Bare Skin Is the Canvas for Donna Huanca

Bare Skin Is the Canvas for Donna Huanca

In 2006 she did the summer program at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, starting what she calls “my hobo life of residencies and finding ways to work with nothing” — moving between New York and Berlin with a stay in Mexico City as well. There, in 2012, she dipped garments like a velvet dress and leather shorts into paint and hung them on the wall for a show at the Preteen Gallery. A couple of years later, in Brooklyn, she began experimenting with painting directly on the skin of friends.

Her biggest attention-getter came in 2017 at Art Basel, when her gallery, Peres Projects, presented her work in the Unlimited section, devoted to venturesome artists. For an eight-day, eight-hours-a-day performance, she painted the skin of two nude models and set them adrift in her own sculptural installation. Sabine Schaschl, director at Museum Haus Konstruktiv in Zurich, was among many who shared images on Instagram, writing, “Lock eyes with a model and the lines between looking and being looked at begin to bend.”

At the time the artist was painting skin by hand, waking up around 5 a.m. to create a new pair of body paintings every day. For the Marciano show she is using machine sprayers, giving each model a set pattern and palette to be replicated through the show. Some are painted to match the sculptures they stand near — more or less camouflaged.

Ms. Huanca likes to include natural materials like turmeric and coffee grounds in her canvases, body paintings and sculptures alike. This time, she dusted turmeric on the models’ shoulders. For the hair extensions, she initially used horsehair but switched to synthetics a couple of years ago. “I got an extension where some pieces of skin were left on,” she said, “and I said: ‘I’m done with this.’ It felt cruel and abusive.”

It wasn’t the right visual, to say the least, for art that celebrates the flesh.


Donna Huanca: Obsidian Ladder

Through Dec. 1, Marciano Art Foundation, 4357 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, marcianoartfoundation.org. Timed tickets are available online.

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