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Body painter Paul Roustan and the year of the Psychedelic Circus

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Model Shadia Elise and body painter Paul Roustan recently competed virtually in the World Body Paint Festival. The theme was “Psychedelic Circus.” Photos by Paul Roustan

At the top of his game

Paul Roustan places high in the World Body Paint Festival

by Bondo Wyszpolski

I’m guessing that most of us haven’t noticed, but not only is the World Body Paint Festival the largest gathering of body painters on the planet, the Austria-based annual competition has been held for over 20 years. Furthermore, it makes perfect sense that the South Bay’s esteemed Paul Roustan would have it on his radar. Those who have seen his books or videos or live painting would be sure to argue that he’s in a body-painting class unto himself.

President Donald Trump is at the center of the social media circus

The recent competition affirmed this. He was the highest ranked United States competitor in the World Category, of which there were 416 participants; he ranked fourth out of 41 competitors in the airbrush category; and, out of 288 entries in the entire professional competition, Roustan’s conceptual/idea score was the highest.

But why was this only the first time that Roustan entered the competition? Keep reading. There’s one other mystery, as such, and that’s Roustan’s being listed as representing Nicaragua on the WBPF site. He points out that while he is one-quarter Nicaraguan, “I didn’t mention that to anyone (and so) it was either a major coincidence, or a conspiracy. I asked them to correct it, but received no response.”
Be that as it may, our congratulations for such an excellent work; and here’s how it all happened:

Easy Reader: How did you hear about this competition and/or had you known about it before?

Paul Roustan: This competition has been around since the late ‘90s. I heard of it from within the body paint industry back in 2006. I was never able to compete, because I don’t care for flying much. And it’s always in Austria.

ER: What were the requirements, apart from the theme of “Psychedelic Circus”?

Roustan: I could only use makeup on the body. And for my category, I was only allowed to use airbrush. No costuming or prosthetics were allowed, other than the headpiece. The painting must be completed in six hours. And I was required to document six photos from beginning to end. The metadata on the photos verify the time of the painting.

“…and the Tiger King brings up the rear with a crown as the tramp stamp”

ER: What exactly did you submit? The video as well?

Roustan: I was only allowed to submit a handful of unedited photos: Full body shots, front and back, and closeups of all the details. The video and finished photos were all done after the fact for my own purposes.

ER: I know that you’ve worked with Shadia Elise before, which I’m assuming makes it easy for both of you. She certainly didn’t hesitate when you asked if she’d be your model for this project. Is she a local resident?

Roustan: Shadia lives in Los Angeles. She is one of my favorite models. I’ve painted her well over 20 times now. We click very well, and always have a great time. I definitely needed to paint someone that I work well with.

ER: Tell me how you went about deciding which designs to incorporate? We see the sketches in the video so we know that you certainly tried out various ideas.

Roustan: When I heard the theme of the competition and that it was going to be held remotely, I knew I had no choice but to participate. The concept hit me immediately and out of nowhere like a rogue wave. It all seemed so obvious to incorporate the craziness of 2020. And it was crazy to reflect and realize some of the events that had slipped my mind.

ER: How thoroughly was the painting thought out beforehand?

Roustan: Since it was the world championships, I knew I had to give 110%. I know some of the competitors and I know exactly what I’m up against. Anything less than my best is simply not good enough. So, I went all out in preparation. I don’t usually sketch my concepts, but it is a requirement for this concept because it is heavily loaded. It would be nearly impossible to remember my plan if I didn’t prep full blast.

ER: I’m guessing that the “curlers” (the empty toilet paper rolls) allude to our collective hysteria over the scarcity of this commodity earlier this year, while the “mask” represents our current pandemic crisis, but are there other elements of the work that you’d like to draw attention to?

The legs represent the American flag as circus stripes, threatened by Murder Hornets

Roustan: The mask is a visual about the current pandemic crisis, but also a commentary about BLM and the “I Can’t Breathe” statement. If you look very close, you can see that the zebra stripes (a figurative and literal black and white issue) spell “I Can’t Breathe” over the mouth. Also, the snakes on her arms are two black mambas with basketball texture representing Kobe and Gianna, the Murder Hornets are on the knees, and the Tiger King brings up the rear with a crown as the tramp stamp. The virus is obvious on her left arm but also subtly apparent on the Instagram logo on her chest. Social media is the focal point of all this, led by a big caricature of Donald Trump and his twitter birds. Whether you like him or not, he is a huge clown on social media. The monkey on her back is a virus-stealing monkey holding a test tube. And the legs represent the American flag as circus stripes. Her hands are white like soapy bubbly hands. And of course the popcorn to bring it all together!

ER: How long did it take to paint Shadia? I’m assuming it was all done in one long session?

Roustan: I generally take around three hours to paint a full body. This was by far, the most difficult body painting I ever attempted, and I raced to finish it in six hours. I was sore for two days afterwards.

ER: After finishing the bodypainting, how long afterwards was the video shot of Shadia with the popcorn? Was the popcorn segment also part of your original concept? This makes it seem that she is simultaneously at the circus and part of the circus.

Roustan: The popcorn was intended. It plays on both the circus, and a viewer’s reaction of grabbing a bag of popcorn during a social media troll debate. Like that Michael Jackson thriller popcorn meme “*grabs popcorn”. I took the photos and video immediately following the painting. I was given two hours to photograph and upload the images after I painted it.

ER: Who filmed the painting process and then the video of Shadia herself afterwards?

The virus-stealing monkey holding a test tube is a reference to the current pandemic

Roustan: I did the photography and video as I do with the rest of my work. I was completely drained during the photography/video portion though. I would have loved to have been able to photograph it with more energy, but it still came out fine in the end.

ER: How did you pick the soundtrack that goes with the clip?

Roustan: I hired a voice actor to read my script beforehand, and paired it with a public domain classic circus theme. So, I pre-arranged all that for the video.

ER: When did you receive the notification of your award? Do you just get a certificate or is there a monetary compensation as well?

Roustan: I received notice about two days later. Unfortunately I was two points shy of making the money. And three points from Second Place. But the money or trophy wasn’t my motivation anyway. The monetary prize is not that much to begin with. [And, added with a smile:] It’s all about the glory.

ER: Do you know any of the other contestants?

Roustan: Yes, I know a few. The person who won, Alex Hansen, is one of my favorite body painters in the world. We’ve competed in the past. He placed third when I took first in the North American Championships. He is one of the absolute greatest body painters ever.

ER: Will the competition take place again next year, also in Austria? If so, would you consider going in person even though you’re not keen on flying?

Roustan: If it doesn’t happen remotely again, I probably won’t be attending. Flying is a risk for me because I have this bizarre health condition on planes. I faint from the cabin pressure sometimes. I’ve passed out several times flying in the past, so now I just try and avoid flying altogether. But, who knows. I know exactly what I need to do in order to win. So… maybe.

Paul Roustan lives in North Redondo, hangs out in Hermosa, but now is clearly a man of the world. To learn more: bodypainter.com; instagram: @roustan; youtube.com/roustan. ER

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