The Story On Our Skin: Looking for Identity — A Racebridges Video

A StoryFace by Christopher Agostino asking the question: Why do we paint ourselves?   #storyfaces


video:  The Story On Our Skin: Looking for Identity Beyond Appearance

I was invited by Susan O’Halloran to create a story for her RaceBridges Storytelling Project to be videotaped at the National Storytelling Conference in Richmond, VA, this past August. I was one of perhaps a couple dozen performers who taped a story that day, one after the other, to add to this growing collection of personal tales of “inspiration, laughter and tears and the ongoing search for the American identity.” See over 100 videos at and learn about this resource for schools and other organizations.

And join in this October 9th, 10th and 11th, when over 70 of these video stories will play as part of the Stories Connect Us All online festival on Facebook (, allowing me and many of the other storytellers to participate in online interactions via questions and comments on the Facebook page. My video is scheduled to be a capstone of the festival, broadcast as the final story on October 11 at 9:30 pm (central time).

The RaceBridges Project asks storytellers to tell personal tales about their experiences with race and identity, and, as a facepainter, my working experience centers on very fundamental questions about the connection between appearance and identity, and what the ability to transform appearance means for personal and social identity, as lensed through my research into the origins and cultural significance of this art of transformation that I practice.


The Text:

“Why do we paint ourselves?”

a StoryFace by Christopher Agostino ©2013

As we humans first became self-aware we began to paint our skin.   Aware of who we are, aware of our place in the world.   Why did we paint ourselves?   The answer may be lost in the black charcoal and white ash of our first fires, in the ochre colored earths of where we first lived — for these are materials still used as makeups.   Was it through such colors that we first saw our skin as a vehicle of identity?   The color red signifies power and vitality in bodyart around the world — from the faces of the heroes in Chinese and Japanese theatre to the ring of red that frames the face of Maasai warriors.   How long has this been true?

When we first marked our skin, was it only as decoration?   Or were they marks of identity?   Could they be read, like the swirls of Maori tattoos, or the iconic symbol worn like a name badge by the Plains Indian, Bull Buffalo?   Were we saying, “look at my skin to know who I am”?  In celebrations of who we are we still paint ourselves, from modern birthday parties to village festivals in the Omo River Valley of Ethiopia.  The young men of the Southeast Nuba would paint their bodies every day in fantastic designs as a celebration of the beauty of humanity — for we are so beautiful that we deserve to be art.

From ancient rituals and the theatre born of them, to today’s incarnations in Halloween and Hollywood movies, the makeup artist brings our dreams, our gods, to life — and our nightmares too — raising us beyond our daily identities into the supernatural, giving form to our aspirations.  As a modern facepainter I’ve learned that more important than what I paint on someone’s face is how that painting makes them feel as the world sees them anew, transformed.

Our skin is the edge of who we are, where we touch the world.   As we paint our skin we transform the way the world sees us to take control of our identity.  Yet there is a duality of understanding that comes through these transformations, for if we can change identity by changing appearance, than we should come to understand that all appearance is transitory, mutable.   A fundamental function of mask and body arts in traditional cultures is as proof that forms can change, that to understand the true nature of the world you must look beyond form, to spirit. You must look beyond the mask.

No matter how many thousands of faces I’ve painted, or what I’ve painted on them, one element always remains the same. The eyes. The human eyes that look back at me, through the mask.  And through the painted mask, everyone’s eyes seem to look the same to me, as I imagine they have always looked since the beginning, when we first became aware.



This “MultiFace” image came from a makeup design I painted on myself in 2006 as the author’s photo in the frontispiece of my book. Around that time, I occasionally used a version of the design in a performance piece for educational settings, in which I painted a volunteer’s face with multiple sections of traditional designs to demonstrate different cultural uses of bodyart.

Learn more about StoryFaces.

