“I love to create. I’m very visual person and I love to paint. I love to express myself in doing makeup, special effects, body paintings. I feel like I haven’t worked a day in my life.”
That is Athena Zhe, artist. Her canvas is the human body on which she paints beautiful images. Zhe is also owner of Athena Entertainment. The company provides performances and performers for all kinds of parties and other events. Body art creation is among the possibilities.
Zhe was born and raised in Ukraine. Her parents wanted her to become a lawyer or a doctor. But she always knew she wanted to paint. She also realized early in life a career in painting would not be possible if she stayed in her country.
“I've been painting my whole entire life as I'm thinking about it since I was a little kid. All of the walls were painted, my notepads were painted. Everywhere I could paint, I always did. Like there's always doodles in every single book I was reading and even though it was my passion, it was only a hobby," Zhe says. "I never really took it to the next level because back in the country that I came from all the artists were starving artist. So, for some reason, I never considered art as a career because I would never in a million years be able to make money and be successful at it.”
So, Zhe came to the United States. She was clear on her goal.
“I came here when I was 14 years old to pursue an American dream.”
Zhe first worked at a health food store. She began to paint on the store’s menu boards. A customer praised her skill and asked if she would help paint faces at street fairs. Zhe says it was a good start.
"I was doing it for about a year or two and I'm the type of person that always like to take it to the next level. Like OK what’s next, what's next? I'm already done with facepainting, now what?" Zhe says. "I went to FABAIC, its face and body art convention in Florida many years ago. I saw that people were doing body painting and I'm like, 'Oh my god,' this is so exciting and so much better than just face painting. So face painting led into body painting and body painting led into special effects.”
Zhe says painting on the body is very different than painting on a flat canvas.
“With body, you work with the human factor and it's not only you, paints and canvas it's you, paint, canvas and the person behind that canvas. When I pick up a brush its almost like I'm getting into my own new world, my comfort zone. Very often my models try to talk to me throughout the process, but it's so hard for me to even keep up a conversation because I'm so focused."
When I paint like very often I can't stop. I know that I have to stop at some point because I'm painting on a human and obviously the model can’t stand still for three or four days," Zhe says. "But I can definitely paint for three or four days nonstop if I'm in creative mode.”
Zhe considers the body shape of her models as well as their skin colors. She says the most important part of her work is how it makes the person feel.
“When I'm doing a body painting, my goal is not only to create a beautiful piece of artwork, but also very important to make the model feel beautiful, because if the model feels beautiful with your art work no matter how horrendous your body painting can be, she will rock it and it makes me feel accomplished and happy when I see that the model, my human canvas, is happy with the artwork I created on her."
Bodypainting is a much bigger project than face painting. Zhe says it takes 15 to 20 minutes painting a face. A body can take as long as 10 hours to paint, depending on how detailed it is.
Zhe has won many awards for her paintings. Her work also has been featured in music videos, publications and on national television.
Zhe says she is often inspired by nature, fashion and the world around her when creating her art and she says passion should be everyone’s professional guide.
“If you want to be an artist or an actor or a scientist you should do exactly that. Follow your passion and do what you love."