Cynthia Fleischmann: the body painting queen
April 7, 2016
We are all pupils of history. As developing individuals we are told to locate a fervent desire and pursue it. Hence, in order to exercise and successfully master the particular craft that strikes the impressionable student, one must become familiar with the artistry’s birth and evolution.
Consequently, we read about our ancestors and the founding fathers of the modern condition, we observe remnants of what they have left behind, scrimmage through pages of books illustrating buildings, steam boats and machines. We listen to compositions and allow them to put us under their spell, love and even sympathize with their creators. We observe the labor that has been accomplished before us and decipher messages. We learn how to make bricks, we solidify them and as humanity has been doing since before Christ, brick by brick we build homes that reflect everything that is inside of us.
On Easter Sunday, the gates to a world that has lived inside of me for years were opened and I was given the opportunity to become a living piece of art. As I sat in a junglesque environment discussing the repetition of history, the unbearable human condition of shaking up obsolete conflicts as if they were dice and dispersing them to new locations as well as the sweeping beauty of nature with a woman whom words are insufficient to do justice, I realized that I was witnessing history in the making, literally standing in the page of a future book. The woman behind those gates is Cynthia Fleischmann: an artist, a visionary, a joy to encounter, merely a marvel nestled into the seams of what can at times be quite a regrettably cruel world.
She lives in a house nestled along one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in Miami, somewhere between Coconut Grove and Coral Gables lies a home whose walls have witnessed the creation of masterpieces. The property is very much alive and representative of a utopic studio. The gates are adorned with paint and a fluffy bear-like elderly dog by the name of Tala nonchalantly greets you at the entrance before she continues to relish her magnanimous abode in the shade. The space symbolizes the epitome of the Miami art scene, a city whose intellectual cafés are embedded into what was once a swampland. Much like the Ficus and Kapok trees that govern South Florida’s tropics, the wonder of Fleischmann’s home develops before the guests’ eyes and its roots grab a hold of them as they unveil the awe-inspiring and mordant nature ingrained within the magic city.
Her trade is a profession found as far back as the Stone Age, she is an artist that exercises an esthetic manifestation of human identity by utilizing the body as her canvas and embedding it into rudimentary environments, consequently promoting an interaction between the object, location, and the self. The images that she creates alongside her subjects are then photographed to capture the final piece, a camouflage image of the self and the interior dialogue it maintains with its surroundings.
Cynthia’s work has been praised around the globe for “jaw dropping” images that in a sense actively demonstrate her own layered identity. They are a tug of war between European and American culture, but more specifically the segregated relationships that both identities have with nudity. Cynthia’s timeline is a divided one, scattered with a progression of shifting back and forth from New England and Switzerland all the while venturing her gaze to more conservative countries where the use of burkas are a common practice. She is a self-professed admirer of visual stimulation and as such her work on the body and its relationship to the environment seems only natural. Her exploration of the riptide that separates the two very diverse worlds that she was brought up in and their dissimilar approach to the body was at the heart of what she calls “bodypaintography”. Nonetheless, the essence of her work has clearly evolved into a more in-depth exploration of societies and the self.
There is always an opportunity to discover more profound truths behind opposing views and in this particular case, Fleischmann’s original exploration is centered around the body as a taboo meant to be covered versus the exposed silhouette as a harmless and natural state of being. According to general observations, in the United States, the body is either shunned or overtly sexualized and used as a marketing tool. The U.S. is a place in which women and men instinctually turn their gaze from the naked form in shame and group showers are associated with haunting images of prisons and tasteless jokes that usually involve the overused punch line “don’t drop the soap”. Yet a trip to Europe in the warm months of summer will reveal nudist sunbathing freely, communal showers and an unbiased approach to the human form as none other than the natural shape that we inherited from monkeys.
The birth of Cynthia’s work can be traced to her initial exploration of contrasting positions when speaking of the body in addition to a Chilean book Cuerpos Pintados, in which models’ bodies were painted against a black background in a studio; a book that Cynthia claims to have been intrigued by, but that somewhat provoked a malaise because of its setting. Fleischmann frequently references the book and details its ramifications in her work. Her interaction with the book resulted in an inkling that suggested the bodies as somewhat trapped in a studio. She was under the impression that even if the bodies were painted beautifully there was something missing in their shapes, life was missing from them, because as they lay against black walls in a studio they were temporary statues. However, she questioned herself and thought what if these bodies were to be taken out of the studio and incorporated into daily life?
