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Body painter Sophia Rosman on nudity, sexuality and the nature of humanity

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Body painter Sophia Rosman on nudity, sexuality and the nature of humanity

Sophia Rosman is a sophomore at the University of Rochester with her own face and body painting business

10.25.16

This is a spotlight piece on someone interesting from the University of Rochester community.

Sophia Rosman grew up in the spectacular whirlwind of the circus industry. She learned juggling and stilt-walking from her father, who performed in shows across the country as a special events entertainer. While working as a juggler at the age of 15, she stumbled upon a group of face painters, and thus began her face painting and body painting career.

Applying the skills she had gained at her arts magnet school, Rosman quickly picked up face painting and secured an apprenticeship to face paint at a Renaissance festival. It was there that she met her mentor, Vicki, who encouraged her to attend a body painting convention.

“[At the convention], I saw the full body painting that I hadn’t seen a lot of before, and I thought that my fine art background could relate more to that than it could to the face painting,” Rosman said. “With body painting, I could do more realistic stuff than I could do with on-the-job face painting, and more illusion type things, and that interested me more. Even the process of coming up with an idea and then executing it in a longer period of time was more similar to the art I had done before, so I was interested in merging the two.”

SR: This piece was painted live at NYC Body Painting Day in under four hours. Body Painting Day was founded in conjunction with the city in celebration of artists' legal rights to publicly paint fully nude models. For the annual event, artists are randomly paired with nude models of all sizes to paint in the streets of New York City. The 2016 theme for all artists to address was "Inner Beauty." My approach was that all ideas behind the urban and the technological come from within us. I painted images evocative of urban skylines, earthly nature, and human nature in order to suggest the beauty found in harmony between them all.

Exploring her newfound interest, Rosman zoomed in on more conceptual pieces to comment on the meaning of the human body as a canvas.

“We live in a society that’s not so open to nudity all the time, and so I was thinking, ‘I'm at this convention and there are naked people running around and nobody cares!’” she said. “They’re just canvases, except what does this mean for the art afterwards? How is this art different from art on a canvas?"

“For me, it really is that it’s something different and new for the viewer so it gets them to stop and think [about] why I'm putting this certain thing on a certain person. What does it mean that I'm bringing the human into this? Because when you’re looking at a body painting, you can’t escape the fact that it’s on a body and this must have something to do with humanity or a person or an identity.”

SR: Various social media sites require photos to be censored. I find it strange to censor this piece. This particular painting shows all parts of the body as raw and exposed. Why must only some be covered? When I censor this piece, the censored areas contrast sharply with the rest of the piece. The issue of censorship becomes the focus as the audience is led to question its nature.

As she took on more jobs, she noticed that her clients often requested female models. However, she has yet to hear a request for a male model.

“I think that the artists might have been more used to seeing art of nude women models and then kept that tradition,” she said. “Some of the first body painters to really do this style of body painting in this little world of body painting were men and found it easier, probably-- I'm saying this based on various conversations I’ve had-- I think a lot of them felt that it was easier to see the beauty in the female form and to work with those curves [...]

“It makes me question, ‘Why are people still asking me this?’ That seems like it should be outdated by now, but that’s how society works right now, and body painters can comment on that and try to change it. I use male models, [but] I also think that there are also other issues with using men as models. More body hair can be hard depending on what paint you’re using. [I] have a friend whose model got a little excited once, and she cleaned her shoes pretty well after that. That’s why she doesn’t use male models. I think she was a little traumatized by that, because she had been nervous about it going in. So that’s another complication.

“A lot of the models have not done this before either so it’s different for them. I’ve painted male models before who have definitely talked about how it could be sexual, or that sort of thing as they’re getting ready to be painted. They ease up by the end, and they notice that I'm not thinking about them in that way and that I can’t; I'm busy doing something else. It’s just the canvas, it’s just part of the idea, but I know a lot of people have trouble separating-- and I do sometimes-- separating nudity from sexuality."
SR: This piece is an exploration of the nature of art. Louis Kahn viewed art​ as​ ​the​ ​true​ ​human​ ​language;​ ​through art, the artist​ ​brings​ ​concepts​ ​from​ ​the​ ​nebulous “silence” state​​​ ​into​ ​the tangible realm of​ ​“light.”​ ​​Often subconsciously, the artist’s own personal and social experiences contribute to the final translated image. In the same ay that the human travels in and out of focus in a body painting, the past experiences of the ​artist and audience are not always openly acknowledged. Yet the experiences still play a quintessential role in the translation process. ​​My​ ​hope​ ​is​ ​that​ ​my art-language​ ​will​ ​be broad enough to convey​ ​concepts​ ​in​ ​a relatable way​, making them accessible to a broad audience.

As to what the future holds, Rosman plans to continue experimenting with different paths.

“I know that everything that I'm doing is making me better overall and contributing to the successes that I have [in] different areas in body painting and business,” she said. “Right now I'm focusing on airbrush more because I really want to get the hang of those techniques and have those tools available to me. Airbrush can be really useful since it’s so versatile, and I know that developing these skills will come in handy someday. Someday I’ll be really happy that I put in all the time now, so that I can just pull that out and use it for something, or volunteer for something or accept a job so that I get some really cool offer that I can’t even predict now.”