We’ve spoken to Emilia Henríquez Puga, an extraordinary body painter and photographer who creates works of stunning palettes and poignant compositions. Her explosive creativity and dynamic personality are felt in the conversation, in which she introduced us to her methods, role models, and dreadlocks.
K!K: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you start out? Do you have formal art training?
My name is Emilia, I was born in 1992 in Santiago de Chile, but my parents moved soon after my birth to Europe. I grew up in Barcelona, Spain, but since 2003 we have lived in Germany. My mother, Pamela Puga, is an artist herself, which is why I have always been surrounded by art, colors, brushes and canvases. She has always been my inspiration and I learned a lot from her. Because of my mother, I have always drawn and painted – as a child, as a teenager – so I can’t really say when it all started. After school I went to study Ethnology and Art History for a year, but I dropped out. That was when I decided my calling had to be art! So right now I am studying Art at the “Bergische Universität Wuppertal”.
K!K: So how did you get started with body painting and what inspired you to try it out for the first time?
The story isn’t a very impressive one, actually. I normally paint on canvas, but one day, in spring of 2013, I was bored and didn’t want to start a new painting, so I painted myself in front of a mirror. I liked it and so my closest friends and family became my “guinea pigs”. I painted my boyfriend, my mother, my best friends and that’s actually how it all started. I uploaded it on the Internet and the ball kind of got rolling by itself.
K!K: How do you choose a model and the right palette for the model?
The models come to me. They contact me on Facebook, saying they’d like to try it out. I really enjoy doing it this way, because I get to paint “real” people who aren’t flawless. We have enough flawless people in magazines and perfection is not what I’m trying to achieve. We usually talk a bit, I ask them what kind of colors they like or what colors they do not like at all. I have never painted a professional model in my whole bodypainting-career. The youngest model was 13, the oldest over 50.
K!K: Are there any challenges in working with people this way?
In the beginning I was very nervous when somebody new came to be painted. “What will we talk about? Should we talk at all? What if we don’t get along?” But now I enjoy having people over. I get to know the most different kinds of people I probably wouldn’t have met in “real life”. So far I’ve had a singer, a policewoman, lawyers, cooks, a lot of students, and many many more over. It’s all really exciting.
K!K: Do you already have a clear idea of what you want to do before you start painting or is it a more “go with the flow” kind of process?
I never plan. Of course, I prepare the canvas before the scheduled date with the model, but other than that, I “go with the flow”. That’s just the way I work. Not only with bodypainting but with my traditional paintings as well. I never (or very rarely) work with sketches. I just start painting and then I look where it goes throughout the process.
K!K: How did you get the idea to combine photography and bodypainting in such a way?
I saw the photographs of Liu Bolin. I think many people have seen the photograph of him standing in front of a supermarket shelf. His whole body is painted like the shelf and he sort of disappears into it. His work is very powerful and it inspired me to connect bodypainting and photography in my own way.
K!K: What would you say your main source of inspiration is? Do you have any role-models?
That’s a really hard question. Everything can inspire me. Nature, animals, culture, music and very often my mood. But I am also very inspired by art and artists so of course I have role-models. My mother, Xenia Hausner, Jenny Saville, Käthe Kollwitz, Lucien Freud, Gustav Klimt and many more. As you can see, my main interest lies in artists that focus on humans.
K!K: I bet some other artists might be interested, what type of paint do you use in your work?
Ah, that’s something a “professional bodypainter” would kill me for, I suppose. But I use acrylic colors, mostly from LUKAS STUDIO. I tried working with special bodypainting colors, but the model doesn’t fit as nicely with the background and I can’t achieve the “brushstroke-effect” that well.
K!K: Other than this, you still do some traditional painting, right? How does it relate to your bodypainting work?
My focus is always on people. I can’t imagine painting a landscape or still life. At least not now. At this point I’m painting kids with animals. I like using non-natural colors for shadows or light and setting the characters in a kind of surreal environment. That’s the common ground with my bodypaintings.
K!K: Do you have a piece of work you feel is your favorite or the best you’ve done?
I really can’t pick just one bodypainting. But I can say which session was my best: this one.
K!K: How do you feel about other art forms that use skin as canvas, like tattooing or professional make-up?
I am definitely a tattoo lover. I think I’ll end up full-inked someday. As for make-up… I have seen some very talented make-up artists on deviantART, instagram and so on. But I think you have to differentiate between those who do it because of fashion and the ones who are in it for the art.
K!K: Do you have any plans for the future? And I don’t mean this as just an artist. What do you aspire to in life?
I love to travel and I would like to move from time to time to interesting spots. Maybe a year to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile; half a year to India and so on. I don’t want to stay in one place for the rest of my life. Nothing is more inspiring than seeing the world.
When I was fourteen I had a friend over and we decided very spontaneously to make me dreads. My father was not amused, but I still have them and I’d like to become a grey-haired dread-granny one day.
I think my tongue is longer than Gene Simmons’.
I am the most chaotic person I know. I lose everything and even if I tidy up my studio it’s a mess again the next day… but I really, really try!
To see more gorgeous work from this talented artist, go to her colourful gallery on deviantART, or try to keep up with her at her facebook art page Mihepu BodyPainting. For more bodypaintings AND traditional paintings, head over to her Instagram account.