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National Post

Their skin is his Canvas

 


Ian Bailey
National Post


December 28, 2001 

Photo by Jeff Vinnick, 


... Georgia Barchard, nude except for bikini bottoms, stands in the bathroom of Martin Armand's basement apartment as he dresses her in a white jacket with green pants.
But the costume exists only in the water-based paints Armand is using on his 22-year-old model with an airbrush, creating the illusion she is wearing a suit.

"It feels like someone is blowing air on me," says Barchard.

"It's fun. It's artistic," she says while Armand works, largely in silence, waving his brush and watching intently. "It's a good challenge to make art out of a body. To change somebody's body so you can't recognize it's a body is the neatest thing. I don't recognize myself sometimes."

Hours later, Barchard poses for Armand. He posts photos of his work on his Web site ( www.martinarmand.com ) .
"I feel dressed again," says Barchard, posing for Armand so he can take his pictures.
She's not dressed at all. But the illusion is the art for 35-year-old Armand, who has been practicing his craft on such TV shows as Dark Angel and working in such Vancouver events as the M.A.C. Viva Glam Garden Party -- a major fundraising effort mounted by the fashion industry for AIDS research.

Three years ago, Armand began working with airbrushing in hopes of getting more work in the industry. It was a new twist in a devotion to art that has been a part of Armand's life since he was born in Tehran.

Armand started calligraphy when he was about six and painting when he was about 15. As a young man, he painted propaganda posters and murals for the government of Iran.


"Over there, I had a limited amount of creative freedom," he says. "Here is the reverse -- total freedom. You can paint on a naked body and no one will say anything."

Armand, who fled Iran for Montreal in 1990, has an intense ongoing passion for airbrush body painting -- a new hot twist in the use of a tool first invented in the United States in 1884.

With a canvas, he says, there is no time limit for the painter. The canvas is patient. A living model gets tired, moves and sweats.
"You have to finish it in a certain period of time," he says. "It's not frustrating. It's challenging."

Armand acknowledges the erotic aspect of his work. He is single now but recently broke up with his girlfriend." She was cool about [the body painting]. Whoever is going to be my girlfriend has to understand this is a part of my job, my art."

Barchard has no problem with being naked. "It's not a huge hang up for me," she says.

The publisher and founder of an airbrush magazine also says there's a sexy side to the art. "When it's painted in certain zones of the body, it is suggestive and sexy," Cliff Stieglitz says from Allen wood, N.J. -- home base for his Airbrush Action magazine, distributed in North America, Europe and Asia.

"Creative people are very open about that sort of thing."
Stieglitz says body painting is a new use for airbrushes -- hand-held tools that distribute liquid and powdered material by air pressure. The rise of digital art has curbed the use of airbrushes on boards for posters or in ad campaigns, leaving car design, model work and body painting as the key uses, he says.
Stieglitz calls body painting a preferable option to tattoos. "A tattoo is forever but this is temporary," he says. "You get a cool effect and you wash it off."

Armand said it was initially difficult to find models on which to hone his craft, partly because he did not have photos of his work to prove his credibility.
"It was hard to make people believe this has nothing to do with sex or monkey business," he said. "I was lucky I got my first couple of models."

Since then, he has worked on about 50 models, leaving a track record visible in a series of snapshots he shows a visitor. Models have been transformed into cyborgs, leopards and such superheroes as Captain America and Spider-Man. Some -- as with Georgia -- have been garbed with lingerie, tuxedos, swimsuits and even jean shorts. One woman -- eight-months pregnant -- had a fetus painted, in detail, on her belly.

Most clients are female. Barchard became one of Armand's models after they met while he was doing a display of his work at a Vancouver department store. Armand painted shells on Barchard to help make a mermaid costume she was wearing more authentic. While chatting, she checked out his portfolio.

"Seeing all the different characters made me think I should do it too," she says.
Eventually, Barchard will wash off the paint and Armand's art will go down the drain. He doesn't mind.
"I have to accept it," he says. "I still have a photo memory of it. It's going to be on the Web site. That makes me feel happy. Someone else can enjoy it."