“Skin Wars” was developed from Robin’s idea for a TV series, and thanks to Las Vegas street graffiti artist turned body-painting instructor Gear Boxxx and his talented airbrushing skills, it’s winning well-deserved ratings. The eight-episode, hourlong competition series tests contestants on creativity, talent and artistic techniques as they compete in mesmerizing body-painting challenges.
Each week, the contestant with the least compelling creation has to wash off his or her canvas and leave the competition. Gear is still standing and will be seen in tonight’s episode battling for not only a one-year supply of paint but a $100,000 cash prize and starring role at the IMATS body-painting trade show in New York.
Gear was born in Santa Maria, Calif., and raised by his grandparents. His first job was airbrushing T-shirts at the mall in seventh grade, where he learned to persuade the ladies with his charm into buying airbrushed T-shirts to help support his love for comic books and video games. After many years of graffiti art, Gear moved here to do what he loves most: original, one-of-a-kind art.
He combines hardcore hot rod garage attitude with artistic talent to create original works. He adds to his artwork using a digital tablet for programs such as Photoshop, Maya’s 3D software and Corel’s Painter to create worlds and creatures saturated with life and color.
He’s highly regarded here for his live painting pumping out large mural pieces and eye-popping UV body painting. Gear paints large wall murals with an airbrush or spray can and makes digital art on his computer. He has an amazing arsenal of styles, tools, techniques, media and talent that make what he does unique.
I talked with Gear ahead of tonight’s episode:
What is this profession actually like? What does it do for you? Putting new, colorful, glorious skin on people is a pretty unique profession.
It’s a profession that can throw you many curve balls. Aside from it just being an art form that is completely valid in the arts community, what’s really fun is that you never know what type of adventures they can throw your way behind-the-scenes.
For example, one time around 3 a.m., my phone rings and there’s loud music in the background. They wanted me to body paint for a party and asked if I could be there in 40 minutes! I was like you’ve got to be kidding me. So I told them, “OK, just give me $4,000,” and they said, “OK, great.”
Please explain as an artist the difference between your art form and what tattoo artists do.
Well two obvious differences are basically one’s permanent and one is not. Mine can be washed off. Actually, I have used body-painting layout techniques to give people ideas for their permanent tattoos. It becomes a route map for the tattoo artist.
Is this a growing profession?
Oh, absolutely. It’s grown and matured a lot. It’s an art form that’s been around since ancient civilizations using body painting to mark which different tribes they’re from. I think body painting has been around before certain civilizations even existed. Body painting is definitely catching the eye of the general public.
I know you shoot it in Los Angeles, but it’s got some Las Vegas connections. Are people here in Las Vegas catching on to body painting and doing it for fun?
Oh, yeah. Think about it: Las Vegas is definitely the Entertainment Capital of the World. When I moved here seven years ago, I’d done more body painting out here than I had living in Los Angeles.
I’m requested to do it a lot, and being that I’m a multifaceted artist, I’m able to wear many artistic hats when it comes to production for nightclubs, parties and events. I can be building props and body painting in the same night. I love the type of creative demand that Las Vegas has for me.
What are some of the craziest designs you’ve done for a customer in regular life and the biggest one on the TV contest?
I think the most out-of-the-box for me was the first time that I used prosthetics and other products, and it definitely worked on that last episode where I got the win. That proved to be fruitful and successful in regard to the show. The stuff that I mostly enjoy is the ultraviolet reactive blacklight stuff.
I’m 35 now, but to me blacklights were always present in my early youth party years. That’s something I’ve never put down. I’ve always used UV, and I think painting with blacklight is some of the craziest stuff I do. The blacklight colors I use are actually visible under normal light and highly intensely visible under blacklight.
You obviously enjoy your work.
Oh yeah, absolutely. I haven’t had what society would consider a regular job since I was 16. My last job was at Pizza Hut, and my resignation letter to Pizza Hut was writing the words f*ck you in olives, running it through the pizza machine and then the manager getting it on the other side. That was my way of saying I quit.
Are you enjoying the TV challenge?
I love it; I love every challenge. On this show, I have learned so much, yet have tackled things that I’ve relied on from before because you’re not just a body painter. I’ve been doing digital illustration and digital computer art since the late ’90s.
I’ve been doing graffiti art since I was 10. I’ve been airbrushing since I was 9. I’m relying on all these different facets of media to give me an edge when it comes to paining on these competitions of the show.
You’ve successfully reached Episode 6 and are now in the Final Five competitors. Five have gone, and you’re still standing. Is it getting tougher?
Oh yeah, definitely. Before the show, I had a pretty strong following, but the show has really brought awareness to the body-paint community. It’s not just doing body paint; it’s all this other stuff. It’s gotten me exposed to an entirely new demographic, which is really great. It’s a wonderful validation of what we do.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.