Michael Mejia: Painting the Body & Soul
By Jen Khedaroo
Being a contestant on “Skin Wars,” The Game Show Network’s highest rated show ever, is an accomplishment in itself. But artist Michael Mejia rose past many in the competition and made it to the final four due to his creative and detailed bodypainting pieces.
The body art competition show, hosted by Rebecca Romijn, features weekly bodypainting challenges centered around a particular theme. The judges are the legendary Rupaul, Craig Tracy and Robin Slonina. Mejia, who is from Jackson Heights, became a standout with pieces such as the vivid “Octopus” and the spellbinding “Death Tarot.”
Art has always been a part of his life, mostly due to encouragement from his mother, Amparo Pena. “She is the sweetest, coolest, most open-minded mother anyone could ever have,” Mejia said.
As a child, Mejia and his family moved to Bogota, Colombia, where he briefly decided on pursuing a career in a traditional field like engineering. But shortly after moving back to the United States, Mejia attended the School for Visual Arts, where he studied graphic design and fine art.
While in school, he did bodypainting as a part-time gig to make some extra money. When he graduated, he was still left with a body painting kit so he practiced developing fine art pieces.
“I was never like ‘I want to be a body painter, that’s my dream,’” Mejia said. “It sort of just happened and I’ve learned that I’m really good at it. I want to continue with bodypainting, but I also want to do more with visual and performance art as well.”
His experiences in Colombia have helped with expressing himself in his craft. His family moved to the country after his father left them, and being around the culture proved to be beneficial.
“Because of the circumstances and everything that has happened throughout my life, my art has definitely been affected,” Mejia said. “I make a lot of emotional art and a lot of those emotions come from being in Colombia.”
“Skin Wars” depicted Mejia as a sweet, peculiar artist, and his emotional and vulnerable side also showed during challenges such as the breast cancer challenge, which he ultimately won with his piece “Light and Dark.”
A day before the challenge was filmed, Mejia received a phone call from his uncle in Colombia saying that he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer and his wife had breast cancer.
The morning the episode aired, his uncle passed away. But his aunt eventually defeated her breast cancer and is now a survivor. The breast cancer challenge was one of the most difficult challenges, he said.
Besides competing on “Skin Wars,” Mejia has worked with a number of celebrity clients, including Jason Derulo and Timbaland.
Since the show, Mejia has maintained a friendship with Romijn. He accompanied her on a recent trip to the “Wendy Williams Show” to promote the show. As a gift to the show’s host, Mejia bodypainted a portrait of her onto a model’s back.
His newly gained followers have been a huge bonus to being on the show. Mejia said that they don’t just “like” his artwork on social media, but they truly connect. He receives about ten messages a day from people of all backgrounds, from teenage girls to senior citizens,
“They’re my fuel, they feed me with so much energy to keep creating because they really love it and it speaks to them,” he said.
“Skin Wars” has been the highlight of his career thus far because it’s allowed him to be more open and engaging when it comes to his art.
“Whenever I was down or was coping with something, I would make art about it, but I wouldn’t share any of the pieces because it was like my therapy,” Mejia said. “Because my art is now being seen, the steps that I take from now on are going to matter so much more. This a time where I can make a change in the world, even if it’s small.
“Plus watching yourself on TV is good for your ego, like ‘wow I look so cute!’” he jokes.
You can follow Mejia’s work on his website or social media accounts under the name @michaelmejiaart.
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