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Saraswati — Body Painting at FABAIC 2012 with Kryolan Aquacolors

"Saraswati, Goddess of Knowledge" — painted on May 24 at FABAIC 2012

by Christoper Agostino

For my first demonstration painting at the Kryolan booth at the Face and Body Art International Convention this year, I chose a design to fit the convention’s Bollywood theme. Saraswati is a goddess of knowledge, a very ancient figure of Indian mythology, named after a river. This body design is derived from a more complex one I have yet to paint, which includes some of the intricate linework of the face and body art for the Theyyam Festival in the Kerala region of India. That complexity is only alluded to here in simplified form in the face design. This body painting is done with Kryolan’s Aquacolors, including Interferenze Copper and Bronze. Continue reading

Kumadori — The Painted Faces of Japanese Kabuki Theatre

Kumadori: the Makeup of Aragato Kabuki

see also: The Eye of the Demon — a StoryFaces Performance to learn about the stage presentation I do based on the legends of the samurai and the demons that they fight

by Christopher Agostino

“In a way completely different from the realism and individualism basic to the makeup used in Western theatre, Kumadori stylistically beautifies and emphasizes the stereotypical personality of a specific role. At the same time, unlike the Noh masks or the Chinese stage makeup used in Peking Opera, the Kumadori allows for greater power of expression since it closely follows the actual facial features and expressions of the actor.”  —  Toshiro Morita, Kumadori, 1985

Suji-kuma pattern of the Aragato Kabuki samurai

In theatre traditions of Asia such as the Chinese Opera, Kathakali theatre of India and Japanese Kabuki, the actor is the show. The stories are well known myths and historical epics, so everyone knows the plot. The audience is there to see the performer’s mastery of stylized movements, traditional vocal patterns and their otherworldly appearance in costume and makeup, as they embody legendary roles in a larger-than-life fashion.

The samurai character in action

The actors become living special effects to present the story, and extravagant masking and makeup is integral to this complete transformation of the actor, so Asian theatre generally includes the most sophisticated facepainting designs in the world, such as the Kumadori makeup tradition in Japanese Kabuki theater. The use of transformational makeup in Japan can be traced back to ancient religious rituals and, over time, as such ceremonies evolved into theatre, makeup was retained as a vehicle for transforming the actor in performances maintaining elements of the ritual origins without the specific religious context.  Examples of this transition from religious ceremony to theatre can be found in many world cultures, often retaining elements of masking and makeup to allow modern performers to portray supernatural and mythological figures.

A living special effect

We can glimpse a direct link between the famous makeup for the samurai hero of the Aragato style of Kabuki and the ancient use of makeup in rituals pertaining to spirit worship and shamanic possession, for the samurai’s ability to do the impossible is understood to be because they have allowed themselves to be possessed by a powerful kami (“supernatural deity”) and thus have become hitokami (“man-gods”) and a functionality of any extravagant transformational makeup like this is to generate the suspension of disbelief in the audience so that they can accept the convention that they are in the presence of supernatural beings during the performance (just think of the way Hollywood movies use CGI today to make us believe we are on another planet watching blue aliens run through strange forests for the modern version of this age-old concept). In the Edo region of Japan in 1673, a fourteen-year-old actor named Ichikawa-Danjuro I invented a Kabuki performance style called the Aragato, or the “wild show”, with stories centered around powerful samurai heroes to present the “super-human actions that a righteous and courageous hero undertakes in standing up to forces of evil (Toshiro Morita, Kumadori, 1985)”, and for his first performance he painted his face in a bold red and black makeup design—a modern example of which is at the top of the post, this suji-kuma or “sinew pattern” worn by the samurai hero of one of the Aragato dramas as it is seen today. (And, to be clear, real samurai did not paint their faces—this is an actor’s invention to project the inherent power of the character he portrayed)  The complex stylized makeup in Aragato Kabuki is called “Kumadori”.

