it irresistible. Do you wish to know what tickles her cerebellum most? A sumptuous plate of sushi!

Find more of her work at her website.

Image Courtesy: Trina Merry