The first time I heard the word ‘BodyPaintography’ I thought the same thing you did… What is that? Then I met a Y inspiring the marriage of body paint and photography with her own unique spin and I knew I had run into something way more powerful than words and pictures. You see, I met a Millennial who was living proof of the courage it takes to overcome, the bravery it takes to smile through hardships and the beauty it takes to see the world’s miracles as reason enough to project love when everything seems broken.
Cynthia Fleischmann migrated towards Miami in 2006, to attend the University of Miami; Born in the good o’ US of A and groomed in Switzerland, her family moved back to Boston at the age of nine. Fleischmann would spend her Summers and Winters traveling from London to Dubai, and that is partly where this worldly strawberry blonde took the inspiration to make her art trans-culturally honest, in its purest form.
Cynthia refers to herself as a ‘BodyPaintographer’, because her form of art incorporates human subjects into their surroundings, by painting directly onto the human body and then photographing the scene. From ArtBasel in Switzerland and Miami to recently participating in World BodyPainting Day with Andy Golub in Amsterdam and the Burning Man Festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, this Millennial is marking her stake onto the art world, with her unforgettable twist of the brush and categorical snap from the lens.
The Y Life was honored to be able to sit with Cynthia and share her story with each and every one of you, even more so, we were struck by her courage. Just 3 months ago, on October 14th of 2015, Cynthia was involved in an accident, that would change her life forever, and yet her gleaming smile iridescently projecting hope would tell you, she is nothing but grateful for a second chance to dream her dreams.
First and foremost, we just had to know, when Cynthia knew she wanted to photograph and make art as a career?
“I was always an artist, I was drawing and painting since I was really young and I grew up around Photography. My father had a photography gallery in Switzerland, it was vintage black and white photographers from America Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Paul Strand— they would be lining the walls; I would be in his gallery a lot and just kind of drawing the people that would be passing by and drawing from observation.
I always knew I was an artist, but I came to the University of Miami and my first semester and decided, art, you are not going to make money that way… try something else like psychology, art history I did all of those and loved them, but there was something seriously missing…
I started painting directly onto the body my senior year, after I saw this book from Chile, and it was all about abstract expressionism on the body, and it was all about the movement of the person, bringing a whole other dimension of life to painting, so it was a collaboration of artists and model. But, all of the photographs were taken in studio with a black or white background and beautiful lighting. I just thought there was a disconnect between person and place, even though the idea was amazing and growing up I loved animals, animals that are hard to find, finding a deer in the field or a moth on the branch, there is this camouflage with animals using their environments, that is where I started painting people into their environments, just to bring us back to our animalistic roots.”
After graduate school at the University of Miami Cynthia chose to stay in Miami, to pursue her art and some other exciting projects on her bucket list, but in the midst of chasing her dreams she was riding on her motorcycle down highway I-95 North on the express lane with her dear friend Cathy, when the unthinkable happened…
“I noticed that there was traffic building in the right lanes, the regular lanes, but there are those orange pins that divide the express from regular, so I didn’t think much of it, until this one guy, just all of a sudden, he didn’t see us coming and he cuts right across the cones really quickly and he cuts right into my leg. There was no time to react, I mean it was just, he made that choice and he cut right over and hit me directly.
We both went tumbling, they found my motorcycle on 95 South, when we were going North, and the fact that my motorcycle didn’t hit anybody, like flying over the barricade is also a miracle. So I only lost my leg, which is where the direct impact was and I had hip operations, but other than that my road rash is minimal and… I didn’t have gloves on and this is all that happened to my hands, I am so grateful for that, because I am an artist and I need my hands, you know a leg is replaceable.”
I was so touched having Cynthia open up about her accident, and so inspired on her outlook, that I just had to know how she took this obstacle God placed on her path, as a source of courage to garner even more strength to pursue her dreams?
“It’s been a really crazy experience. I am grateful to be alive, I honestly don’t know how I am still alive, I was carried by angels. That is just a miracle in itself, and a reason for me to be so passionate about going forward with my visions. Just the love from my family and friends and so many people that I didn’t even know were there, has been inspirational and magical.”
This season reminds us, of how important it is to open our hearts and truly share our love with others, but isn’t it interesting to ponder on how you can’t see love, you can feel it, but you can’t see it. Yet, somehow during trials and tribulations you can actually see it, because by feeling it, its strength can lift you up. I know Cynthia saw Love, in how people held her hand in helping her healing process and I can just imagine how it has been an incredible experience for her, which will eventually morph itself into her art…
When you said angels carried you, did you feel something, when that happened?
“I was conscious the whole time, I just don’t know, there were two nurses that were angels themselves that saw this whole thing happen from the traffic and they went over… One in front, one behind, one ran to Cathy and one ran to me and told me to stop moving and keep breathing and then this firefighter also stopped, they were all off duty. I mean they saved me on the scene, I would have bled to death, if they wouldn’t have ripped my pants and wrapped a tourniquet around my leg, they were angels themselves. The reason I don’t have more road rash, I don’t understand that, that is where I must have been carried to my resting place on this highway, because I was just helped in so many ways. That is why I am here still.”
It just seems like you must believe that every incident has purpose, right? Everything that has happened to you and in life has a reason for happening and I think that this incident that happened to you, is just going to make your art that much more powerful. Do you ever put yourself in your art?
