Interior design scandal: wallpaper bares all

Why not paint a naked body with wallpaper, says artist Emma Hack in an exclusive interview with Annie Deakin
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The Independent Online

It's not often that naked bodies grace the interior design world. What a welcome change and all thanks to Australian artist Emma Hack who has launched a new book Wallpaper Collections 2005-2010. As extraordinary as it sounds, Hack uses the human body as wallpaper; she paints wallpaper prints onto naked models standing before said wallpaper creating an optical illusion. Her book, of which there are only 1000 copies - all signed - is the culmination of five years' work.

‘No expense has been spared, making it a special collectors piece of my work,' says Hack who describes her work as mixed media. ‘There are three dimensions to the work; the background wallpapers designed by the iconic late Florence Broadhurst, the model that is hand-painted into the design and the final photograph and image that is the result.’

Hack began her career as a children’s face painter and a make-up artist. ‘I studied make-up artistry and my teacher suggested to continue the painting down the human form. The following year, the Demi Moore cover of Vanity Fair was released with Joanne Gair's suit body paint. I didn't know anyone else was doing what I was and it made me realise I could make a career of my dreams.’ Hack's first creations involved painting clothes onto the naked model giving the illusion that the person was dressed. In 2002, she discovered Florence Broadhurst’s wallpapers and started using them in her body art camouflage work; the first took 19 hours; ‘I use predominantly Florence Broadhurst wallpapers, the designs are so easy to pick, they are just gorgeous.’

Like Hack, the late wallpaper artist Florence Broadhurst was an eccentric who abandoned convention with her art. Broadhurst hand-printed hundreds of unique and luxurious wallpapers mixing fuschia pinks, lemon yellows, lime green, vivid oranges and metallics in feminine and botanical patterns. She was murdered in 1977. ‘Each wallpaper has its own different energy and I want the personality and the feminine spirit to come out from it,' says Hack. 'The designs work in all rooms, I love 'Japanese Floral' for a bold feature and 'Cranes' will look amazing in a bedroom as its so gentle.’

One day, Hack hopes to design her own wallpaper having become a keen observer of the wallpaper industry.‘There are a lot of small boutique wallpaper houses appearing with really creative and bold designs and colour themes. It is wonderful that the minimal interior feel of the 2000's is evolving to something very textured, even if monochromatic in some cases. I think people are becoming more adventurous in general with fashion and design. Look at the latest digital prints being created by some of the world top fashion houses, they are incredible.’

Today, each of Hack's projects takes between eight and 15 hours. ‘To create these works, I set up my camera in position first, then my model stands as I hang the wallpaper in position, taking into consideration where I want the pattern to sit over the body.’ Says Hack, ‘I then look through the viewfinder and run over and paint a line of the pattern onto the shoulder line, I then go back to camera and determine where the next line is painted. I repeat this over and over until all the outside 'connections' line up and then I paint the middle of the body.' It's a pain-staking process and the model must stand throughout. ‘Challenges are fatigue, models fainting and general design. Involving animals makes the creation side of the works more difficult, but so beautiful and rewarding.’ Next up is working with owls, birds of prey and peacocks in her art.

Instead of an exact representation of Broadhurst’s wallpaper, Hack is after a painterly feel; ‘I don’t work with stencils or projections allowing me to bring a part of me into the artwork rather than statically doing something that would be so flat and perfectly to Florence.’ To prevent the paint from cracking on the skin, Hack uses a make-up based body paint, similar to stage make-up.

‘I guess I’m something new and original and I pride myself on that. It has been a struggle but what I do is viable, people love it and really, at the end of the day, I’m just happy that people want to put my work on their walls and enjoy it.’ Naked bodies, pretty wallpapers - Hack is a much welcome taboo in the interior design world.

Annie Deakin is interiors writer for sofa and interior design website