Your body is a temple – and a canvas

Emma Hack I
Emma Hack, Wallpaper series

I have been known to paint on wood, canvas, ceramics, paper, furniture and clothing, and even tried painting on kids’ birthday cakes with colored frosting. Some artists use skin as a canvas. But unlike decorative body painting and tattoos, artist Emma Hack has taken this living medium to an entirely new level. It might require you to look twice at the work below to discern the human body in her gorgeous works; Emma is the master of camouflage.

Emma Hack III
Emma Hack from her Wallpaper series
Emma Hack
Emma Hack from her Wallpaper series

Hack’s work is part installation and part body mural. An Artnet News interview reports that Hack, an Australian artist, spends between 8 to 15 hours to complete one of her works, which sounds like speed painting to me. Her wallpaper series, above, is based on patterns created by the late designer Florence Broadhurst.

Unfortunately, outstanding art is often not enough on its own to propel an artist into international stardom. In Hack’s case, she made it to the big leagues when her work appeared in a music video that went viral. The video is pretty awesome and worth a few minutes of your time.

Alexa Meade‘s work is very different from Emma Hack’s yet they have both developed a totally original way of incorporating the human body in their oeuvre. Meade paints an expressionistic portrait directly on her subject’s face, clothes, hair creating a strange new dimension – it’s not clear exactly what we are looking at until her subject starts to move!


Alexa IIt may be confusing to get your head around Meade’s process so I will leave it up to the artist to explain in the short TED talk youtube below.

Meade made it into the Washington Post when she unleashed one of her walking portraits on the metro. I think this is great. I’m all for a painter who makes people sit up and take notice.


If you are as impressed with these artists as I am, here are links to more of their work :

Emma Hack

Emma Hack II

Alexa Meade










Lisbon, artfully yours

Lisbon offers the visitor grandiose vistas from its seven hills, gastronomic pleasures from the sea, Old World charm, friendly people, fado music and relatively mild weather. For the art seeker, Lisbon’s most iconic artform – hand-painted tile or azulejos – is in plain view. However, tapping into the contemporary art scene takes some sleuthing. I did some digging and uncovered some real finds.


Lisbon owes much of its charm to the tiles that grace the exterior and interior walls of its buildings. Turn down the alleyways of Chiado or Baixe and the tilework will take your breath away.

The infinite variety of imaginative graphic designs are reminders of the city’s early Moorish influence when the Berber and Arab armies conquered Lisbon in 714 AD.

Christian crusaders invaded in the 12th century, bringing their traditional aesthetics that were eventually reflected in tile art over the next few centuries.

Unfortunately, Lisbon was totally destroyed in 1755 by an earthquake and tsunami. All the wondrous tile facades around the city therefore date back only to the mid-18th century yet they still impart the city’s eclectic history.  I was told that Lisbon’s current mayor encourages international graffiti artists to add their contemporary marks on the city’s ancient walls.

(I didn't need too much prompting - the clothing stores were pretty funky!)
(I didn’t need too much prompting – the Lisbon clothing stores were pretty funky!)


A visit to the Coleção Berardo Museum of Contemporary Art in the Belem district is like walking through a visual Cliff Notes of 20th century art – the line up was impressive: Giorgio de Chirico, Tom Wesselman, Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Torres-Garcia, Morandi, Philip Guston, Rothko, Jean Tinguely, and ad infinitum.

Striking a pose in James Turrell's 1969 Fargo, Blue, one of the early works that set the precedent for experiential viewer participation that is the greatest art trend of the 21st century to date.
Striking a pose in James Turrell’s 1967 Fargo, Blue, one of the early works that set the precedent for experiential viewer participation that is the dominant art trend of the 21st century to date.

The Gulbenkian Foundation is a must-see for its twin museums (modern and contemporary) located within a lushly landscaped property in the center of the city. It appears to be a favorite Sunday outing for Lisbon families and it was lovely to see kids on scooters and little tricycles riding past some seriously avant garde art.

Crawling out of an interactive exhibit. The things I do for art's sake....
Crawling out of an interactive exhibit. The things I do for art’s sake….

Although I highly enjoyed these museums I was beginning to despair of finding some fresh new galleries and underground art scene. I lucked out at a restaurant one night when a fellow diner pointed me in the direction of Galeria Graça Brandão in the sleazy bar and night club area. The gallery represents young local artists working in installation and video. From there I was directed to the little known Carpe Diem, a magificent, crumbling palace whose ornately detailed rooms now house cutting edge conceptual works.

Floor installation, Carpe Diem
Floor installation, Carpe Diem
Painting installation, Carpe Diem
Painting installation, Carpe Diem

I’ll wrap up with a few recommended galleries in the Xabregas enclave : Murias Centeno, Baginski, Filomena Soares and Ar Solido. In the Campo de Ourique district, check out Caroline Pages Gallery and Bajinsky.  A reminder to any readers who have favorite art haunts in Lisbon – please share. And to the beautiful city of Lisbon and the cute airbnb apartment I stayed in, I say, obrigada!

Art lights up my life: Bernardi Roig and others

Dan Flavin installation 1996, Menil Collection, Houston

Contemporary art chafes against constraint of any shape or form. This manifests itself in many ways, from seeking out unexpected and alternative venues for exhibiting art, to experimenting with new media and materials that until recently were not part of the artistic lexicon. Light is one of those relatively new mediums that has been harnessed and embraced as a legitimate art form, successfully championed (see above) by the minimalist artist Dan Flavin (1933-1996), James Turell and Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson to mention a few. 

On a recent visit to The Philips Collection in D.C. I was introduced to the dazzling works of Bernardi Roig, an artist from Palma de Mallorca whose installations combine the power of light with figurative sculpture. 

ROIG 8Several of Roig’s works were spread throughout the museum – inside and out. The image of a life sized figure dragging a long train of light like penance was startling. There was something absurd and meaningless about this activity yet one felt that the figure was committed to this journey and accepted his fate. I responded deeply to the work despite the ‘artspeak’ text provided by the museum: “Roig’s work addresses existential dualities of blinding and illumination, absence and presence, memory and temporality as well as entrapment and liberation.” Sometimes it’s best to just look at the art and let it speak for itself.




Another artist who works in a most extraordinary new medium is German-born artist Wolfgang Laib. His medium of choice is beeswax. The Philips Collection commissioned him to create a permanent installation within the museum. The result is a small chamber, not much larger than a closet, that is totally covered in burnished beeswax. 


For this particular work, the artist was inspired by Rothko and I see the connection in the subtle play of color tones created by the wax. Entering the space one is assaulted by a heady aroma of honey warmed by a single light bulb. I don’t know if I was imagining it, but I thought I could even hear the murmur of the hive….


(f you’re fascinated by the way artists can use beeswax, check out another up-and-coming artist who works in the same medium – Jessica Sanders.)