Consequently, Fleischmann began using a combination of the quotidian and painted bodies as a canvas with the purpose of truly bringing her pieces to life. It seems only natural, given the body’s organic qualities to place it in an animated environment. Thus, Cynthia encourages her audience and subjects to find inspiration anywhere and everywhere by opening their eyes to our surroundings in the hopes of acquiring some much needed awareness. Hence, her pieces provide a more detailed account of a broader perspective as they embrace the desire to freeze frame a moment in time and truly distinguish the value of photographs in an ever-evolving world polluted with social media and the over saturation of images. The visual world she captures is more than an Instagram upload. If we desire to constantly intellectualize art or stack filters on an app we forget to sit and simply see the world as it is. Live and breathe it. Flieschmann’s photographs might just allow us to do so.
Cynthia Fleischmann’s work is impregnated with symbolic meaning that is consistently evolving, because she attempts to extrapolate what lies within ultimately not only creating art, but mutating into an author of stories through photography in visual tales that are left open to the observer’s interpretation. Therefor, the uncanny sensation that her work provokes is quite possibly linked to the collaborative nature of it. She forges a collection of pieces that spark numerous dialogues; between the subject and the model, the model and the artist, the model and the paint as well as the finished product with its audience. Her creations are the result of fluid interaction and an acute exchange of ideas. Her shoots represent a sequence in which the model sheds layers of walls built through social constructs and embraces his or her body as a form of art while a simultaneous exploration of the subconscious takes place. Thereafter, a cathartic process unfolds with the shedding of the paint from the body and a progressive acquisition of inner solace through the acceptance of one’s habitually shunned splendor.
This Easter Sunday I was transformed into an egg and painted in earth tones meant to mesh into bamboo plants flourishing in Cynthia Fleischmann’s backyard. As I stood there covered in green, yellow, brown and black hues with the emblematic red hands that symbolize her work, a personal egg hunt took place or much rather a metaphorical journey into my soul. I recall feeling each brushstroke upon my body with a tingling sensation that can only be described as liberating. The entire session was a ponderous striptease in which I was invited to shed the layers of insecurities projected by our society and truly connect with myself and the bamboo, fully immersing in nature without scruples or fear, but as I was brought onto the earth.
Thus, what initially felt like an awkward dance between majestic woody grass-like structures transformed into a genuine connection with the robust sturdy branches and a window to my soul. 24 hours later, paintless and showered I now sit at my computer grateful to have been a part of such a transcending experience and full of hope for our community, because in spite of the evils that haunt us, there are individuals such as Cynthia still capable of extracting beauty from mere seconds and metamorphosing them into monumental moments that represent who we are as a people.
Cynthia is a capturer of instants, a true artist at heart and in that perspective an intuitive individual. Her projects range from activist paintings calling attention to injustice, PETA inspired works, Burning Man productions, educative workshops for the youth and as if that weren’t enough, she is also a visionary. She is currently in the process of developing a project that would put Miami on the top of the revolutionary transportation scene. She has hopes of connecting Downtown Miami with South Beach through a gondola project that would transfigure the way people get around Miami. Inspired by the Swiss alps intricate gondola system she desires to connect the South Beach island to the mainland through flying bubbles that would allow the commuter time to soak in the cities grandeur, get some work done or just relax instead of the habitual 30 minute to an hour drive across the bridge fueled by a massive amount of honking, accidents and explosive cursing. The project would be powered by solar panels and host a home base next to the PAMM harboring a restaurant with a view, a park to practice leisure activities in and many other equally appetizing details that are in the works and with any luck will come to life in the near future.
Evidently, Cynthia Fleischmann is an example to live by, her voice is one that must be heard and echoed around all the dark corners of the earth. I have been a pupil, I have read about valiant, autonomous, avant guard women in the pages of history. I have long admired artists such as Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo and Lee Miller -amongst many others- often wondering whether I would cross paths with a real life visionary or if these women were just idolized creatures from the past. Cynthia Fleischmann has granted me the great honor of bumping heads with a true artist and restored my hope in the promising nature of our generation.
Not only has she established herself as an artist, she has also become a symbol of strength after the survival of a devastating accident, the loss of a limb and the incessant pursuit of recovery. I might have failed to mention Cynthia’s almost fatal crash in October 2015, mainly because she has never allowed herself to become a victim. The woman is a true inspiration in spite of her missing limb, she is an authentic artist, one for the books. Prior to her accident she was already a rockstar mounting interactive canvases at Burning Man, traveling the world and spreading her vision. In the aftermath, she has done nothing but prove humankind’s extraordinary capabilities. I met her at the Grass Roots Festival a mere three months after her accident dancing under the stars with a crutch in her right arm and a gentle smile permanently painted on her face. She is fierce, she is indestructible and given the opportunity she will lead our generation to imperative levels of humility.
Fleischmann’s work is currently on display at Art House 429 in West Palm Beach. You can locate more information about her work, here.