About a month and a half ago I was contacted by the staff at PositiveLite.com with the idea of doing an article on the Human Canvas Project with artist Matti McLean (above) and my immediate internal response was YES. It’s not very often they ask me to do anything specific so I am thrilled to be a part of the process.
As it was originally explained to me, The Human Canvas Project is taking 100 individuals, painting their bodies through a creative process involving the subject to select the colours of paints and a music list to be played while they are painted, followed by a journal article written. The artist, Matti McLean, will be having an art gallery exhibit and produce a book. The art exhibit will be on Saturday November 3rd at Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto.
Thus we dove into trying to connect. I was to eventually learn that artists and yoga teachers have funny schedules. I am not sure why that wouldn’t have surprised but nonetheless we finally set a date and got the directions to meet up. I am so excited!
As The Human Canvas Facebook page states, it’s about “an examination of who we are, how we see ourselves and how we are perceived through the medium of Body Painting”. I am no stranger to body art or decoration - the seven tattoos and ¾ sleeve I have in process are a reflection of that. But here was a unique opportunity to have artwork all over my body on a massive scale.
Ensuring that I wasn’t late or got lost, I decided to grab a trusty Zipcar to get me there (more about my love of Zipcars here.) I got there just on time. Matti came out to meet me and we didn’t waste too much time. Out came the computer and the song selection process began. My first problem was, I didn’t know how to work a Mac (I’m so PC!) so I was running out of time in my selection and Matti had to help me out. “How old am I getting that I can’t work a computer?” I wondered.
Next I was asked to select the colours: Black, White, Dark Green, Dark Blue and Purple. I enjoy the colours of the end of the spectrum more than the beginning. Matti was surprised as the previous person to me had chosen almost identical colours (with the exception of Purple) and he was also a writer. We did a quick “before” picture and then off went my shirt and the painting began.
The music started with a Green Day song I love, Good Riddance (Time of Your Life). Oddly a sad song but it makes me happy. I used to be all melancholy about it when I was ill ten years ago and a bit crazy about it. I told many friends that it was the song I wanted played at my funeral. Boy, I am just a barrel of fun! But now, as strange as it is, it reminds me of who I was, where I came from to be here in the skin and body that I currently am in. A skin that right now was in the process of being changed.
So the songs began to play and Matti painted. I tried not to watch where the brush strokes were going or what colours were being used in what combinations. It was all quite calming for me. I thought, since I’m sitting here, I should perhaps be journalistic of some sort and ask questions and at least be somewhat engaging.
Through our discussion it seems this art project came out of a place of bad criticism for Matti. A tough time with a verbally abusive co-worker gave birth to liquid thoughts and ideas for creating and inspiring others. He mentions to me as he turns my head and paints my neck that out of all the projects he has been involved with, none have garnered as much attention as this one. I proposed that perhaps it was the interaction – that people get to be a part of the art. For someone who has little to no knowledge of art and can barely draw a stick person, let alone interpret the difference between a Monet and a Picasso, I thought I sounded smart. It occurred to me much later that perhaps people aren’t a part of the art, that they were THE art and the paint was a tool to finally let them shine.
The paint at some point began to harden and pull into another layer of skin. There were certain areas that I became quite aware of their touch and how it moved. It wasn’t too long before we were done.
Before taking the pictures I asked if he could take some for me. When he asked me to start there was a bit of direction but then the yogi in me took over. I started doing trick movements with my arms but started to break the paint. Then I had a thought. I asked him to give me one second and I turned around and faced the wall. Through good genes, a strong consistent practice of Ashtanga yoga and dumb luck, I am pretty bendy. With that I arched backwards with my hips to the wall and smiled. Oddly in this place of imbalance, I feel quite comfortable. I think I always have. Much of my practice and life may have been a struggle, but since the start of yoga backbends have come easy for me. Life just seems easier upside down. And maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s just who I am. And I don’t think I would want it any other way.
After the project I don’t think I ever thought about the clean up! So I am in a bathroom scrubbing at my skin under a faucet as tiny strips of it scrape off under pressure. I am pulling and tearing and watching my reflection begin to shift back to the skin I started the day with. When it’s all over and I’m cleaned I look once more and a part of me is sad it’s over. It all happened so quickly and before I know it, I’m on my way to drop off the car and head home. It was later that evening I realized while getting ready for bed that I missed a small part. One tiny circle of space on the back of my neck went unchecked. So perhaps the art isn’t really washed away but with me all the time. Or perhaps I just enjoy backbends more than I thought. There is no way I could have seen it unless I lowered my head down and looked backwards. And maybe that way of being is not for me.
WAIT! There’s more!
Would you like to be a part of The Human Canvas Project? You can be! Here’s how:
The winner(s) will be decided by the artist, Matti McLean and I. So come and enter and let’s see what happens! Jai!