Curious: That’s how I’d describe myself the first time I caught wind of Johannes Stötter. Googling his work, I soon found myself glued to the computer screen. No matter which of his videos I watched, one of a parrot, a chameleon, a wolf or a fish, images that started out seemingly motionless soon dissolved into various different colourfully painted human bodies. I can hardly believe my eyes at first: How exactly does Johannes manage such fantastic transformations, creating beautiful images of nature using the human body as a canvas?
“You have to look closely, then you’ll see what makes my works of art so special,” Johannes tells me a day later as we set out in the Val Ridanna/Ridnauntal valley, his home and source of inspiration for new ideas. And I have to admit: I’m excited.
At first there was music
Johannes’ first passion was for music, notes and tones. With the advantage of hindsight, I’d describe music as a puzzle piece in his life’s journey: for a long time, he was unsure what to do with it. He grew up in a family of musicians with three brothers and a sister and during his studies he played violin in a band. He studied at the university but in his heart he wanted to be a musician or a successful artist: “I don’t want people to look at my work and nod and never think about it again.” Yet becoming famous through his art was a difficult road; that is until he discovered a new kind of art via music. It was love at first brush stroke.
A CD cover changed Johannes’ art and life significantly. 22 at the time, Johannes helped a friend’s band to realise an idea that he’d had in his head for many years. He painted the CD cover for their album. So as usual he started out with paint and a brush. But this time, instead of a canvas he used the naked bodies of the band members. He began to paint until his bodies became one with the background. He was satisfied with the result: it was another puzzle piece in his life.
Nature plays a starring role
“It always seemed to me that animals and people were able to disappear within their environment,” explained Johannes in describing his need to try out camouflage body painting for himself. Now, I’m sitting in the middle of the grass on a mountain lake, just a few metres from Johannes as I watch him and the naked model before us, who has begun to shiver in the cold. The conditions are terrible and on the other side of the lake there is snow. The wind blows through my jumper and casts Johannes’ hair about in spite of his hairband. His paint and brushes are at his side. The painting will have to go quickly. He looks almost like a wild animal himself as he moves about the model, a brush stroke over her breast, stepping back, then stroke for stroke the model seems to disappear into the environment. As he told me, nature is his passion.
Perhaps, like Johannes, we should all listen to the feeling in our gut and be open to new experiences.
The development process
Animals have always fascinated Johannes: Their paws, special kinds of fur, muscle fibres – even as a child Johannes took note of every detail of every animal. This was an additional puzzle piece in his life and his work, though at the time he was unaware of where it would lead him. But today this fascination serves him well in body painting: “You always have to know an animal’s anatomy well in order to paint it.” However, from this knowledge to a finished work of body art is a long journey. It’s a process – and so too is Johannes’ life.
World Body Painting Festival
The World Body Art Champion is crowned every year in Klagenfurt on Wörthersee lake in Austria. Johannes took part for the first time in 2009 and was able to impress from the get go. “I thought that if I could come in 5th, then I could just as well win.” That was his state of mind at the time and just three years later, at the age of 34, he became world champion. Now, he’s a member of the jury for the second year in succession.
The Complete Works
The model stands motionless, though she continues to shiver. With paint-covered hands Johannes reaches for the camera. Things have to happen quickly now before the reflection of the water changes or the next cloud passes by. And then I hear the quiet ‘click’ of the camera shudder.
She has become one with the breathtaking panorama. Johannes is right: In order to see something special, you only have to look closely. With an expression of satisfaction, Johannes said: “My current profession unites everything that I ever wanted from life.” Once, he was unsure how to unite his many talents and now he notices, piece by piece, that his life has become a complete work of art. It’s like a colourful puzzle and one day it all fit together, like his works of art in which it’s hard to tell where the person ends and nature begins.
Text: Katja Schroffenegger
Transcreation: Covi, Wurzer & Partner - Die Sprachdienstleister
Photos: Manuel Kottersteger and Johannes Stötter/ WB Production
Video: Miramonte Film – Andreas Pichler
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