GSN’s new hit show Skin Wars offers an inside look at the up-and-coming art form of body painting. Thirteen of the country’s top artists battle it out each week in intense challenges that push them to their limits. With the grand prize including $100,000, these artists will have to give it their all each week when facing elimination.
Hosted by the X-Men trilogy’s own Mystique, Rebecca Romijn, and a table full of talented judges including the chameleon himself, RuPaul, and super-talented body painters Robin Slonina and Craig Tracy, owner of The Craig Tracy Gallery in New Orleans.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Craig about his role in helping create Skin Wars and his hopes for the connection the show will make with audiences.
Channel Guide Magazine: How did you get asked to become a judge? Did you know about the show beforehand?
Craig Tracy: I got connected with the producers, literally a year-and-a-half before the show was purchased by GSN. So I have a producer’s credit, me and Robin both. We helped consult on everything, because the producers don’t know anything about body painting. We were sort of their consultants and I think I literally had 400 communications with one of the producers. We just didn’t know exactly what was going to happen and who was going to buy it and what format — but when it all came down, we were prepared and it was wonderful.
I’m easy to find regarding body painting. I think I’ve probably judged at 15 to 20 international competitions, so I might be the most qualified judge on the subject, I guess. I love this art form and have dedicated my life to it completely so anything I can do to help it makes me happy.
CGM: What would you say separates body painting from any other type of painting or art form, other than the canvases?
CT: The idea that the human body contains a soul! I mean you’re not painting an inanimate object; you’re painting someone. And that is far more intriguing in every circumstance than a canvas or a metal or anything. I’ve painted on leather, glass, probably 100 surfaces, but nothing compares to the human being.
CGM: What do you look for when judging on the show?
CT: Oh, I love technique, but the thing that is most impressive to me and is one of our criteria as a judge is creativity. Creativity makes the difference for me between a good painting and a great painting. Creativity can have elements of humor, the little bits of surprise, intrigue, mystery. But if it’s just a beautifully rendered painting, that’s just kind of boring like a machine could’ve done it.
CGM: On the subject of creativity, if you see somebody else has something similar to another body painter’s artwork, what do you do with that?
CT: Oh yeah, that’s unfortunate. I’ve literally judged thousands of body paintings, so not only that, but I own the largest library in the world on body painting books. Books from Russia, Poland, South America — so I’ve seen a lot. So [I appreciate] when someone comes in front of me with their body painting, if they can bring it together in a way that’s exciting or dynamic or humorous in any way, just not point-blank — you know, “and this is a tree, this is a car, and this is a dog”
That’s something that some people don’t understand about the judging is that it’s not who can paint the best, it’s who can create the best. Being an artist is being connected to way more than just your technical abilities. Because again, a machine can do things technically well. The essence of an artist is what’s going on inside of that artist’s brain.
CGM: Robin had mentioned that you were uncertain whether to use prosthetics or not on Skin Wars. Do you think using prosthetics helps the creativity of the artists — or not so much?
CT: I’ve judged special-effects body painting for a lot of years. It’s part of the World Bodypainting Festival as its own separate category. I think the use of prosthetics is wonderful for a show like Face Off — special effects makeup. But body painting to me is body painting. It is not gluing horns and bumps and hooves. Wigs, I don’t give a @#$%. Humans have hair — except for me and a few others. Ultimately, hair is something we don’t even judge on. It’s like judging a woman on her purse or something. It’s just a @#$%ing purse. Body painting and prosthetics — I’m not a fan for a show like Skin Wars. I’m also not a big fan of glitter.
This is not a special effects makeup show and/or competition. If it were to be, then I think that’s a whole separate category. And if you’ve seen perhaps on shows like Face Off, things can go crazy. You can wind up with models on stilts with giant wings, and it’s like, that’s great — but the beauty of a human body comes through on a show like Skin Wars, whereas a show like Face Off hides the beauty of the human body.
In my personal work, I don’t allow anything like that, there’s no pasties, there’s no panties. It’s just pure body painting.
CGM: What’s something that has shocked you since you’ve started your career in body painting?
CT: I love the question! I’ve been asked many questions and that one’s never been asked — so thank you!
I’ve been shocked by how much it’s brought to my life. Like it has literally as an artist made me one of the happiest people in the world. When you get into something, you don’t know if it’s really going to work and for me when I became a full-time body painting artist, it just absolutely made my life exceptional. Whenever I go to work, I’m literally working with someone like you, another human being, to create something beautiful. That has been I guess the greatest shock and I hoped for it but when it comes true you’re like, “This is @#$%ing awesome!” Also, in my particular career, I’ve been asked to go all over the world, so that’s always amazing as well. It’s been incredibly well received as well; I opened the first art gallery in the world for body painting and I’ve watched many art galleries close while mine continues to stay open. So that means people are buying it.
CGM: What has been the most common advice you’ve given the contestants on the show so far?
CT: Well, they don’t allow us to really give them advice — and that really is real. They really don’t want us to, because the Game Show Network really wants fairness. So when we have given advice it’s been to address the group, but I think that only happened once. In general, the advice that I give people is to push themselves creatively. Never play it safe especially on a show like Skin Wars — if you play it safe, there’s a really good chance you’re going to be going home. So I just tell them to push it and to create something that’s going to delight us.
CGM: You also have RuPaul working with you on the show as a judge. How has it been working with him?
CT: RuPaul! When I heard his name mentioned as a judge, I was smiling so much. I’ve respected RuPaul since I don’t know what year, in the ’90s. He is a man of incredible experience and taste. He understands art, which is important, and he’s so smart, so when he doesn’t know something, he’s smart enough to ask a question. So 95 percent of the time, we were all on the same page as judges. It was very @#$%ing awesome, because there are other people like the producers — and sometimes even Rebecca — that would see things completely different than the way the judges would see things. Then we could explain whenever you judge something like that, you don’t wanna say “Oh, that’s just because of how I feel.” You need to go “Well, that’s because I’ve seen that 50 times already or it’s because I know that artist and that’s them playing it safe.”
CGM: What do you hope viewers will take away from the show?
CT: Well, my big hope for the show is that America — and I don’t know if it’s playing in Canada, too — can connect to the beauty and the challenge of body painting. I’m in love with this art form. I tell people body painting is like chocolate and I just want to share it with everybody.
In my own experience, with my own life, in my own gallery, I do get to do that and I get to make a lot of people smile. I said this in a local interview, “This is way more interesting than cake decorating.” I think there’s like @#$%ing five shows for cake decorating and this is way more interesting than decorating a cake! I mean, wow! There’s no comparison!
So I just hope that America connects to it and that it finds its audience and it’s able to grow. Season 2 will be better than Season 1 and Season 3 would be better than Season 2, because the more opportunities there are for challenges, the better it’s going to get. The end of Skin Wars Season 1, you’re going to go on a journey and you’re going to see things you never dreamed you’d see. So that is just so fun and I hope people get to see that because we’ve got ideas for challenges to keep going!
New episodes of Skin Wars air Wednesday nights at 9/8CT on GSN.
Video: Craig Tracy & GSN