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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Informing Contexts – Collaboration and a Whole Load of Paint!

The artist Wangechi Mutu has produced images addressing issues of race, gender and identity amongst others. She uses a variety of media including collage, ink and acrylic to create her work. At the centre of her portfolio are powerful female hybrid creatures, mythical in appearance. I planned this shoot where my model was to be covered completely with body paint so that I could explore Mutu’s work in a photographic context. Mutu’s thoughts in the quote below sum up how I view my current practice.

“Art allows you to imbue the truth with a sort of magic…so it can infiltrate the psyches of more people, including those who don’t believe the same things as you.”

– Wangechi Mutu (Thornton 2015, p.59)


Figure 1: Wangechi Mutu. 2004. Hide and Seek, Kill or Speak.

Figure 1 was the inspiration for the body paint and the shoot.

I asked the makeup artist to use greens, blues and yellows on the model rather than copy the colours exactly.  Whilst I was taking inspiration from Mutu’s work, I did not want to completely copy her images.

The process of covering a model in body part is a long process – over 6 hours in fact.  During that time, we kept the heating on full in the studio as it was a particularly cold winter’s day.

For the sake of decency and given the poses I wanted to capture, the model was nude except for a pair of skin coloured pants that were covered in paint.

Figure 2: Sutherst 2017

Figure 2 shows various stages of the body paint being applied.  Both the makeup artist and the model were extremely patient.  The model’s hair was left spiky so it could easily be transformed into spines at a later stage in post processing.

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Figure 3: Sutherst 2017

The studio was set for high key lighting and shot against a white backdrop (wasn’t white for long!).

Over 2 hours, 628 images were captured.  each one had a different pose, head or hand position.  I did not want to have to repeat the exercise due to the length of time it took to complete the body paint.


Figure 4: Burrard-Lucas Wildlife Photography. 2017. Spines

In post processing, I decided to take influence from Mutu’s spiny image and add spines to my model.  I found an image on the internet (figure 4) which showed blue spines running along the back of a blue iguana.  I manipulated these in photoshop to give the subject a spiny back.  The colour toned perfectly with the body paint.


Figure 5: Sutherst 2017

I decided to take a photograph of lichen on a wooden fence (figure 5) using my iPhone.  This formed the background and foreground of the resultant image (figure 6).

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Figure 6: Sutherst 2017

Personally I am not sure if I like the image.  It is very contrived, but it is quite pleasing to look at.  I do find myself looking for meaning in the image.  The subject appears strong and powerful.  She also portraying peacefulness and serenity.  Both the model and makeup artist are extremely pleased with the image.

The model was paid for the shoot, but the makeup artist worked for trade of images once they have been edited.  I asked her why she wanted to be involved in the project.  I have attached the makeup artist’s testimonial that she wrote to explain this.

The next step with these images is to embroider onto them to create a manipulated image where the spines respond to the colour and shape of the model.

I would like to thank the makeup artist and model for making this work possible :).


Thornton, S. (2015) 33 Artists in 3 Acts. London, UK: W.W.Norton & Company Ltd.

Figure 1: Wangechi Mutu. 2004. Hide and Seek, Kill or Speak. FROM:  STUDYBLUE. (2017). STUDYBLUE | Find and share online flashcards and notes from StudyBlue. Any subject, anywhere, anytime.. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 January 2017].

Figure 4: Burrard-Lucas Wildlife Photography. 2017. Spines.  FROM: Burrard-Lucas Wildlife Photography. (2017). Spines – Burrard-Lucas Photography. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 January 2017].

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