The “Demon Queller Glare” as depicted by printmaker Kuniyoshi

His makeup is so fierce that the actor can strike a “glaring pose” to scare away evil spirits—an ingenious element of the samurai pattern achieved by leaving the eyelids white while framing the eyes above and below with black lines so the actor can make maximum use of his eyes and they seem to grow impossibly wide as he stares. This “glaring pose” is the theatrical embodiment of samurai legend, that a true hitokami samurai could scare evil spirits away just by glaring at them, and this again points to the connection between theatre and ritual as it is said that Danjuro miraculously cured a man of his afflictions by glaring at him, proving that he too had a touch of the gods in him.

“Kabuki makeup is already in itself an interpretation of the actor’s own through the medium of the facial features. On stage this interpretation becomes a temporalization of makeup in collaboration with the audience. The result is a decoding of the drama traced out in the graphic designs of the painted face.” — Masao Yamaguchi (quoted in The Painted Body, 1984)

painting the suji-kuma: “taking the pattern”

The influences on the development of Kumadori may have included the mask traditions of Noh and other Japanese theatre styles, and also the painted faces of the Chinese and Peking Opera, however, there is a difference in the intention and theatrical effect. Theatrical masks, such as Noh masks, free the actor from naturalistic facial expression, so that all the elements of performance are within the structured movements of the body, and Chinese Opera designs, although they are painted onto the actor’s face, also function very much as physical masks obscuring the actors’ features and expressions. Kumadori makeup does not function as a mask to hide the actor. It is a makeup designed to capture and project the expressions of the actor in enhanced form, to externalize the inner persona of the role through a design that responds to the actor’s features.

the Evil Aristocrat

Toshiro Morita writes that Kumadori should not be described as painting an actor’s face but rather as a “pattern-taking”, as in taking an impression of his own face, and in the original tradition, Kumadori was applied by the actor with his fingers so he could take the pattern of his bone structure as he painted himself. Painted today with fingers and brushes, the Kumadori still lives and moves with each facial gesture, through designs bold enough to project the performance throughout the theatre. The concentrated process of painting himself is also part of the actor’s internal preparation to present the mythic persona required. The different traditional characters each have general makeup patterns they wear, with subtle variations to develop sub-types for specific characters, following a “Yin/Yang” color symbology system. Aragato dramas are intense, and deal primarily with the expression of anger, of which there are two types in Yin/Yang symbology: the positive, extroverted “Yang” type (red) and the negative, introverted “Yin” type (indigo blue). So the red stripes radiating from the center of the samurai suji-kuma express the positive Yang anger of the hero, denoting his youthful vitality and therefor hot-bloodedness, coupled with a strong sense of righteousness as he acts openly and directly “with the heart of a child.” Other red patterns may be used for animals and comic roles. Indigo patterns represent the Yin anger more common to mature adults who have learned the conventions that govern society and so do not express their anger, but hold it in until it darkens the heart and turns one to evil, and those patterns are worn by characters such as evil aristocrats, vengeful spirits and demons. Browns in a pattern indicate a being has non-human powers, such as gods or demons. “The stage regained its original character as a sacred space, and the players their supernatural power…The significant thing is that makeup thus recovered its magical function as a vehicle of the supernatural, deliberately transgressing the natural features of the human face,”  writes Michel Thévoz (The Painted Body, 1984) about the fascination engendered in Europe of the 1950s by presentations of Kabuki theatre.  He’s talking particularly about the impact of the degree of transformation and stylization in traditional Japanese theatre in opposition to the naturalistic realism of the prevailing theatre in Europe and America, but if we are looking to the place that makeup has retained its “magical function” in modern Western culture we can more readily look to movies, even the cheesy sci-fi movies of those same 1950s. In my explorations of body art from tribal origins through modern cultures, I see an interesting evolution. In its original function, body art is a social act, elevating an individual above his natural/animal state to mark him as a member of human culture and his specific social group. In modern cultures, transformational makeup survives in the arts, in theatre, in movies, where its most profound use is to take the wearer (an actor) beyond his humanity so he can portray the supernatural and the super-human.

Exploring how Kumadori changes with my expressions as I painted this one on myself for my book

Sometimes I’ll use the eyes on the eyelids trick to create the “glare”.

