The man who sold his back to an art dealer


Tim Steiner has an elaborate tattoo on his back that was designed by a famous artist and sold to a German art collector. When Steiner dies his skin will be framed – until then he spends his life sitting in galleries with his shirt off.

“The work of art is on my back, I’m just the guy carrying it around,” says the 40-year-old former tattoo parlour manager from Zurich.

A decade ago, his then girlfriend met a Belgian artist called Wim Delvoye, who’d become well known for his controversial work tattooing pigs.

Delvoye told her he was looking for someone to agree to be a human canvas for a new work and asked if she knew anyone who might be interested.

“She called me on the phone, and I said spontaneously, ‘I’d like to do that,'” Steiner says.

Two years later, after 40 hours of tattooing, the image spread across his entire back – a Madonna crowned by a Mexican-style skull, with yellow rays emanating from her halo.

There are swooping swallows, red and blue roses, and at the base of Steiner’s back two Chinese-style koi fish, ridden by children, can be seen swimming past lotus flowers. The artist has signed the work on the right hand side.