Brent Ray Fraser, also known as The Naked Artist will perform his truly unique show at Adelaide Cabaret Festival. A show of live painting using the whole of his body, including his appendage, this is sure to be a show like no other you’ve ever seen before. We had a chat to the man behind the show, Brent Ray Fraser.
CONTENT WARNING: If you’re a little prudish, some of the content in this interview may not be for you.
Brent Ray Fraser, you’re coming to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival where you’ll be painting to a soundtrack of classical and disco favourites. What do you like to listen to while you paint?
I’m an avid fan of any type of Mozart to Chopin to The Bee Gees. I like it all. I chose that kind of combo because some of the painting that I do, it fits classical music a bit more. And I also love dancing. The 70s disco is groovy. I dig it in my studio.
Does what you’re listening to affect your movements as you’re painting?
Definitely. Like if I’m painting to something that’s a bit more upbeat then it will be almost impossible for my body to stop moving which could then affect the brush stroke a bit. Add a little bit more expressionistic movement.
What can audiences expect from the Brent Ray Fraser show if they have never read the blurb? They might be in for a shock.
I can only imagine what people would expect. Every time I tell people how I paint they are just so dumbfounded by it and can’t even imagine how that would happen. In this show, this time, I am showing a wide variety of techniques and skills that I’ve come up with in this space here [in my studio] painting with my body in many different ways.
Many different tools..
Elbows and knees.
Not just the part we hear about!
I’m going to be showing as much of my body in this performance to really showcase the art form of body art. But the majority of it, above all, will be painting with my penis in many forms.
Have you always been interested in painting?
I always tell people I was born an artist. My first memories were painting and using my fingers with tempera paints in nursery school. I can remember pretty much every single painting I’ve ever made and there’s hundreds and thousands of paintings.
Using a brush is one of those things I fought with through adolescence, through high school and even into art university. I like to do other forms of art. I was a huge fan of Jackson Pollock. He was painting with sticks and drip paintings and getting away from the brush. I have always loved painting in many forms whether with a brush or my fingers or anything else.
Or anything else. Which leads nicely into how did you find you could paint with your penis?
This is a question I get asked probably the most. I tried to have fun with it a little bit more. It’s kind of a long story, we’ll say. I starting investigating the body as art when I was in my 4th year of art studies at Emily Carr. I was engulfed in art and learning about art history and the different ways of making art and at that time I was also an art student and I was experimenting a lot and trying a lot of different things.
One of the first forms of body art that I did – I was 20 years old and I had been reading up on an artist named Yves Klein and he would paint female bodies and drag them across the canvas to create beautiful works of art that are figurative but also abstract and playing with colour. , I was surrounded by a lot of these things but at the same time I’d grown up a very shy person, a very artist.
I was reading that the other day actually
And even looking back I have a little bit of that shyness in me but I’ve worked really hard to counteract that fear of being in an audience, being in front of people.
Being clothed would be difficult let alone naked!
You know what when you’re an artist and you make a painting and you put a painting up on a wall, it’s like putting yourself up on a wall. At art school, we would have art critiques, where all the students and the teachers would get together, we would get together showcase each other’s work and talk about it and I always had a hard time doing that.
So, I thought to myself in 4th year of university I thought “we need to get rid of this. We want to be this famous artist. We want to be outgoing”. Ironically, my Dad is that guy. Speeches and that. He gave me advice and said “why don’t you picture everyone in their underwear”. It was kind of a joking thing.
I thought I have to come up with some way to counteract this. Let’s come up with an art project that we can use during my school. So, I thought what’s the opposite of shy. It’s completely exposing yourself. You’re up in front of people. I thought if I was completely naked and chucked myself to the wolves then maybe that would do something. And where do you get the opportunity to do that. Well, I had the idea of becoming a male stripper. I thought it would be a fun project to come out and do a strip show. It was long before Magic Mike days. It was different back then. It was a little bit more taboo, and it was something that I did on the side and I didn’t tell too many people about, especially my family. The stigma that was around it at the time I just kind of taught myself to become a male stripper and I did it for about 4 years.
Did you need a sip of Dutch Courage the first time you went out there?
I have many stories about that first time but we don’t need to get much into that! The first time on stage as a male stripper I came out wearing a sailor outfit. There’s a 15-minute show time and at the end of 15 minutes I had forgotten to take my clothes off! The rush that I got and the energy of the audience fuelled me and invigorating me and from then I was hooked and I accelerated in that industry very fast and I became so busy that I wasn’t in my studio doing what I really wanted to be doing which was painting.
