Good news for Nicole Hays, one of the most relentlessly creative artists in St. Pete. Just two weeks ago, she brought her work to the World Body Painting Festival in Klagenfurt, Austria, alongside artists from 50 countries.
“We went and competed,” Hays explains, adding with a laugh: “We can say we’re 38th in the world for brush and sponge. Which is pretty cool.”
Now, “thirty-eighth place for brush and sponge” might not sound like a chart-topper, but competition among those who use flesh as canvas is stiff – it’s a lot more than making some carnival kid’s face look like a cat, or Gene Simmons – and she’s one of the very few in the bay area who’s good enough to make a living at it.
“Body painting is blowing up in the mainstream right now,” she says. “There’s airbrush artists, they’re brush and sponge, special effects categories … it’s really popular. I do a lot of corporate stuff – logos on models, camouflaging people into backgrounds. It’s gotten really complex, the things that you can do with body painting.”
In 2018, through the St. Petersburg Office of Cultural Affairs, and the Arts Alliance, Hays published a book of photos – shot by Michael Sheehan – of body-painted models on location throughout the city. It’s called St. Petersburg’s Art of Body Experience.
But Nicole Hays, a refugee from Van Buren, Arkansas (“I left for Spring Break in Florida and never went back”) is also a singer, actor, dancer and acrobat – stitch them all together, you’ve got a fully-formed performance artist.
“I’ve never had a regular job,” she declares proudly. “I’ve always done creative work for my career. Ever since I left Arkansas, I’ve had the opportunity to do that.”
She and her partner A.J. Vaughan – like her, he’s multi-talented – operate as The Curiositiorium. Together (and separately, and with other collaborators) they combine music, acrobatics and flexibility, dance improvisation and the kitchen sink (when it’s appropriate).
Acrobotics, presented Saturday and Sunday at the Largo office and gallery of Creative Pinellas, is what Hays is calling a “futuristic circus arts production.”
Along with members of the St. Pete AcroYoga group, who practice “art through movement,” Hays will present a musical program of partner acrobatics, contact improvisation and a performance on a specialized apparatus she calls the Spinning Sphere. Their faces will all be suitably painted.
Vaughan will accompany on electric viola.
Hays was a recipient of an ArtsUp grant from Creative Pinellas, developed specifically to fund “the production of a specific project, performance or exhibition to be presented to the public at the gallery at Creative Pinellas or the surrounding grounds.”
The two shows (7 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday) are free. The address is 12211 Walsingham Road.
Doors open 30 minutes early, which should give visitors enough time to fully immerse themselves in the gallery exhibit of Hays’ body paintings, through gorgeous photos by Sheehan and James Henderson.
It might take a little convincing, but after the performance try asking Hays about her experiences as a body painter on the 2014 Game Show Network reality show Skin Wars.
Competing against nine other artists, she shot eight episodes – plus a reunion show – in Hermosa Beach, California in 2014.
It was tough, she says. Kind of nerve-wracking. And she did her first-ever camouflage piece, in front of the judges. “I happened to do a pretty good job, which was lucky for me,” Hays reports. “Thank goodness I didn’t get kicked off on that one.”
She has video at home of the entire series. “A.J.,” she laughs, “refuses to watch the episode where … well, I won’t give it away.”