Painting the suji-kuma in a demonstration for the Art Educators of New Jersey conference

There are a lot of lessons from such an effective and sophisticated art as Kumadori that I can apply as I paint a face. The foremost might be the importance of fitting a design to an individual’s features, “taking the pattern”. I am also perpetually intrigued by the idea of a painted face that does not mask the individual but rather projects the inner persona. I often paint the suji-kuma face in my stage demonstrations on transformational makeup, both because it is such an exemplar of the power of makeup and because I’ve found that if I do take the time to paint it right and match the person’s features that the “glaring pose” always works, so I can show an audience just how theatrical makeup designs work to support an actor. As a vehicle for generating new facepainting designs I respond to the apparent looseness of the line work in these faces, the rough boldness. The sinuous lines make me think of movement, of wings and flying, so I have developed a number of bird designs out of the Kumadori patterns. I’ve also found these designs a great basis for some really fun spooky designs, see the Kabuki Spooky post. I’m a big fan of samurai movies—Toshiro Mifune in all those great Kurosawa films, like Yojimbo and  The Hidden Fortress—so I enjoy keeping alive the samurai transformation tradition. As a final note, much of the information here was from a fantastic book that is one of the real treasures in my library: Kumadori, by Toshiro Morita. (go to the Books  page for bibliography info) I received this book as a wedding present from an equally treasured friend. Thank you Kate!

“The metamorphosis of a Kabuki actor begins in his make-up. They call it ‘face making’ or ‘face preparation.’ Painting out their ordinary faces, they color in to create their new faces. The make-up is the basic condition for an actor’s metamorphosis and it is the first step to be taken in the process, a new beginning. From being a live in-the-flesh human, with every dab of paint, the actor inches closer to becoming one with the character of his given role. It is a process transcending the mundane dimensions of time and space.”  — Toshiro Morita, Kumadori , 1985

I painted these “Kabuki Kids” in traditional Kumadori patterns in 2006 for my book

The traditional Kabuki Ghost design, and examples on women at events — maybe it’s those soft colors that make it fit better than the red patterns on women.

Taking the sinew pattern into “birds of prey” concepts

The “Monkey” pattern is not a monkey, but a comic servant

Benkei Pattern

The hero of Shibaraku, wearing kumadori makeup...

Kuniyoshi print

“Kabuki Spooky” examples, turning the patterns into demon faces and vampires

Kabuki Spider

Trying out the red-faced version

The Noh Theatre mask exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History

To learn more about our programs and performances:  Christopher Agostino!/storyfaces

Jaguar Helmet Masks — from Aztec and Maya to Diego Rivera, from Hercules to Knights in Shining Armor…and Hockey Masks

A mural by Diego Rivera: Indian Warrior, 1931

Jaguar Helmet Mask design

by Christopher Agostino

Performing in a school on Wednesday I used the facepainted version of an Aztec Jaguar Warrior helmet mask to illustrate a folktale from the Kayapo people of the Amazon, so imagine my delight and surprise on Thursday to see that same image depicted in this mural by Diego Rivera in the current exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. The helmet mask idea has been a favorite vehicle of mine for dramatic face designs for a long time, especially when I want to get a “wow” reaction while painting an adult male at a party. It is a pretty universal mask concept: a mask depicting a powerful animal that fits over the full head so that the wearer’s face is visible through the open mouth of the animal, framed by the animal’s teeth—and you can just see the mouth of the Indian Warrior peaking through behind the teeth of the jaguar in Rivera’s mural. Aztec, Mayan and Toltec sculptures and paintings portray warriors wearing such masks, sometimes depicting eagles, serpents or coyotes rather than the jaguar. The text accompanying this mural states: Jaguar knights, members of an elite Aztec military order, were known for their fighting prowess; according to legend, their terrifying costumes enabled them to possess the power of the animal in battle”, which is probably only a partial explanation for the use of jaguar helmet masks.

