Suzanne Lugano is an artist. Her medium: People. “Moving pictures,” she calls them. Lugano’s painted everyone from Cirque acrobats to porn stars, and this week, she sat down with the Weekly to discuss impermanence, fainting models and vagina dentata.
Tell us about the first person you ever painted.Back in New York, a friend of a friend threw a birthday party for her little girl. When the mom found out I was an artist, she said, “Have you done faces?” I told her I hadn’t, and she said, “I’m going to let you try.” The kids flippin’ loved it.
How did you transition into body painting? That happened after I moved to Vegas. I got sponsored by Cirque; I worked in their outreach program, Cirque du Monde. We’d go out and do 10-week programs with various groups, like homeless children. I’d teach face and body painting, and then, at the end of the program, we’d throw a big event when my students could show their friends and family what they’d learned.
After you were done with Cirque, you kept going. What’s the draw? Why paint people? I do it to push my creativity. Every model is different. Every body is different. So no matter what I have in my mind, I get a surprise when the models drop their clothes, and I have to make it work. I love the challenge. Also, I love the impermanence. I think that’s how art should be—similar to the way you need to share an emotion and get it out so you can move on.
Tell us about the model we’re looking at. This is my friend Raven WildChild. The piece was called “Mystic Animal Warrior.” There’s a butterfly with eyes in the wings, and then, on Raven’s head, there’s a heart with a pentacle inside. On her back, there’s a sea dragon surrounded by spiders. Raven identifies as a Pagan—that’s part of her spiritual being—so I drew inspiration from there. And I painted the wings because Raven’s been feeling stuck in her world lately.
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- Check out more of Lugano’s art at slugano.wix.com/bodypaintingart.
So the wings are helping to lift her out of it. Exactly. A lot of women come to me and ask me to help them express themselves. By allowing them to be my canvas, I can help free these women from the burdens of societal norms.
On SyFy’s Face Off, the models occasionally faint. Have you ever had a model pass out on you? More than once, yes. Nine times out of 10, it’s because the model hasn’t eaten because she’s so worried about being naked in front of people. The other times, it’s because the model is locking her knees. When a model passes out, the gig shifts and it’s all about the health of the model. Getting her feeling better. So we sit, we breathe, we drink water, and then we see if we can get through the session. But at that point, if the model wants to be done, we’re done. The magic is gone. It’s like you’re having sex and your partner says, “I gotta go to the bathroom.”
What kind of paints do you use? I always use official FDA-approved body makeup. This stuff is not your basic paint. It’s like wearing eye shadow. It allows the skin to breathe and move. And it comes off with soap and water. I don’t touch anybody with acrylics.
Is that a problem in the industry? Big one. I’ve seen it at conventions like CES; I’ve seen it at art shows, art happenings, fashion shows—everywhere. There are a lot of people out there calling themselves body painters who are hurting models’ skin. I’ve seen people paint bodies with the paint that’s supposed to go on cars. Or paint that’s supposed to go on fabrics. That stuff not only hurts the models, it harms the environment when the models wash it off—it’s not supposed to go down the drain.
Are there any lines that you won’t cross? Is anything too sexy? Body painting is sexy, but I’m not doing a sex show here. So I don’t do a lot of painting of genitals. If you’re a guy, I definitely want some covering between me and your genitals, because I’m pretty sure my husband doesn’t want me in your business.
Ever make exceptions? One time, my friend Sarah told me about a psychological malady called vagina dentata—that’s when a male is paranoid that women’s vaginas have teeth in them. So this spurred my creativity. I called Sarah up and said, “I think you have to shave, because I have an idea … and you’re the only one who will do it.”