News & Politics

These Body-Paint Portraits in Front of DC Landmarks Will Blow Your Mind

Trina Merry says her painted models barely attracted the attention of law enforcement or onlookers.

Courtesy Trina Merry.

It’s hard not to stare at Trina Merry’s optical illusions. She makes people melt into landscapes, their bodies blending seamlessly into their surroundings.

Stare long enough at one of Merry’s works, and feet become pavement. Torsos become water. Heads become foliage.

What’s the secret to this deception of the eyes? It all comes down to a clever use of body paint.

“Like most amazing things that happen in our lives, I accidentally discovered body art,” Merry says. “While at a rock concert in 2006, I actually got asked to get body painted. The experience was amazing, and I slowly fell in love with it.”

Merry launched her career as a multimedia artist in 2011. Since then, she’s developed a complicated process that takes one to three hours.

First, Merry positions the model in a certain pose. Then, while the model stands motionless, Merry alternates between applying body paint and admiring her work from a specific spot in the distance.

So does Merry use Photoshop or another photo editing software? Yes, she says, but only a little.

“Since I’m using digital photography, I have a retoucher that uses a little bit of Photoshop to do things like white balancing if it’s needed,” Merry says. “But I’m not really digitally retouching the image or anything like that.”

Merry works out of a studio in Manhattan, and her work has been featured in a variety of local and international publications. In November, she painted live election results on models, a project New York magazine live-streamed on its Facebook page.

Last year, Merry traveled to DC for a series called “Sweet Land of Liberty.” The series consists of eight optical illusions outside famous landmarks, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Supreme Court, and the White House.

“I went with the most iconic sites of power,” Merry says. “I was looking to dynamically contrast masculine versus feminine, and power versus freedom. So you have things like the Washington Monument, which is so phallic, and then female models and feminine things in nature.”

For Merry, the election of Donald Trump gave the series a newfound significance.

“It’s important to be discussing freedom and power right now in light of the election, and especially in regards to the female body,” Merry says. “There are some really misogynistic things that have been said about women in general by our president-elect.”

“He’s done a lot of public body-shaming of women,” Merry adds. “So I feel like this series of work is more important than ever right now.”

As for the public aspect of her work, Merry says the nude painted models attracted little attention from law enforcement or curious onlookers. The models couldn’t be charged with indecent exposure under DC law, and Merry tries to keep a low profile anyway.

“I’m very quiet,” she says. “I’m kind of like a ninja. I make my work and I leave.”

Below, more of Merry’s work:

Editorial Fellow

Maxine is an editorial fellow passionate about covering food, news, and politics. Her work has also been published in Forbes, Marie Claire, and Inside Higher Ed. She recently graduated from Brown University with honors in nonfiction writing.