So, I thought how can I combine the two. So, I started painting on stage, doing my strip show and incorporating paint and that’s when the idea came around and I started making these self-portraits. I call them mono-prints. What they are essentially, once I am erect, I put paint on my cock and balls – excuse my French – and then I just do a little press relief. I pull it away and it looks like an exclamation mark. A simple self-portrait capturing an artist in a state of arousal.
This is the thought that changed the way I thought about art all together. Capturing sexuality with a simple mark. My penis is an extension of my body. There’s no difference from my leg except that it’s my sexual organ. So, when you press it on there, just because it’s a sexual organ, you’ve created something that is sexualised. It’s just paint on surface. I did those mono-prints for about 5 or 6 years. I got the audience to help press them.
I will be doing a lot of this in the show. Socially distanced now but I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve so we can still engage with the audience and still collaborate. It’s going to be a lot of fun!
But anyway, I started doing those for 5 or 6 years and I thought to myself maybe I could draw with my penis rather than using it as a pressing tool, I could use it as an actual drawing tool. Not necessarily a brush. I’d consider it more a ballpoint pen you could say where you’re stroking the paint to the tip – you’re stroking and then you’re swiping. And I started working on large-scale murals where it would take 2 or 3 weeks to paint and I’d do these on a live webcam show and fans would tune in and I did that for several years. There’s a lot of blood in those paintings. Because I would be using the tip so much – you don’t notice it in the heat of the moment – that you’re actually scraping part of your penis head off.
So, I started posting those on YouTube when YouTube was just sort of getting its starting point and I got a little traction on there. But it wasn’t until 2014 or 2015 that I got a phone call from Freemantle Entertainment. The France has Got Talent franchise saying that they were saying they had seen my videos on YouTube and were wondering if I could paint a face, a portrait in 2 minutes.
Ah, they approached you!
Yeah, they approached me. And then asked me if I could speak French and I said “yes, I speak French and yes, I can paint a portrait in 2 minutes” and I had never done either of those things. Told a little white lie.
I couldn’t say no to these guys. I had a cousin who was French Canadian who helped me come up with a script that I could memorise and say in a little audition tape where I could paint the portrait of Gilbert Rozon, who was one of the judges at the time.
They saw the audition tape and said you can come on down. We will fly you here and we’ll put you on the show.
That was the first time I had been on TV show painting like that. And they had never had any body on like that with full frontal.
Watch Brent Ray Fraser, The Naked Artist on France has got talent.
Did the audience see the full-frontal or are you hidden behind the canvas?
Because it’s a family show they put me on at the end of the production. For the final act which was mine, they cleared out the children from the audience and replaced them with elderly ladies. And you can see them in the video. They’re very strategic with this kind of stuff. That’s why I like working with these people so much.
That performance went viral. That one show on YouTube has 20 million views. It opened the world to me travelling the world since then. I’ve been to several – 3 to 5 to 6 countries since then just painting judges and having fun.
Have you ever been to Australia before?
I’ve never been to Australia. I wasn’t sure what would take me all the way there. I am super exciting that Alan has invited me to come down there and be a part of it.
What’s a typical day in the life of Brent Ray Fraser, The Naked Artist?
This is one question that sticks out. It’s a good question. There’s a lot of things I do in my day. I have a fairly structured day.
I live and work here at my studio. My parents live maybe 30-40 minutes from here. I see them all the time and they were in my bubble during the COVID times. Coming out here and keeping a 9 -5 work schedule. Working as much as I can during the day.
I have an organic garden that I spend a lot of time with now. I am enjoying a lot of outdoor activities here. I live on a farm that’s 100 acres so I go for a lot of walks. There’s a forest not far from here. I spend a lot of time in the forest. I like painting in the forest. There are horses just up in the field so I will go and pet the horses.
I’m highly active. Very active. I train every day. The type of painting that I do now is acrobatic painting and I’m getting a bit older now so the body, I find that I injure myself quite a bit. Just physical activity. I injure myself a lot. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m accident prone.
If I may ask how old are you?
42. Still young. I’m highly active but I have to find balance more these days. I do a lot of yoga every day. I spend a lot of time in a spa that’s not far from here – it’s a hot cold spa so you do cold plunges and hot saunas and steams. I do those 2 -3 times a week.