Eagle Warrior

The symbolic use of animal imagery in traditional cultures often carries multiple layers of significance. The exhibition of Aztec art at the Guggenheim Museum a few years ago included many examples of this helmet mask concept, including the breathtaking, life-sized terra cotta sculpture of an eagle warrior from the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan (found under the streets of Mexico City).

Deified Eagle Warrior

In addition to the idea of accruing power by association with powerful totem animals, the exhibit described how the ascension to the rank of eagle or jaguar warrior meant the individual was imbued with the spirit of the animal—not just the physical animal, but, more importantly, the animal in its spirit-world state, or god-state. So, we see in the “Deified Eagle Warrior” sculpture how the human in the spirit-world is completely enveloped by the eagle. I am reminded of the concept in Northwest Coast American Indian cultures and masks of the celestial eagle coming to earth in human form, kind of like an eagle/man superhero.

Contemporary Jaguar Dance

Which is not to negate the functionality of wearing something scary to scare your enemy in battle. The warrior’s interest in that is probably universal. Imagine what a warrior might have felt seeing this human/animal jaguar man rushing at him across a battlefield. In modern day Mayan festivals, dancers will wear jaguar masks made from the heads or skulls of real jaguars—which may have been the same way the Jaguar Warriors made their masks in ancient times—so as I explain to school kids in demonstrations, wearing that mask is like saying “don’t mess with me, I’m the one who killed him”. Other modern Mexican mask traditions include papermache or wooden masks recreating the Aztec helmet mask appearance or worn like helmets with the dancer’s face showing through the mouth as it opens and closes.  Holidays and festivals in Mexico can include a blend of ancient and modern, including the Indios, dancers in traditional Indian costume, such as these two spooky looking guys wearing animal skulls, horns and bones in a 2007 procession through the streets of Gunajuato (where “la vida no vale nada” according to the old song).

Guanajuato, Mexico 2007

Guanajuato, Mexico 2007

In the Diego Rivera mural, I’ve got to think that he put the Indian Warrior in that jaguar outfit in part to create an equivalency with the scary armor of the conquistador he has killed (“you may have armor, but we have jaguar-power”), and he is using a stone knife while the Spaniard’s steel blase lies broken underneath him. Now, if that conquistador had only been wearing the right armor, he might have done better.

Knight's helmet, 1460

New York kids love to visit the collection of knights in shining armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and there you can find a golden helmet in the shape of a roaring lion that might have stood up to that jaguar.It was made for an Italian knight in 1460 and, again, its symbolic significance is not limited to the idea of him wanting to be as powerful as a lion.


Alexander the Great

This helmet mask is part of a European warrior tradition that goes back to Alexander the Great and the ancient Greeks, for it is meant to invoke the spirit of the greatest of all classical warriors:  the mythical hero Herakles (Hercules). Herakles slew the Nemean Lion and from then on wore its head and skin in a classic example of that general use of animal totem imagery in many cultures: “don’t mess with me, I’m the one who killed him.” On coins from ancient Greece, Alexander the Great is also depicted wearing a lion-headed helmet, to proclaim his personal mythic connection to the ancient hero. Lion-headed helmets have been showing up ever since.

Punia and the King of the Sharks

In our facepainting, we use this helmet mask concept for dragons, crocodiles, snakes and all the big cats. Anything with teeth. Years ago I used the concept to adapt a Northwest Coast American Indian storytelling mask depicting a man’s face inside a shark’s mouth to create the face I have used ever since in performance of the tale Punia and the King of the Sharks, and it always gets a response when I reveal the painted face. This past Halloween season I had the min-brainstorm at an event to try adapting it to a vampire and got one of my favorite new faces of this past year, the “Vampire’s Bite“.

As I said earlier, the concept is a crowd pleaser.People like big, ferocious looking teeth. And, when you have a kid with close-cropped hair or a bald man, you can make a real show of it and paint their whole head. I think it is important that you have some faces you can show off with.

