Skin artist Emma Hack at Henley FestivalBy Caroline Cook
May 17, 2012
At first glance the canvas on the wall shows a bird of prey, staring out from an intricate wallpaper background.
But look a little closer and you’ll notice the eyelashes on the model standing serenely behind.
The captivating wall hangings are the work of Australian skin artist Emma Hack, who spends between eight and 15 hours painting her models into their background.
“You look at it and see the bird straight away and then you realise it’s standing on something and it’s a person’s arm,” she says, speaking to 24Seven from Australia.
“They are quite beautiful to have on your wall and you see all these small idiosyncrasies in the work.”
Emma, who will be bringing her enchanting artwork to Henley Festival this summer, first became involved in skin art after face painting children when she was at school.
She said: “I was doing some make-up artistry and my teacher saw my talent and said ‘why don’t you start painting down the body’.
“I was always interested in fashion and thought I would start painting clothing. It evolved from there.”
Her earlier work, like 2004’s Cabaret Collection, featured nude models painted into their clothes but her art has evolved to become more illusionary with the Birds of Prey Collection in 2011 and her latest, Mirrored Whispers.
“There are some things I don’t realise when I’m painting because I’m trying to do it quickly,” says Emma. “When I hang it on my wall I just fall in love with them because of the little things happening in them that I didn’t realise.”
For each piece Emma paints her models’ bodies, an art that requires them to stand still, sometimes painfully still, for hours on end. “The longest was the first one of the wallpapers, that took 19 hours,” she says with her friendly Aussie twang.
“My models that I use are regulars that I have worked with before so they are kind of used to it and they know there’s going to be a lot of pain involved and standing still.
“But once you get on a roll it can go quite quickly.
“A lot of them will push through even when I know they’re feeling a lot of pain. And being able to get that picture at the end; it’s the most important bit for them to look peaceful and that’s the hard thing.
“They are amazing people because I don’t know if I could stand still for that long.”
One of Emma’s models was singer Wouter ‘Wally’ De Backer, better known as singer/songwriter Gotye who stayed at the top of the UK charts for six weeks with the single Somebody That I Used to Know.
In the video Gotye and singer Kimbra are painted in a series of patterns which evolve through animation.
“The director Natasha Pincus said she had this idea and I said I had been wanting to do that myself for ages,” explains Emma. “She sent me Wally’s music and I loved it.
“His voice is piercing and I thought I would really like to work with this guy. He’s a sweetheart, very easy to work with. When you work with well-known people it can be difficult but he was very giving and let us do what we needed.”
Visitors to Henley will be able to watch Emma at work with live skin painting demonstrations during the festival.
Henley Festival runs from Wednesday, July 4, to Sunday, July 8. Other performers include Sting, Lulu, Olly Murs and Katherine Jenkins. For details visit www.henley-festival.co.uk