I work for myself. I’m a full-time artist. So, I make my money off of commissions. I do a lot of portraits; I do a lot of landscapes and I sell a lot of penis art. I am very prolific in making penis art. I am a huge Andy Warhol fan and he was a man who was all about seriality and creating multiples of one thing and that’s also where I got the idea to do these mono-prints. Because I can put paint on my penis and press. They do take time but I can do a whole bunch of them in different colours. So, I spend a lot of time doing those.
I have a sister with a family whose got 4 kids. I teach art to them. We make artwork together. We make drawings of our family dog…
Do they use their fingers or their elbows and knees?
They use brushes. They like drawing. I was more a drawer than a painter growing up and they are fascinated watching me draw and trying to copy me and stuff. Unfortunately, during COVID times we weren’t able to do that together. I’m looking forward to that changing and coming back.
Are you still under restrictions there? We don’t hear much about Canada.
Yeah, we’re in a hot spot here. In the lower mainland in British Columbia and it got hit really hard and it’s not like anywhere else like Australia and New York where I can’t wait to go back to soon.
You mentioned that part of your day is being highly active. How do you keep in shape when your body is a canvas as well as a tool for making art?
I love being active. I love exercising. I love stretching I love all this sort of stuff very much. I look forward to it. I eat extremely healthy. The reason is because I was diagnosed with a form of kidney disease which is unfortunately, possibly an inevitable kidney transplant and I changed my life around that when I was like 24. I’ve got it all under wraps now. I eat all organic, vegan pretty much, plant based so that keeps me in really good shape health wise.
Exercise wise, I love roller-skating. I roller-skate when I paint sometimes. I started doing this double wall ladder…
You know Jean-Claude Van Damme. I was always inspired by him doing his side splits. The past 2-3 years I have been training myself because I wanted to paint like that. I wanted to paint between two ladders with my penis hanging off of a wall. I’ve been doing that a lot. Splits training. I do that every day twice a day. Flexibility training. That’s why I started painting like that because it’s a bit more of an acrobatic performance. I’m going to showcase some of that in Adelaide this year, not on the ladders but some floor work. Kind of like Jackson Pollock.
It comes back! Do you have special kinds of paint you need to use, particularly on your penis?
Over the years I’ve come to learn that I stay away from neon colours. Mostly black and white paint because there’s not a lot of colour pigment in them. Those colours like red and neon pink they sting and that’s not fun/ I use a high-quality acrylic paint and I have specific brands that I use here in Canada. I also use a barrier cream – a protectant that artists will put on their hands to stop toxins and chemicals from getting in. I started using that about 4 or 5 years ago and I’ve been painting with my penis for about 15. So, 11 years.
It took you a while to learn that lesson
It took me a long time. Don’t do that anymore There’s a lot of things that I’ve taught myself over the years that they just don’t teach you in art school.
Well, you’re not doing the conventional kind of art.
I should have a curriculum.
What are the accident risks in your work?
I jokingly say grabbing, biting, twisting these are things that can happen when an audience member can get close to you and they go grab you. It’s happened a few times. That hurts.
Aside from that, I’ve popped blood vessels down in my penis. I’ve worn off skin. Imagine dragging your finger across a fine sandpaper – then do that about 300 times. One technique I’ve come up with – There’s a couple of things I’ve done to prepare the canvas so my penis glides across it., I use a polymer medium so all the paintings that you see on stage, I’ve prepped them here in the studio, I roll them up, and I build the stretcher bars down there and stretch them there. Because of the material that I have here, it’s expensive that stuff. Everything’s prepared here. I’ve prepared three shows. It’s a lot of canvas, there’s a lot of paint being used. I can glide on the canvas with that polymer medium. There’s a number of techniques to avoid the wear and tear. You’ll see it in the show and I have fun with it because it’s a bit of a vulgar act. I spit in my hand. Vulgar is that the right word. It’s kind of a rude act but it can also be a sexualised act. Doing that helps relubricate the tip and lubricate the paint so it glides on a bit better.
There’s been a couple of times when my penis has almost fallen off. I’ve been lucky that it didn’t.
From keeping it erect for too long while painting?
