The Unsung Heroes of Pop: Gotye "Skin Ilustrator" Emma Hack

Like PopDust on Facebook

This is the first in a series, in partnership with smartwater, saluting the contributions of the behind-the-scenes heroes of pop music–the people behind the people behind the hits. First up: skin illustrator Emma Hack, who spent 23 hours bodypainting Gotye and Kimbra for the smash "Somebody That I Used to Know" video.

smartwater, simplicity is delicious. Click here to learn more.

With over 280 million YouTube views, Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" is the most ubiquitous and iconic music video since viral savant Rebecca Black's "Friday," and that's in no small part to an Australian multimedia artist with the awesome name of Emma Hack.

Hack is a "skin illustrator," among other disciplines, and her striking camouflage body painting (and un-painting) of an unclothed Wally "Gotye" De Backer and Kimbra in the clip fleshes out (ahem) the raw hurt of the lyrics. Hack is an accomplished artist and photographer–you can see her work here. But even in fine-art circles, Hack may have to get used to being known first and foremost as the Gotye bodypainter. Fifty-million YouTube parodies–you can watch a few of them here (two dudes), here ("lesbian version"), here (College Humor), here (precocious little girl), and especially here (SNL, naked Andy Samberg)–can't be wrong.

We spoke with Hack about her painstaking process, and if bodypainting swimsuit models is in her future.

How'd you get started as a skin illustrator?

I had been face painting children in my teens while still at school. I studied make-up artistry on completion and my teacher Bill Peacock noticed my gift on the face and suggested that I should carry it down the human form in the same style. I entered a competition for fantasy make-up and created a full body paint and won! I loved the illusion of this and the rest is history.

Is "skin illustrator" the preferred term, versus "body painter?"

I personally see body painting as creating a character, or story on the body. As most of my work is now with a more illustrative feel, I have chosen to define it in this way for my art.

Modesty aside, would you say you are now the most famous skin illustrator in the world?

I don't think so. I feel I have created an iconic piece of body art history, like so many before me. Veruschka is the pioneer of this artform... Joanne Gair for the Demi Moore suit painting on Vanity Fair. Hopefully my work will be as valued as theirs as time passes.

Had you done skin illustrating for music videos prior to Gotye?

A few years back I created a piece for a video for the Australian group the Audreys, called "Paradise City." It's definitely a style I have been interested in for video.

How did that job come about? Did you know the director?

The producer/director Natasha Pincus contacted me after searching for someone who could create this concept. Luckily I was only a state away, and it all fell together beautifully. It landed on my lap at the best time possible.

Body-paint-as-camouflage is a signature of your work. Was Gotye at all reluctant? Seems like a fairly risky thing for an artist to do...

Wally was never reluctant, nor was Kimbra. Both artists loved the concept. It never occurred to them they were pushing the envelope.

How long did it take to paint Gotye and Kimbra? Can you explain the process and tools?

Stop-animation is a very difficult, lengthy technique that requires patience and skill. In the "Somebody That I Used to Know" clip, it took 23 hours straight to create on both Wally's and Kimbra's bodies.

The paint is a make-up product. I use a few different brands, depending on the colours I need to mix and the result required. It dries as a powder on the skin and some colors will crack a little. As time was the biggest obstacle for this work, I needed the make-up to last for 23 hours, so application had to be taken into consideration as well as the order in which we filmed for continuity.There was much to be considered.

I worked by myself on the video; budget restraints didn't allow for an assistant and really they would not have been doing much except changing my water. I choose not to work with assistants unless I am doing a large commercial gig, I prefer the brush to be my own.

To create this work, as with my own personal artwork, a camera had to be set with the viewpoint in which the camera will film from. Any other angle results in a mismatch and the painting not aligning. I choose not to work with stencils. I prefer my own eye and brush, so the result is slightly obscure and not "perfect," but it allows me to work the flow of the paint over the skin in a way that flatters the human form as much as possible, keeping the human element.

The stop-animation technique had me painting a spot, then stepping back. The camera operator would line Wally up and take a picture, then I would step in and paint another spot, so you had the creeping effect up the body–or down the body in Kimbra's case, with footage reversed. It is very difficult to stand still during this process; it was quite painful for both Wally and Kimbra.

The only recent examples of skin illustration in popular culture I can think of come from the annual swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated. Do you think those bodypainted models have anything to do with what you do?

That's how I started painting, and I love the illusion effect of painting clothing onto the body. But I prefer my artwork to be though of as sensual rather than sexual, so I've journeyed away from the swimsuit/lingerie painting styles. I am now more interested in the discussion of environment and being at one with our surroundings. This is the message I wish to portray in my artwork.

Emma Hack

Emma Hack, "Peregrine Falcon with Spotted Sun"


smartwater, simplicity is delicious. Click here to learn more.

Show Comments ()
Related Articles