Painting at tiger helmet

Faces to use when the event is slow and you still want to make an impact, or something to paint when the host sits down after you’ve painted all the little kids at the party. There’s a photo here of me painting a man in a tiger helmet design at the start of a special event for government officials and their families. We were doing their kids, but I didn’t think we’d be getting a lot of the adults to sit down. So I wanted to make this one count. At the end of the evening he returned to thank me, telling me that so many people had stopped to look at him and take photographs that he had felt like the life of the party.

The 1st time I tried the Vampire Bite

Full head Tiger Helmet

recent Serpent Helmet

Jaguar Helmet from my book

Hans Silvester foto - animal helmet mask as aesthetic design


Panther helmet mask

Shark helmet mask

I was looking for examples of modern day hockey masks, which I knew sometimes use this concept, and I was surprised to learn that hockey goalies get the chance to design and create their own masks. Some of them, like Curtis Joseph’s “Cujo” mask, are so distinctive they bring the design with them as they change from team to team. Wow. What a cool example of the power of the mask. (hockey mask images from the website:   )

A Mayan painting from a temple wall that shows aristocracy in elaborate jaguar masks -- rising up higher on the head than the mask may have been, for there is a thin line painted in front of the face, seeming to indicate that there was a mask in front of the face, as if this is a depiction of the individual inside the mask as well as the mask he was actually wearing over his face

Men Getting Women Naked and Yves Klein — Female Nudity in Art

Yves Klein's Anthropometry performance art, 1960

The resultant print of an Yves Klein Anthropometry

by Christopher Agostino

The post I wrote about possible origins of bodypainting in prehistoric times drew a comment that “man started bodypainting to get women naked” — I might have trashed it as flippant sexism until I saw it was from an accomplished painter with the right to say whatever he wants, Brian Wolfe. Another friend chimed in with the observation that way, way back then nakedness was probably the norm. Not today. The nakedness of the people we paint remains an issue for bodypainters, especially here in the U.S.—but I am not writing about that today (see the post:  is a painted body naked?   )

"Yves Klein Blue" (or "International Klein Blue" as he called it)

I did think of Brian’s comment in a different context: Yves Klein and his “Anthropometries”. Yves Klein is one of my heroes, one of the radical conceptual artists that could make art with their minds as well as their hands. There was the brilliance of Marcel Duchamp who reimagined the answer to “what is art?”, and then there was the playfulness of Ives Klein who invented his own color—what a concept that is, to invent your own color. I’ve had Yves Klein on the brain as I have been writing and thinking about the question “why body painting?”, because his Anthropometries are the first thing I think of when I think of “bodypainting as art”.

Anthropometry performance 1960

The linkage to Brian’s comment came from a review I’d read about a recent Klein retrospective at the Hirshhorn Musuem ( that opined that we (the viewer) have to confront the question of sexism in the Anthropometry performances. That there is something troubling about a formally dressed male creating art in public with completely naked women. I will add that they are being observed by a fashionably dressed audience of men and women and accompanied by a group of classical musicians, also formal in appearance. The only people naked in the room are the women serving as the objects of art. This is not a “happening” with everyone getting naked and painted. This is a lot of people with clothes on looking at naked women in an art gallery.

He took the naked women off the wall, out of the frame, right into the middle of the gallery. It is disturbing, and disturbing your audience is a vehicle for getting them to pay attention and engage with the art. Confronted by naked women being used as paint brushes, the spectators have to deal with the central role of the human body in art—especially the naked female form in fine art. And, from my perspective, that makes this the primary example of bodypainting as fine art because it so completely centers on the body in the creative process—there is no art here without the body as it is the naked body itself that makes this a process of art as the models cover themselves in his YKB paint and press themselves against the canvas, and it is the naked body that forms the resultant object of art in the prints that remain as the final product. The video from the Hirshhorn Museum (below) relays how Klein felt his hands were no longer enough to create art. He needed “living brushes”, the models themselves, to create an art form “designed to prevent that aesthetic objectivation which would give prevalence to the two-dimensional composition and make us overlook its bodily origins”—as analyzed by Michel Thévoz in The Painted Body. The text by Pierre Restany for the invitation card to Klein’s Anthropometry performance of 1960 makes the direct linkage between this act and those ancient origins of bodyart I write about: “The blue gesture released by Yves Klein runs back through forty thousand years of modern art to link up with the anonymous markings, the both sufficient and necessary markings in that dawn of our world, which at Lascaux and Altamira signified man’s awakening to self-consciousness and the world.” (See? I don’t just make all this stuff up.)

