LINCOLN PARK— Art collectors would have a tough time hanging an Orlando Barsallo painting on a wall.
That’s because, as a body painter, Barsallo prefers painting on people over creating on canvas.
“People don’t get it. They ask me questions like, ‘How do people see it?’ And I’m like, that’s what pictures are for,” said Barsallo, who has worked as a makeup artist at Salon 1800, 1133 W. Armitage Ave., in Lincoln Park for 13 years.
Barsallo compares his art form to ice sculptures — the ice sculpture eventually melts just like the model eventually has to wash off the body paint.
“It’s still art,” said Barsallo, 46.
As an emerging artist at Robin B Gallery, 1123 W. Armitage Ave., Barsallo helped kick off its spring “Flower Power” exhibition April 17 with a three-hour live performance body painting. With the help of hair stylist Sarah English, Barsallo transformed a female model into an icy snow queen.
“We cannot welcome the flowers of the spring without saying goodbye to the winter,” said Barsallo, who added that “The Fierce Winter” painting was inspired by the record-breaking and “challenging” Chicago winter.
“It’s like a whole transformation,” said Sarvin Haghighi, an artist represented by Robin B who attended the event. “It’s as if the winter is just leaving and as he’s adding colors, the flowers are blooming.”
Barsallo said he doesn’t abide by any rules in his work, but rather moves freely based on how he’s feeling. He typically builds a base for the painting with light colors before layering on brighter colors, jewels, and any prosthetic or special effect. He applies water-, alcohol- and silicon-based paints with an air brush and standard makeup brushes.
In some cases, he may sketch out some finer details before he begins painting but mostly he works free hand. "The Fierce Winter" took about 2½ hours.
During the event, Barsallo didn’t shy away from the performance aspect — requesting loud “clubby” music and engaging the audience with a shoulder shake and a laugh.
“The audience has a lot of fun, which I think is really important for performance art,” said Allison Osborne, who is the curator of the gallery owned by Robin Balterman.
Barsallo, who grew up in Panama and moved to Chicago 13 years ago, said he grew up in a family of artists and musicians and began making TV appearances with his siblings as a child. Barsallo began developing his makeup skills while working in retail but only ventured into body painting because of his young niece and nephew.
“I wanted to be their favorite uncle, so I started face painting just for fun and to try to entertain them,” said Barsallo, who added that he took a class from Mac Cosmetics to sharpen his skills.
Barsallo said now he’s aiming for big commercial projects — like “The Working Dead” campaign he did for Solixir, an energy drink company, in which he made models look like zombies.
"I never thought I was going to be a body painter," said Barsallo. "I paint, but my canvases are bodies."
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