When someone is driven by passion or ambition we say they have fire in the belly. It’s one of many idioms that describe mental or spiritual states in bodily terms. These common sayings reveal our sense that the whole body, not just the head, is the vehicle of the soul and a field of clashing forces.
Body painting is an ancient art of transformation, to make the warrior more terrible, the young mate more enticing, or the shaman more of a dream creature. I have used it as a medium of discovery, exploring the landscape of the body and finding the forces that lie beneath the surface. In the type of body art shown here, there is never any preconceived design. As the paintbrush follows the natural curves of the body, it becomes a kind of divining rod, finding the quality of energetic pools and flows and manifesting them in visible form.
The images in this post are all frontal torsos, painted in my studio in private sessions between 1999 and 2003, in which I used a free-flowing but symmetrical form to express the internal forces others have traditionally described in terms of chakras or internal alchemy.
A kind of lightning bolt centered on the heart or sternum, above, becomes a dancing Nature spirit in the example below:
A colorful approach to the body’s structure becomes a festive celebration of the life force:
In these, the body is wrapped in veils of more subtle color:
In these examples, the belly becomes a vessel, containing and transforming energy that is projected upward and outward in the chest area:
We all have a clear sense that acting from the gut, acting from the heart, and acting from the head are three entirely distinct ways. Those who study yoga or martial arts learn to experience the internal force fields of the body in terms of chakras or dantiens. My approach is loose and intuitive. I hope it reveals the dynamic nature of the human body as structured energy.