Body painter Brandon McGill turns real-life flesh & blood into fairy tales

By Ashley Naftule, October 2019 issue. Photos courtesy of Brandon McGill

With

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.

“I

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

body itself.

If

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.

Brandon McGill

McGill

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.

“My

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…”

It’s

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

watercolor session.

Best Tardy as the Fool Card in the series, TAROT

But

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.

“I

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.

While

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.”

Among

his proudest accomplishments is working with the disabled. 

“I

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

out.”

Seth Powers, Bear Michael, and Nola Yergen in GODS AND MONSTERS

McGill

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.

His

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. 

“I’m

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.”

Ben Foos from the band Fairy Bones in ESCAPE ROOM

While

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.”

An

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.

In

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

activating.”

Eager

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.”

It’s

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.


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