She may be too self-conscious to try it herself, but Kelly “Red” Belmonte encourages others to get naked in public.
She even named her company Naked Vegas, a moniker shared with her new Syfy reality series debuting at 10 p.m. Tuesday.
But just because the longtime Las Vegan’s body-painting clients are as bare as the good Lord made them, that doesn’t mean anything goes.
“I was getting ready to paint, and I knocked on the door,” Belmonte, 43, says of her most memorable gig. “And they opened it, and there was an orgy happening behind them. I was, like, ‘Whoa! Abort mission. We all need to leave. We do not belong here.’ And I sent a whole bunch of body painters packing.”
The medium is undeniably sexy. But, she says, it’s not sexual.
“It really is an artwork and an art form. It’s beautiful. And if it’s done right, you don’t really look at anybody’s,” the self-described “small-town Ohio girl” pauses, looking for the right word, before settling on “stuff.”
“If it’s done well, I promise you, you don’t ever see a vagina or a breast. What you see is the art.”
Still, that hasn’t stopped most every guy that body painter Nicholas “Nix” Herrera encounters from telling him he has the best job on the planet.
“My dad reminds me of that every time,” the 33-year-old “Naked Vegas” co-star says. “He’s, like, ‘Anytime you need help. Holding lights, or anything.’ ”
But at some point, Herrera says, naked flesh becomes just another canvas.
“After doing it for 15 years, it’s kind of, like, ‘All right. It’s another day at work.’ ”
As those 15 years can attest, body painting has been around for a while. Thousands of years, says Belmonte, who’s been doing it professionally since 2000. Notable examples you may have forgotten include Goldie Hawn on “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In” in the late ’60s and Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1992. The medium just happens to be enjoying another moment in the spotlight.
“Nowadays,” Herrera says, “it’s, like, you throw a rock and somebody’s either a body painter or they’ve been painted before.”
“Naked Vegas” isn’t even the only upcoming body-painting series with local ties. “Skin Wars,” a competition series produced by Las Vegas artist Robin Barcus Slonina, is headed to GSN next year.
Then there’s Syfy’s “Face Off,” the special-effects makeup competition that recently featured Las Vegas artist Adolfo Barreto Rivera.
Belmonte, who moved to Las Vegas in 1987, says interest in that series helped lay the groundwork for her company. She’d been approached by several people wanting her to provide “Face Off”-style work, but she wasn’t quite comfortable with the special-effects side of the business. After turning down more jobs than she’d like and referring numerous potential clients to other artists, Belmonte decided she’d learn that skill set, too, and surrounded herself with other artists who already possessed it.
One of those was Herrera, the Orlando, Fla.-based artist who made an early exit during “Face Off’s” second season. After that disappointment, he temporarily moved to the valley for the “Naked Vegas” shoot.
“It was an amazing feeling,” he says, “of just, like, thank you for giving me a second chance and letting me show the world what I’m actually capable of doing.”
Tuesday’s premiere finds Belmonte, Herrera and the rest of the “Naked Vegas” team — artists Wiser Oner and Heather Aguilera, along with business manager Drew Marvick — painting lingerie on models for a fashion show at the Palms and turning a six-member wedding party into zombies for nuptials at the now-defunct Goretorium.
Their craft is a long, involved process only made more so by the presence of a camera crew. Although they’ve spent 10 hours or more on a single body, Belmonte and Herrera try to limit the amount of time they paint each subject to six hours, mostly so the model has enough energy left to perform. Production breaks, though, can stretch that time even further.
“With me being an artist,” Herrera says, “I can keep going back and keep adding to it and keep touching up where, unfortunately, my canvas is going to be, like, ‘All right, that’s enough. We’re done. I have to poop.’ ”
Not that bodily functions are impossible during the painting process, as long as everyone involved takes certain precautions.
“They won’t sit on the toilet because they have paint on their bottoms,” Herrera says of models. “And then, sometimes, you can tell who’s been in the restroom before you because they’ve sat down and you can see the paint on the toilet seat.”
“Painting as long as I have,” he says, “I wait to paint the butt till, like, the very end if I can.”
The word “model” gets thrown around a lot in the world of body painting, but not all the canvases are professionals. Belmonte and Herrera have plenty of civilian clients, too.
“I paint everybody,” Herrera says. “It’s just like buying a house and it’s, like, a crappy, run-down looking house. Then you put a new paint job on it, and it looks amazing. And it’s the same thing. It’s what you do with that paint that makes it stand out and pop.”
For most jobs, Belmonte charges $500 to $1,500 per body. And, she says, it can take plenty of persuading to get everyday people, like the walking-down-the-aisle dead, to strip down. Once they do and get the full body-painting experience, Belmonte insists “nine times out of 10, they will be begging to do it again.”
“There is literally this awesome transformation in the person. … They have this freeing, incredible occurrence in their life,” she says. “They’re, like, so taken over by what’s happened to them. It’s awesome.”
Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@ reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567.