Most painters use a canvas for their laborious, colorful creations. Not New York artist Danny Setiawan. His choice of a painting surface is an actual living and breathing thing — human bodies. And not just any bodies, but specifically those of women.

A firm believer in the experience of bringing art closer to the viewer through the breakage of boundaries that separate viewer from art, Setiawan astounds to perpetrate the idea that people and art can be thought of as one. Some may even suggest that his art is the backdrop to the real masterpiece.

Yet his allusions to connectivity between art and viewer are not the only mystifying and grandiose notions – his art in and of itself is a maze; a maze of modernity and classicism.

Putting paintbrush to body, in careful and slow strokes, Setiawan paints the works of classic artists whose art can be visible in museums across the nation. From Van Gogh to Monet, he gives them a life; a life that according to him, they never had in the embrace of a museum.

In an exclusive interview for GALO, Setiawan discusses his love for the female body, his current collaborative project with concert pianist Tania Stavreva, and all that makes his art undeniably unique.

GALO: I read that your passion for art began in early childhood, when your mother would provide you with paper and crayons. When did you realize this was something that you wanted to continue past childhood?

Danny Setiawan: I never had that moment of realization. Drawing, and later on, painting, is like magic to me. Even now, I’m fascinated when I watch a drawing process. When I was little, I was a very curious boy, so I often got into trouble and created a mess around the house. To keep me out of trouble, my mom would give me a stack of paper and pens, or something to make marks with.

As I grow older, it’s become part of my identity. Making art is just what I do, and I remember as a kid thinking, “It’d be so great if I could just draw all day long when I grow up.”

GALO: You came to New York from Indonesia in 1997 to pursue your studies in graphic design and art. Do you think your experiences from growing up abroad helped shape your artwork and yourself?

DS: What’s interesting about growing up in Indonesia is that back there we got influence from so many different cultures. I grew up watching American TV series and Hollywood movies, as well as Anime and Hong Kong films. We also had telenovelas from Mexico and Korean dramas. On top of that, we had Indonesian puppet shows and music.

All these helped broaden my understanding of the world as a whole, and expose me to a wide range of visual vocabulary.

GALO: Have you thought of going back for the purpose of exhibiting or teaching your art form?

DS: I have considered the possibility of exhibiting my work there by contacting [a] few local galleries that focus on contemporary works, but I haven’t been able to make any significant progress. Teaching body painting in Indonesia is not something that I consider for the near future, since as an art form, it’s still difficult to accept by most Indonesians because of the nudity involved.

GALO: What are your inspirations?

DS: The main thing that I want to do with my life (and my art) is to make broken people smile again. Stories or songs that speak about this theme often times resonate and inspire me.

GALO: What particularly fascinates you about the craft of body painting? What led you to this craft?

DS: I believe art is communication. The first step that I need to take to get my message across is to grab my audience’s attention. Body painting does that effectively. I also like how it breaks the boundaries between the piece of art and the artist, as well as, between the world where the art lives and the physical world where we live in.

[A] few years ago, a friend of mine, who is a musician, asked me if I’d paint her body for her CD cover. Around the same time, another friend, who was starting her modeling portfolio, asked if I could paint her body for one of the images that she would add to her portfolio. So I started thinking that maybe it’s an art form that I need to explore. The final “sign” was watching a live body painting demonstration at a local art show. I was standing [and] watching the demonstration for hours. That night I decided to give body painting a try. So I posted an ad on Craigslist, looking for a model, and I found one. That’s how it all began.

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