Body painter Brandon McGill turns real-life flesh & blood into fairy tales
By Ashley Naftule, October 2019 issue. Photos courtesy of Brandon McGill
his wavy dark hair and beaming smile, Valley artist Brandon McGill isn’t
exactly the spitting image of Salvador Dali. He lacks the mad Spaniard’s
intense diamond-cracking stare and gravity-defying mustache, but the two men do
share one thing in common: A warped perspective on the world.
feel like I have a very Salvador Dali-esque brain,” McGill says over the phone
with a chuckle. “I like to exaggerate things,” McGill said. “Where I’ll be
like, ‘Oh, let’s make these legs longer.’” Describing his personal aesthetic as
equal parts Tim Burton and Salvador Dali, McGill’s visual art is bold,
Surrealistic, and bursting with fantastical imagery. It’s also not entirely
family-friendly, as one of McGill’s favorite surfaces to paint on is the human
you’ve been to your fair share of underground shows, fashion events, or
goth-friendly happenings over the years, you’ve probably seen McGill at work.
The body painter is an old hand when it comes to painting live. And if you
haven’t seen McGill at work, you’ve probably seen his canvases: Naked men and
women transformed into satyrs, fauns, faeries, demons, succubi, aliens, snow
queens, and all manners of things that looked like they emerged out of a Todd
Haynes’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
has received considerable acclaim for his work as a painter and makeup artist.
Phoenix Magazine named him their best artist of 2018; his work has been
featured in Out Magazine and The Advocate; his music video for "Dually
Noted" won Music Video Of The Year by the Arizona Republic; and he's also
received a Makeup Artist Of The Year award from RAW Artists.
creative journey has taken a lot of twists and turns,” McGill says, reflecting
on his evolution as an artist. “I’ve done everything from music to deejaying to
canvas art.” It was his love of working with 2-D art that led him to using skin
as his muse and canvas. “One of my canvas models who I was painting on campus
at the time asked me to paint him. We posted it online as a kind of joke, and
then 900 body paintings later…”
easy to find the idea of body painting risqué and titillating, but the truth is
that it’s a very tricky process to master — and one that comes with a unique
set of challenges. “For one thing, you have to deal with the fatigue of the
model,” McGill explains. “Them being able to stand and be comfortable.” It’s
one area where the canvas artists of the worlds have an advantage: You never
have to worry about your Michael’s canvas cramping up in the midst of a
the real challenge comes from dealing with a “material” that is as unique and
individualistic as McGill’s artwork. “Everyone’s skin is different,” he says.
“Some people are oilier; some paints stick differently to people depending on
what’s going on with them.” Considering the wide gamut of shapes and sizes
humans come in, keeping an open mind and adapting on the fly is a vital skill
for any body painter.
take a chaotic approach that I kind of have to expect that anything that could
go wrong will go wrong, so I have to be flexible and adapt because everyone’s
bodies are different,” McGill says.
many of the models in McGill’s portfolio have fairly sculpted,
ready-for-the-boudoir physiques, the Valley painter stresses that he doesn’t
have a “type” for his work. “I don’t have a specific criteria on what your body
must look like,” McGill says. “Everyone is welcome in my studio.”
his proudest accomplishments is working with the disabled.
painted someone in Oregon during a naked bike ride where they wanted to
participate but they were in a wheelchair, so they got one of those
front-powered bikes and I painted them and they felt beautiful all painted
has created a variety of different thematic series for his body paintings, like
the astonishing Neon City that features models in paints that make them
glow like Tron characters. Or Heroes & Villains and Gods and
Monsters, where McGill transforms his subjects into resplendent deities and
cackling Gotham supervillains. The Tim Burton influence is particularly pronounced
in his Alive In Wonderland series, where he recreates Lewis Carroll’s
iconic characters with a dark, erotic energy that’s far more compelling and
less off-putting than the giant-head/Johnny Deppification of Wonderland that
Burton pulled off in his movies. He also used his fascination for Lewis
Carroll’s work as inspiration for the music video he wrote and directed for
Fairy Bones’ “Notes From Wonderland,” complementing the Valley rockers sound
with his unique, fractured fairy tale visuals.
current project is one of his most ambitious efforts yet. For his Tarot series,
McGill plans to create his own tarot deck by transforming each of his subjects
into one of the 78 major or minor arcana cards. He said he plans to print
actual decks based on his art once the series is complete. McGill is currently
taking applications for folks who are interested in being
transformed into Tarot cards.
taking a page out of Avatar where I’m breaking it up into four elemental
chapters: The swords sword is the wind element, so we’re doing swords right
now. Previously I did cups, which is the water element. And then wands are fire
and pentacles are earth.”
McGill says he’s consulting the iconic Rider-Waite tarot deck for inspiration,
he’s putting his own unique spin on the iconography of the Tarot. “Rider-Waite
uses a lot of the colors that I don’t use,” McGill says. “They use a certain
yellow that I just can’t stand…. And there’s some Christian imagery in those
cards that I didn’t include because my deck is very LGBTQ focused.”
avowed atheist (“since I was a small child”), McGill nevertheless is fascinated
by mythology and spiritual energy. “Through my art I get to study different
backgrounds and religions,” he muses. Like his spiritual ancestor, McGill’s
Dali brain bends conventional occult imagery into strange and wild new shapes.
addition to the tarot project, McGill is hard at work on a variety of side
hustles. One of the most unusual of them being escape room design: McGill
helped create a horror-themed setting for the Eludesions Escape Room. “The idea
is that people are trapped in the paintings and you have to escape the room by
solving this curse,” McGill says of the escape room project, marveling at the
weird puzzles his Eludesions collaborators have come up. “There’s a scent
puzzle in there, which I wasn’t expecting. There’s only one key in the entire
room; everything else is all organic and wired puzzles. Like, if you put this
candle on this mantle, it will do something- everything is electronically
to talk shop, McGill expresses his love for color theory over the phone. While
he hates the Rider-Waite yellows, he confesses a deep love for blue in all its
permutations. “They started calling a blue that I use Brandon blue because I
use it in just about everything,” he says. “I really metallic blues and teals …
I love contrasts.”
one thing to win awards and gain renown for your work; how many artists can
claim to have a color named after him? That’s why Brandon McGill is a Valley
artist worth watching. Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves; he
paints his on everyone else’s.