Challenging the human-nature relationship through body painting

Written by Mazz Cummings

Art takes many forms, and body painting has the unique ability to really bring paintings to life. With evidence of humans using natural pigments to decorate their bodies as far back as 30,000 years ago, you may have seen more modern examples of body painting used in films, popular TV shows such as 'Squid Game', or as part of commercial campaigns. Body painting also plays a key role in raising conservation awareness, bringing a whole new dimension to the human nature relationship. Johannes Stoetter is a world champion body painter based in the Alps of northern Italy, and has created several incredible illusion body paints in which models become endangered animals, or are blended into the landscape.

Johannes Stoetter

Johannes Stoetter's performance on 'Britains got Talent', 2021

Illusion body painting

Placing people right at the heart of conservation inspired artwork forces us to examine our relationship with nature, and how we interact with it. During Johannes Stoetter’s performance on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ (a popular TV show), audience members are shocked that 'It's a person!'. If we perceived and treated wildlife more like we treat others that we consider 'people', how different might our relationship with nature and wildlife be?

Landscape camouflage body painting

Through his landscape body art, Johannes Stoetter further challenges us to examine our relationship with the natural environment. Environmental camouflage body paintings such as these not only challenge our perception of the human position within nature, and how we are intrinsically related to our environments, but the process of creating such artworks forces artists to work with and be sensitive to the constantly changing natural conditions. Camouflage body painting only works from a specific view point, with the model vanishing into the background. Artists have to wait for the exact moment to take their shots once the painting is complete, for a cloud to pass and let the sun shine, for a wave to break so it echoes the movement of water on a model, or in Trina Merry's case, a train to stop in just the right position.

Johannes Stoetter landscape camouflage body painting

Trina Merry

Urban camouflage body painting

Trina Merry is another artist who highlights the human - nature relationship through camouflage body painting. As well as her natural landscape camouflage paintings, she also places her models in more urban spaces, blending people into city skylines, as well as features such as the New York subway. Placing people in these highly manipulated environments that have been specifically engineered for human use illustrates the impact of anthropogenic activity, and how we have harnessed our surroundings for our own means, often to the detriment of nature and wildlife.

Camouflage bodypainting as an art form challenges us to consider how we might adapt to our environments, both in the viewing and the actual creation process, with brush strokes having to line up perfectly with the background, and shaped to counteract the natural curvatures of the human body. It also challenges us to consider how we have exploited and constructed our environments, and the impact this has on other life forms and natural processes.

When you first look at a camouflage or illusion body painting, you might think 'There's something not quite right with this, but I'm not sure what it is'. When your eye finally sees the person or people in the painting, everything clicks into place, and so it is with our relationship with nature and the environment. Once we understand our impact on the environment, we can begin to see the wider implications of our actions.

Body painting has the power to connect us to our natural environments, and the wildlife that feel the impacts of our actions. Can we work towards a future where we truly blend in with nature, or is it all just an illusion?


Johannes Stoetter


Instagram: johannesstoetterart

Trina Merry


Instagram: trinamerryart

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