Only Human: Body Painting

A New York-based artist paints on a living, breathing medium.

WORDS Jess Swanson
July 2019

When Trina Merry paints, she considers color, shadow—and how long her canvas can stand without a bathroom break. That’s because she’s a world-champion body painter and people are a testy medium. She paints fast to meet the demands of the human circulation and muscular systems, with sessions lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours (though more elaborate scenarios have taken 18). Merry’s auditions can attract as many as 600 models, and she holds regular training sessions to review poses and stretches. “Every body is different—different life experiences, different injuries, different genetics,” Merry says. “There’s so much beauty in that, in the ability to be alive and have a range of motion.”

London, England

This month, Merry will be performing at the World Bodypainting Festival in Klagenfurt, Austria (July 11-13), and NYC Bodypainting Day in Brooklyn (July 20). She doesn’t typically rely on backdrops and prefers to paint models outside in public, often camouflaging them into the setting by painting from a single perspective. “It’s as if I had X-ray vision and immerse the model into the background,” she explains. “There’s a dissolving of the body to reveal the oneness we all experience with the environment and each other.”

Giza pyramids in Egypt

Merry began figure painting on regular canvases before migrating to bodies in 2006. Her work has taken her to the pyramids in Egypt, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Easter Island. “I incorporate the history, architecture and environment with the lines of the human body,” she says, and she has come to appreciate the body for its “shadows and contours and softness.” The practice, she’s found, builds compassion and body acceptance.

Istanbul, Turkey

Jess Swanson

Jess Swanson is the senior editor at American Way and Celebrated Living. She graduated from Columbia University School of Journalism. Her reporting has taken her from the python-infested Everglades swamps to a bubbling onsen in Tokyo to a lava-spouting volcano in Nicaragua.


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