Li Chi Slays the Dragon — from Bodies Alive!

 

 

See the video: Li Chi Slays the Dragon from Bodies Alive! 

An ancient Chinese legend brought to life on painted bodies.

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Li Chi Slays the Dragon is one of the stories I tell most frequently. Mostly as a StoryFace, illustrating the tale on the face of one volunteer as I tell it, but, once upon a time, I had the chance to expand the story onto a cast of performers as a tale told with painted bodies. This video is from that performance at the Face and Body Art International Convention in 2008, as part of the Bodies Alive! show we presented there. I was joined in the painting by Christina Davison, Sara Glasgow, and Jennifer Wade, with help from some volunteers, and in performance by Blair Woodward, Cully Firmin, Rebecca Reil and Chloe Agostino. See my StoryFace version of Li Chi live at PIFA. Learn about the Bodies Alive Show. Learn about BodyStories.

My specific inspiration for how to take a legend like this and turn it into a sequence of images on painted bodies came from a puppet show I saw at the New Victory Theatre by Ping Chong, adapting to the stage Japanese ghost stories from the classic movie Kwaidan. Ping Chong’s stage design re-created a cinematic style, varying the size of the puppets and the perspective of the settings he placed them in to do closeups, or long shots or tracking shots, to tell the story sequentially — like in a movie.

The development process included sketches of the body designs which I scanned and then moved around in photoshop to create a rough storyboard, plus some color and design tests done in the course of my regular facepainting gigs. To help the performers understand the visuals that their painted bodies would create on stage, I sketched the designs onto T-shirts for them to wear during rehearsals. Included here are the studio photos taken at FABAIC by Rich Johnson, plus some of the other images created during the process, and since.

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Transformations — About the Company

About the Company

— adapted from Transformations! The Story behind the Painted Faces by Christopher Agostino – revised 12/12/12

The first face I painted was in 1976, as a young actor asked to help turn hundreds of my fellow high school students into clowns for a bicentennial parade. By the next summer, the members of our theater troupe had opened a facepainting concession at Adventureland Amusement Park on Long Island, NY. I haven’t stopped painting faces since. (Why would I? It’s too much fun).

In the eighties I began to look at facepainting differently — as an art. The art of transformation. In 1983 I was in LA,  painting faces and bodies at Venice Beach. I joined with another performer and visual artist, Jennifer Green, to promote facepainting to museums and art shows as well as the usual gigs. Jenn’s approach to a face was very different from mine. On the same day that I painted a classic Chinese Opera design on her as a logo for our fledgeling company, she turned me into abstract art.

When I returned to New York, I got a gig painting faces in the window of Unique Clothing right on Broadway in Greenwich Village and worked there on and off through the mid- ‘80s. It was facepainting as public entertainment. As was the case at both the amusement park and Venice Beach, I was painting more adults and teens than kids. I worked on ways to blend my theatrical approach and the Chinese Opera imagery with the punk styles people were wearing on the streets.

The extensive event industry in New York let me move from street fairs, where people paid for each face, to being hired for private parties and corporate events. Sometimes I’d be able to bring along another artist who painted full faces, but most often there would be other freelance facepainters on these gigs with their own styles or just doing cheek art.

As the work became more steady and the events larger, I wanted to always work with a group of artists who approached this art like I did, to present facepainting as more than a cute diversion for little kids. That led in the ‘90s to the formation of the company, Transformations Facepainting, and that was when facepainting really became fun.

Finding a facepainting home like the Bronx Zoo has allowed us to develop and maintain a company of very experienced artists. The members of Transformations Facepainting, over the years, have included: Dennis Pettas, Roberta Halpern,  Jennifer Wade, Miguel Cossio, Laura Metzinger, Michele Carlo,  Angela Izrailova, Miko and Claudia Reese, Jin Young Park, Danny Gosnell, Naoko Oshima,  Margery Gosnell-Qua,  Maria Pirone, Sigfrido Aguilar, Janet Izzo, Denise Lord,  Nirupama Kumar, Christine Gregory, Zak Brown, Lizi Costache, Regina Russo, Phil Zirkuli, Britt Lower, Colleen Gallagher, Deborah Berkson, Abigail Weg. Our website and promotional materials are full of my snapshots of the faces that I paint — their work is vastly under-represented in proportion to their contribution to the success of our company.

The artists who find their way into our company tend to stay with us. It’s so much fun and we like each other.

