Painting a canvas is easy: It doesn't squirm, it doesn't get tired and it doesn't express an opinion. But for body painter Adrienne Mills, that's exactly why she's not interested.

"When you paint on a person, they move, they interact," Mills explained. "It's part of a whole performance experience that you don't get just painting a canvas on the wall."

Mills is one of six artists whose works will be displayed at the art pavilion at this weekend's West Oak Lane Jazz and Arts Festival.

"The arts side has really taken off this year," said Jack Kitchen, president of Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp., the festival's executive producer. "Some people don't come for the music, they just come for the artists."

For Mills, creating her intricate, multicolored designs is not all about how they look. "The process is just as important - sometimes more important - than the finished product," she said. Mills begins by cutting a plastic foam plate into a stencil, and then uses that to paint directly on a model's skin.

As Mills paints, she loves watching the models transform - and not just on the outside. "Once you get painted, it brings out certain things in your personality that you probably didn't know were there," she explained.

Mills is based in Washington, D.C., but has participated in the West Oak Lane Festival twice before. "I'm surprised how much folks in Philly love body painting," she said. "I don't get this kind of response in D.C."

Philadelphians, for some reason, seem to instinctively understand what Mills' work is all about. "They get it right away," she said. "They're not asking me why, they're asking me how - because they want to do it themselves."

Even Mills herself doesn't worry too much about the deeper questions. "Galleries always want the whys and wherefores," she said, "but I just do it and make up that stuff afterwards."

Given a choice, Mills would rather cast her work in more straightforward terms. "It's like playing dress-up," she said, "just extreme dress-up." *

- Lauren F. Friedman