And this is one of your questions about the status of the brush – I can paint flaccid, semi or fully erect. Each one is like choosing a different brush. You’ll get different textures, a different type of pressure. There are lots of different ways to paint with the penis and different statuses. Coming out erect is the showstopper. I can get myself erect, tie it off – it’s a stripper technique that I learned from the stripper world where you can put a cock ring on. I don’t use cock rings. For me it’s something that works with my body. Everybody’s penis and circulation are different.
For me, I’ll take a really cheap condom, take it out of the package, pull it out, extend it and then I’ll cut it down near the bottom and then you have this nice silicon latex elastic I’ll figurate that and I’ll use a penis pump. It’s more business than pleasure let’s say. It pulls blood into the shaft with science and physics. Once you’ve strapped the elastic on there you have a paint brush that can keep stiff for a long time.
If you keep it on for too long, it’s not healthy to do. I’ve become kind of conditioned to it now. I can keep it on there for 20 minutes to half an hour. I like the tie off because I don’t want to be masturbating on stage to keep myself erect. So, this way I can make the mono-prints. I don’t want to keep that on for too long because I want to keep my penis on my body. This will be the interactive part of the show.
What’s your ritual before you paint on stage?
I will stretch beforehand. Put some music on. Probably listen to the soundtrack that I’m playing and get my body warmed up. I don’t want to injure myself. When you’re in the heat of the moment, in the adrenaline rush as much as you try to counter and keep a balance before by meditating or deep breathing – I still get nerves – I call them butterflies in my stomach, it sounds nicer.
Moments before I go on stage, I’ll give myself a little pep talk maybe a few woos because the audience will feed off that. I am coming to Adelaide to make an impact and this is a big show. A new show that I’ve created for this. Normally I’m doing large scale paintings in this show in a short amount of time.
How does your family feel about your art?
I’ve done a lot of wild things in my life and I find that being an artist it’s kind of a loophole into getting away with a lot of crazy things. I’ve done a lot of crazy things and my parents have been behind me all the way. I don’t hide anything from them anymore. I hid my life as a male stripper for 4 or 5 years. I confided in my sister at the time because I had to tell someone what I was doing.
Now we have family dinner with the kids, we sit around and talk about my shows sometimes. The kids will go to school and tell the teacher that their uncle paints with his penis!
My Dad helps support me with the business side of things. He is a business man. All the things that relate to the business side of things, he has supported me with that.
My Mum is the creative side. She’s the other artist in the family. She was a landscape artist. And my Great-Grandmother was a prolific landscape artist. And Thomas Gainsbourg was on my mother’s side. It’s in the blood and so in painting with my penis, my Mum was a nurse for the majority of her life so bodies and these kinds of things…
Now my parents proudly joke about how “Brent’s this famous penis painter“. They’re proud I would say.
Who/in which space would you like to paint?
There’s so many people I would like to paint. I automatically thought about The Rock. Dwayne Johnson. I painted him in my studio for fun. I worked from a photograph of him. It’s quite a funny story because the painting ending up looking more like Mike Tyson after he had been in a fight, haha.
I would love to do a show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City inside the gallery space as art. That would be a dream come true. Painting the Rock at the MoMA.
Talking about art in the family before you mentioned Thomas Gainsborough, what do you think he would think of your paintings?
I’m putting myself into his timeframe back in that timeframe where if they saw something like I was doing back then… If he knew that I was an ancestor of his, I think he would be quite proud. I think he would because he is an artist. He would be inspired and it might make him recreate the Blue Boy with his balls.
And hopefully not get blue balls!
I think it would be grand.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell me about the show or anything else?
There’s a lot of work that goes into this kind of thing behind the scenes that not a lot of people get to see. I am an artist who appreciates the creative process as much as the completed work. I guess I would like everybody to know I’m fucking pumped to come to Adelaide!
We thank Brent Ray Fraser, the Naked Artist for this interview and look forward to seeing the show in a few weeks.
WHAT: Brent Ray Fraser, The Naked Artist at Adelaide Cabaret Festival
WHEN: 18 – 20 Jun 2021 8:15pm
WHERE: The Famous Spiegeltent, Adelaide
HOW: Purchase tickets via this link: https://www.adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au/events/brent-ray-fraser-the-naked-artist/
HOW MUCH: $40 (or $35 with concession card) + $8.95 transaction fee
To see Alan Cumming, Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2021’s Artistic Director speaking about Brent Ray Fraser’s show, click here.
You can find out more about Brent Ray Fraser, The Naked Artist via the following:
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