Most makeup artists consider the skin their canvas, but William Lemon III takes the idea more literally. Lemon, who is also a musician and painter, created a water-based acrylic body painting technique called skin printing, and he has used it to cover Marc Jacobs’s naked body with hot pink Stephen Sprouse/Louis Vuitton logos, and to transform Chloë Sevigny into a tattooed-lady-slash-clown for Beck’s trippy “Gamma Ray” video. (Look close: Lemon is the dancing mime.) In N.E.R.D.’s new “Hot and Fun” video, directed by Jonas Akerlund, he trussed up a tribe of apocalyptic party girls with animal prints, mystical symbols and ash. “He let me go a little bit far out,” Lemon said of the director — not surprising since Akerlund is also the man behind Lady Gaga’s “Telephone.”
As fashion’s fascination with mysticism grows (just look at the new Missoni campaign by Kenneth Anger), edgy young designers like Odilon and Elise Overland are calling upon Lemon to bring his bold palettes and patterns to their film projects; during New York fashion week in September he’ll collaborate with the jeweler Pamela Love, whose work incorporates organic forms and sacred symbols.
Lemon dreamed up the skin-printing process (the specifics of which he prefers not to reveal) when he needed to quickly morph into seven different characters for a performance of his 2006 avant-rock musical, “VII Acts for an Iron King.” The photographer Richard Burbridge saw photos of the show in a punk-rock zine, and Lemon soon found himself working on a M.A.C. cosmetics campaign. According to the 31-year-old recent Los Angeles transplant, applying makeup isn’t that different from painting: “It’s color, it’s form, it’s dealing with different shapes and emotions, and trying to create different characters.”
The comparison was clear at Lemon’s multimedia exhibition, “Parcival vs. the Sun,” which opened recently at the Eighth Veil gallery in Hollywood and attracted artists, architects, fashion designers and stylists, along with friends and collaborators like Devendra Banhart (a guest musician on “VII Acts”), Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk and Paul Hahn, who runs the band’s production company Daft Arts. They all gathered under a series of large canvas tapestries and looked through a limited-edition book printed by the gallery’s publishing house. Lemon’s intricate, colorful designs depicting the quest of the knight Parcival to find his true self included motifs that are echoed in his skin-printing work.
But when the artist emerged for a promised “special performance,” his body wasn’t covered in wild patterns but obscured by black robes and shiny neoprene gloves, his head a huge white orb of speakers projecting applause, heavy breathing and twitchy disco. Staggering under the weight of the 40-pound helmet, he danced and struck martial arts poses, eventually falling to his knees as white flower petals rained down from a loft above the gallery. Bizarre and rather confounding, it left every spectator grinning from ear to ear. Hahn, who fabricated the so-called “Loud Head” for Lemon, was thrilled. “It’s kinda dashing, right?” he said as Lemon went to change back into the khaki suit and hand-screened tie he’d been wearing earlier. “I told Will, ‘If the ladies faint, then we’ll take it on the road.’ ”