An "Anthropometry/Shroud"

To achieve that end, Klein not only needed to use the model as the brush, he needed the model to be naked. Nudity continues to have a radical role in art. Years ago I saw a modern dance performance in which the dancer was on stage alone completely naked. I believe the piece was called “Primate”, and she moved in an animal manner, comfortable in her nakedness, allowing the audience to consider what was so shameful about being naked? A recent exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art included live naked people and directly addressed the taboo of nakedness in public. One part of the exhibit had two naked people standing in a doorway so that the museum visitor had to brush past them in order to get through the door, confronting their own feeling of discomfort being so close to a naked stranger. (I didn’t see this exhibit so this description is based on a critics’ radio interview about it. The exhibit:    Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present March 14–May 31, 2010  )

At the origins of bodyart, the nakedness of the person being painted was probably not an issue. We have a different relationship with our bodies now and bodypainting functions in a very different context. In his analysis of the bodyart of the Southeast Nuba, James Farris states that the most significant element of the bodyart is the medium it is produced on, the human body—but that’s in reference to a culture in which nudity and very minimal clothing is commonplace. To risk misappropriating Marshall McLuhan‘s work (which, according to Woody Allen, is easy to do) by linking him to this idea of Farris, if the “medium is the message” than what is the contextual message embedded in the medium of a naked body in public in our current, body-conscious, sexually excitable but morally prudish, American society?

Brian and Nick Wolfe painting their championship winning design at the World Body Painting Festival 2009

Regarding the question of sexism in Yves Kein’s Anthropometries, we are back to Brian’s comment about male artists getting women to take their clothes off. Looking at the male dominated history of fine art it is hard to argue with. As I thought about this, though, it occurred to me that if you took a survey of all the naked bodies in paintings and sculptures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (most of which would have been created by male artists) the percentage of naked men vs. women depicted would be considerably higher than the relative proportion of male to female models at your average bodypainting competition or convention, and that’s an environment that will have as many female artists as males, so in the modern bodypainting world perhaps Brian’s comment needs to be expanded to say that everyone likes to get women to take their clothes off.

about Anthropometry, from the Hirschhorn Museum show:

a video of the live performance, in color, but with cheesy music rather than his original Yves Klein Monotone Symphony:

An excerpt from:  Art Review: Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers at the Hirshhorn, Washington, DC  By Alix MckennaJune 3rd, 2010 at 10:00 am

In one of Klein’s, racier projects, the Anthropometry series, the artist dressed to the nines and directed naked ladies while they painted themselves in IKB paint and impressed their bodies onto the canvas. Musicians played in the background and an audience of art lovers watched the spectacle. The impression of these bodies represented the energy and temporal nature of the human form. While Klein spoke about his Anthropometry pieces in cosmic and asexual terms, the edginess of the project cannot be denied and is one of its greatest strengths. The mysterious, headless impressions reduce women to their most elemental signifying components. Against a white canvas, we see cosmic blue breasts and thighs and stomachs. They are as primitive and as powerful as the Venus of Willendorf.

All the Yves Klein photos are from: Yves Klein Archives

An Yves Klein Anthropometry, 1960

An Yves Klein Anthropometry/Shroud

An Yves Klein "Firepainting" which used models as stamps and stencils in combination with fire

Yves Klein using the model as stencil for a firepainting

Yves Klein firepainting process

At the bottom is a a remarkable video with a great deal of Yves Klein footage in combination with works of his art:

Learn more at my Body Painting Page