Art au naturel: Volunteers strip down in U.K., New York for mass art projects

On both sides of the Atlantic this weekend, everyday people bared their bodies — and endured a lot of body paint — for two highly public art exhibitions.

Spencer Tunick shoot, Bodypainting Day saw thousands volunteer to bare their bodies for art

People manoeuvre into position as they take part in a mass nude art installation entitled Sea of Hull by New York artist Spencer Tunick in Hull, England on Saturday. (Danny Lawson/The Associated Press)

Note: this story contains images of nudity.

On both sides of the Atlantic this weekend, everyday people bared their bodies — and endured a lot of body paint — for two highly public art exhibitions.

Approximately 3,200 people stripped naked and painted their bodies blue for a new work staged in the U.K. by American artist Spencer Tunick on Saturday, according to Hull City Council.

People stand in a public park for Tunick's mass nude art installation Sea of Hull. Volunteers gathered around several local landmarks for the photos. (Danny Lawson/The Associated Press)

Specifically, the event was designed to celebrate the English city of Hull's relationship with the sea — hence the blue (four shades of blue, to be precise).

The New York artist is famous for enlisting regular folk to doff their clothes and become subjects for his large-scale photographic works. 

Tunick also said he intended Sea of Hull to reference climate change and the rising of the oceans. (Danny Lawson/The Associated Press)

For his latest piece, entitled Sea of Hull, Tunick convinced participants to cover themselves in blue paint and pose near, in or on various local landmarks, including the tourist attraction of a swing bridge known as the Scale Lane footbridge.

Tunick also said he intended the work to reference climate change and the rising of the oceans, so blue seemed a natural choice for his adventurous subjects. 

American artist Spencer Tunick is known for organizing large-scale nude photo shoots. Sea of Hull is intended to celebrate the English seaside city's maritime heritage. (Danny Lawson/The Associated Press)

Hull, a northern English city, has a storied maritime culture that dates back to the 12th century. Tunick's artwork was commissioned by the Ferens Art Gallery to honour the seaside milieu and mark the city's celebration as the U.K. City of Culture next year.

The artist has been creating such works since the 1990's — with his nude photos often met with controversy. He's been arrested multiple times for organizing similar projects in his hometown.

More feather-ruffling lies ahead: Tunick is planning a piece for the upcoming Republican national convention. His concept? Multitudes of women will clutch large mirrors which, according to the artist, will "reflect the knowledge and wisdom of progressive women and the concept of Mother Nature into and onto" the convention site. 

Same day, different naked people

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic on Saturday, another art project also embraced the state of being au naturel.

Charles Darius was among the participants who posed nude for bodypainting artists on the third annual NYC Bodypainting Day on Saturday. Dozens of artists used naked volunteers as canvases for the event, which celebrates freedom of artistic expression and body acceptance. (Dino Hazell/The Associated Press)

About 100 naked volunteers gathered in New York to offer their bodies as canvases for dozens of bodypainting artists. The event marked NYC Bodypainting Day, which celebrates freedom of artistic expression as well as body acceptance.

Bodypainting Day is held annually, with 2016 the third year it took place in New York. Festivities also take place in Amsterdam and Brussels.

This year's experience in the Big Apple — held at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, outside the United Nations headquarters — left many people blue. And green and orange and purple and neon yellow.

Megan Slawkawski looks at her reflection as bodypainter artist Uta Brauser applies paint. (Dino Hazell/The Associated Press)

After becoming living artworks, the in-the-buff volunteers boarded a double-decker bus that took the unique art show around the city. 

Unlike Tunick's staged shoots during his 90's heyday, the New York event faced the reality of modern tech.

Many onlookers snapped cell phone images and videos of the participants, who were in the midst of being painted in bold colours.

At least they needn't fear arrest: technically, public nudity is legal in New York when for artistic purposes, such as an outdoor theatre performance or an art show.

After volunteers were arrested during a bodypainting project in Times Square in 2011, one of the models sued and won a $15,000 US settlement, proving that sometimes it pays to have a flashy birthday suit. 

About the Author

Jelena Adzic


Jelena Adzic is a reporter, writer and radio columnist with the CBC Arts Unit. Her eyes light up at the mention of design, visual art and architecture.

With files from The Associated Press