“I have one portrait, where I painted myself all white and that is the only studio shot that I have. I projected one of my poems onto myself, so that was me being integrated into my poetry.”
That poem Cynthia wrote in 2013 and she refers to in our interview, is called ‘Silence’ and is pictured in the photo above on the far upper right.
“There is a silence in me
To suck tears from my eyes,
Bring fury to my mind.
The anger builds within my silence.
Words unspoken start to rot.
The bubbles that burst uncover past wounds,
But ill continue to sing my faithful, cheery tunes.”
Her work is so beautifully intricate, so I wondered if in that moment, when you know that you want to do a certain painting, or paint a certain body on a particular background… Do you see someone, do you see a thing, and you just know?
“It goes both ways. Like that bamboo over there, I know that I want to do a body pairing over there and I actually really want to do it when it is raining, something I can actually still do right now, with my leg missing, because I could paint inside in my house and bring her outside here, but that is a vision I have. Who, I am not sure yet… I was hoping my sister, but it doesn’t need to be her, whoever really just wants to be painted into that scene would be amazing… There is inspiration anywhere and everywhere.”
Do you only use women as subjects or men as well?
“I really like for there to be more equality between seeing the female and the male body naked. So even though I started off with more women, because that is where I was comfortable, working with woman’s body and it wasn’t an issue, but now that this has become my profession I definitely want to paint more males and have their bodies as exposed, not in a bad way, but it is just the natural human body. In our culture we are so used to only seeing the female naked body, it would be nice to see the male naked body, in a non-sexual way, it’s not in an aggressive way, it’s just a natural way.
Somehow your work always involves nature or the outdoors, even wonderful beautiful construction?
“It is a little bit of everything, it is just our lives. It’s nature or structure, or buildings coming down; I see a lot of inspiration in my surroundings and something as simple as a door frame can be a beautiful photograph. In the end it is the photograph that resonates and I am looking for the composition and colors and this and that, so it can be intricate or simple.”
Having grown up in the home of a photographer, I truly respect a photographer’s mission to capture a moment onto film, in order to make it last forever. The thought of being able to freeze frame a moment, hence treasuring it when the fluidity of life keeps humanity consumed by its constant movement is incredulous. A photograph is harder to disappear than a memory, right?
“Yes, it is capturing this moment in time, and it just makes you look at a scene a little bit deeper, like to resonate with the person and the place, which in our fast paced lives we don’t take that second to just connect with another person, or with a place and through a photograph you can connect so much deeper than in words or anything else.”
I want to make sure that people understand, the value of photographs, I think that sometimes we take them for granted with social media and the internet, images are everywhere, but pictures tell stories and it is so important to value that, it’s important to give amazing images the credit they deserve…
“Mine is the artistic photography, but it is also just a touch back to our roots. The body painting is a very ancient ritual, and tribes from Africa and the Aboriginals in Australia, they all use pigments on the body as a form of transformation, protection. So in that regard, a touch back with our roots, connect with another human, why are they there, what are they doing, you know question life a little bit!
Then the RED hands ties into that as well, where RED hands are my signature for every body painting, for me it’s a symbol of our humanity. It’s the color of passion and love and hatred and destruction, we can either create with our hands or destroy and that also, you see it and you have another question.”
There is always a RED hand incorporated in your painting/ photography…
“The person always has it, it is always painted, but in the end photograph you don’t always see it. You just know that they have it!”
What are three words to describe your art?
“This is kind of challenging…
Simple, because it is nothing new.. it is person and place, it’s just a simple way of looking at life.
Daring, a bit in our society, because it is the naked body… I think that might be the wrong word…
Liberating, for the model, for me, for the adventures that we are on, for the people observing it…
Depending on which culture you are in, it’s a Taboo, or not and that is actually what really got me focused on the naked body, is coming from Switzerland, where I could be running around naked there and it wasn’t an issue, the body is just accepted, in art and in life. In coming to America, it is always so sexualized…
Sexuality in America versus, if you go to Dubai and the Muslim culture and religion there, you have to be fully covered…
So nudity around the world, even though it is so simple, we all have the same body, how religion and culture changes it so drastically, if it’s a Taboo or if it is accepted and natural.”
It’s an interesting perspective, how those ideals play into our daily lives and we don’t even notice it, because it’s ritualistic for us in a way, but we don’t notice something like that, culture and religion do play into our daily lives, when comparing countries to populations around the globe. It is liberating for a lot of people to be able to see the purity of something so simple… It’s not complicated, we are all human, we are all here and the idea behind it is quite simple, yet liberating at the same time.
When you think about Millennials, you just turned 28, what advice do you have for Millennials who are trying to find themselves and trying to figure out what they want for their lives?
“Be passionate about something. I feel like a lot of people, don’t even have a passion right now other than being online, or something digital, or technological. A lot of us forget to give ourselves the time to sit down and write, or sit down and draw or sing, or just some kind of mode of expression and I think that is what is so important, finding your way of expressing yourself… I think we are all in this rush of a job and making money and the money is going to give us clothes that is going to make us happy, or makeup, or this or that, but it’s not about that.”
If you are interested in being a part of Cynthia’s next “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust” 2016 BodyPaintography body of work at Burning Man, CLICK HERE to participate