Artist plans naked census

The term body art conjures up images of tattoos or day-glo flower power paint decoration worn by hippy chicks in the 1960s.

Andrew Clarke

The term body art conjures up images of tattoos or day-glo flower power paint decoration worn by hippy chicks in the 1960s. As Arts Editor Andrew Clarke found out, a Suffolk artist has found her voice thanks to a new form of body painting.

Suffolk artist Lisa Clarke discovered her artistic voice in the aftermath of a heated argument with her boyfriend. In a moment she transformed herself from being just another painter of landscapes into a distinctive body artist.

It was a move performed in a fit of pique which has completely transformed her work. Her work now resides on the walls of two popular Ipswich night spots and restaurants and has been on display at the appropriately named Exposure Gallery.

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Lisa, who is the daughter of Stowmarket-based artist Mary Brewster, said that she thinks of her work as creating shadows. “They create shadows of the body but there is no identification other than whether it is male or female. There's no indication about rank or position and I think they are great fun.”

She said that they function as anonymous portraits. As with all these forms of art, to create a really successful body-print portrait it is not as easy as it first looks. If you go smearing yourself with paint and go pressing your body up against a canvas or sheet of paper spread across the floor all you will end up with is a featureless blob.

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As Lisa discovered through countless hours of experimentation, the process works best when only selective parts of the body are painted and the impression is made against a piece of stretched canvas, up against a wall. The resulting image is made more arresting and much more complex to create if you build up layers by overprinting the body image with different colours.

“It looks amazing if you get it right but it's a process fraught with hazards because if you make a mess of one impression you have to scrap the whole thing and start again. It's a real effort to a line yourself so you can get the various images in the right position.”

If it is a smaller print of only a selective part of the body then she will press the stretched canvas onto herself as it gives more control and therefore a clearer impression.

She said what started off as an impetuous action has developed through repeated experiments into something of a science. The nature and complexity of the images change with the extent of the area covered with paint and how hard the body is pressed onto the canvas.

Although she uses her body to produce her art, Lisa said that it doesn't have to produce a literal image. Body art can be just as impressionistic and frequently works best as an impressionistic medium. “It's not what you paint, so much, it's what you leave out.

“You can change how the body looks by how you create the image. You can literally change your shape. You only paint the parts of the body you want to portray. You don't paint, the extra saggy bits. With the judicial application of paint you can reverse the effects of time and voila you have two nice, pert breasts again. I love it and I want everyone else to love it as well.”

For Lisa this amazing piece of self-discovery came about in August and she has been working overtime trying to explore her new art world.

“It's all very new and exciting. It's a complete change of direction for me. My new work bears absolutely no relation to the work I did before. You could say that I was struggling to find my voice. Suddenly as soon as I started doing this, I knew that I had found my artistic voice if I could put it like that. I knew that it was distinctive and me - quite literally.”

She said when she was painting landscapes with a brush she was becoming increasingly frustrated with her work. “I was at that affirmation stage. I was painting landscapes and writing life affirming messages into the pictures and they were selling but I was not particularly happy with them.

“I was getting so frustrated with one piece that I painted it completely black. I thought: 'that's it I have got to start again'. At the time I was having an issue with a man and was cross that he couldn't see any further than my breasts and for some reason I pushed my breasts onto the black canvas and they took some of the paint off and created like a negative. It was an amazing revelation and immediately changed how I looked at my work.”

She said that she already has plans to start a project doing body prints of people from all walks of life. “This form of art is a great leveller. All badges of rank are done away with - you are who you are. We all like to think that we are not prejudiced but we all make snap judgements about people as soon as we meet them - by what they wear, how they walk, how they talk but this does away with all that. In this we are naked we are all the same.

“What I would like to do is a wonderful artistic census of somewhere like Ipswich - people from all walks of life, ages and abilities and build up a collection of body prints to just enjoy the vast array of different body shapes we all have.”

She said that since August there has been an explosion of creativity. “I have done about 40 pictures in about four months. I have now got them hanging in The Curve Bar, The Brasserie and Joshua C hairdressers. It has been a complete transformation of my work. It's been incredible and I have had such great feedback from people. Now I just want it to grow and as I say get other people involved.”

As a single mother Lisa has been used to balancing a variety of jobs in order to keep the wolf from the door. At the moment she is juggling with being a hairdresser, a carer and an artist. “I have so much going on with my life but I am determined to stay focussed and keep the energy levels up and keep producing new work.”

Lisa said that she had always been a little overwhelmed by her mother's talent as an artist and for many years didn't want to have anything to do with being an artist which is why she trained as a hairdresser when she first left school.

“I felt that because Mum painted I couldn't do it as well. I had to make my own mark. I had to be different. You could give my Mum a piece of paper and pencil and say draw this and she could capture it in three lines. How can you compete against that? I realise now that we are all different but as a young teenager I was comparing my gift at the time against hers and I didn't want to try to match up to her. I wanted nothing to do with painting or drawing I wanted to go off and be a hairdresser, so I did.”

She said that she chose hairdressing because it was a profession that would always be in demand and all you needed was a pair of scissors and a comb and you could earn money.

Despite her reservations about competing with her mother, Lisa did attend art college for a short period but gave it up when she found that the fractured nature of the study and lecture schedule conflicted with the rest of her life.

“I went to art college for about two months, just after my marriage broke up. I was working part-time supporting the kids. I was running my own soft-furnishing company. I had invented something called The Snuggle which was filled lavender bags which were fairly successful and were selling in shops and I thought I had time to go to college and train to be an artist but in the end I couldn't afford the time because when I was there I wasn't earning money to pay the bills.”

She said that her mother had always been very inspiring as an artist and there always had been a lively artistic atmosphere in the house. “I suppose I have always dabbled. I have painted a bit. I have always made things. If I need stuff around the house I tend to make it rather than buy it. I have grown up in a creative environment.”

Lisa's early years were marked by her life as a service child. Her dad was in the RAF and she spent much of her youth travelling from posting to posting. “Maybe that's why I have always had itchy feet. I always have to be moving onto the next thing, the next idea, the next job. I have to keep moving, making headway.”

During her adolescence, her mother insisted that the young Lisa needed a stable environment to grow up in and this meant a long stay in the RAF community in Cyprus while her father continued jetting off around the world. She came back to Britain as a teenager to train as a hairdresser because unlike most of her contemporaries she had had enough of life abroad.

“I did not want to be a barfly, hopping from country to country, getting temporary jobs in bars or packing bulbs in Holland. I wanted a trade, so I came back to be a hairdresser.

“It's still a very flexible profession. It allows you to do other things. It allowed me to work around the children when they were younger and a couple of weeks ago I flew to Majorca to visit a friend for her birthday and I could have easily have found a job cutting hair for ex-pats over there. So it's been a good way to earn money and has allowed me to develop my art to a point where people are now buying it.”

She said that her new found artistic voice has given her a lot of confidence - confidence in her own ability and a desire to make a strong artistic statement with her work.

She has launched a new website Kissonart to promote her work and to commission private works for family and friends. Lisa Clark can be contacted on

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