Before I had an organized troupe, I had friends to paint with. I’d get canvas painters I knew, like Wanda Boudreaux, to try facepainting. Wanda’s from New Orleans, so we also got a chance to paint down there for Mardi Gras, and I have always felt that I learned as much from artists like Wanda as they learned from me. Some of the other artists I’ve painted with along the way include Kate Cain Madsen (who began like me back at Adventureland), Teddy Goldman, Anne Farmer, Diane Epstein, Suzanne Haring and her sisters, Jodi Levitan, Susan-Rachel Condon, Luanne Dietrich, Erica Borillo,  and Therese Schorn. Some of these artists were with me as I first began to discover what I wanted to do with a face.

A facepainter is an artist who entertains, and entertainers get into the most interesting places. One day we may be painting at a party in the inner recesses of the New York Stock Exchange and the next day we’re painting an endless line of kids in the Bronx for the NYC Parks Department. One summer, Transformations was hired by the Nature Conservancy for the Long Island Beach Festival. It was a wonderful event, right on the beach at Smiths Point Park. I got to tell stories and talk about nature and facepainting to the crowd strolling through the tent, and we got a chance to dip our toes in the ocean afterwards. This is a wonderful business.

Usually for such events I’ll give the artists a theme and maybe some source images like masks or sea life photos and they will invent their own faces. This time I tried something different. I gave to the three artists working with me (Naoko, Marge and Miguel), a set of 70 sea life faces I had sketched out for an earlier project at the New York Aquarium and asked them for that day to use my designs rather than their own. We told the crowd we were painting not to worry about what they wanted to be, that everyone would be surprised with a different sea life face.

As these three accomplished artists, who I have worked beside for years, began painting my face designs each took their own approach, brought their own style and vision, and none of the faces looked like I’d painted them. What a pleasure it was to work beside them.

For such artists to believe me when I tell them what I think is possible in this unconventional medium; for them to let me give them certain rules for painting on certain days; for colleagues to let me set a course for their creativity — this is all a very unexpected consequence of my decision to be a facepainter. To have a company of artists who want to do what I do amazes me.

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Face Painting Gallery — Prospect Park Boo at the Zoo

 

Now that the power is back on, here are fotos from this past weekend’s Boo at the Zoo festivities at the Prospect Park Zoo. Last year the Halloween weekend was wreaked by a freak snowstorm. This year we made it through the weekend events and then the hurricane hit. Halloween Day was effectively canceled — only one group of trick or treaters came by my house. We used to only have to worry about whether it would be chilly or not on Halloween.

“Octopus” by Britt

Britt, Jennifer and I painted at the Boo at the Zoo event at the Prospect Park Zoo. It’s a wonderful annual neighborhood event, with whole families coming in costume and getting painted. Britt continues to paint remarkable images of dancers on little girl’s faces, though my favorite of hers might be this octopus. I only have the one foto I took of a face Jennifer painted. She lives in a flood zone by Coney Island and that’s what she is dealing with this week.  We learned yesterday that the NY Aquarium at Coney Island was devasted by the storm and they are asking for donations to help re-build: http://nyaquarium.com/

“Choreography” by Britt

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Body Painting Video: Andy Golub & Craig Tracy — From Times Square to the Metropolitan

 

click to watch the video (photo by Udor Photography)

 Video: Andy Golub and Craig Tracy — from Christopher Agostino

Andy Golub has an ongoing project of body painting in public in Times Square, New York. On September 29, 2012 he was joined by Craig Tracy, who was in New York to receive a Unique Art Award for Bodypainting. Craig invited me to come and see the process, and Andy was gracious enough to let me join in with some of the finishing touches as they were completing the body. Then we hopped in a cab and headed uptown to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the current Andy Warhol exhibit to photograph the painted model in juxtaposition with iconic works of art. The model is Trisha Benton, the photographer is Udor, the music is by The Meters (in homage to Craig’s home town) and I did the video. Continue reading

Face Painting Gallery: Faces at Play 2012 — Summit Wellness Fair

Hiking — an iconic design by Britt

This was our third year of painting faces at the Summit Medical Group Sports and Healthy Living Festival. With two years under our belt, we were able to fully implement “Transformations 3.0 — a radically artistic approach to bringing event themes to life.” The goal of the event is to get kids active to stay healthy and in support of that we eschewed all the normal animal faces, zombies and princesses to turn each person into a Face at Play. We would ask people what sports or games they played and invent a way to paint that onto their face. It’s a wonderful event attracting more people each year, produced by an award winning event company: Faith West Events.

Pushing ourselves forward into new directions keeps this an adventure and generates the excitement we share with the people we transform, to make the face painting an experience to remember. And it is really fun to paint like this, trying new things and sharing the adventure. The full gallery is below, but first a few notable examples: Continue reading