I Really Believe in What I Do — “Change your face and Change your evening”

by Christopher Agostino

Being a face and body painter gets a fella into such interesting places. Last night I was part of the 100 Under 2 Festival for the grand opening of Yotel NYC, a chic new hotel on 10th Ave and W. 42nd (#yotelnyc). One of 100+ performers ensconced in hotel rooms with the task of entertaining people for two minutes as they moved from floor to floor, room to room — “performance tapas” they called it. 2 minutes is not an ideal time frame for getting someone to sit down and get painted. Face and body painting works best cumulatively with people standing and watching you paint someone as they decide if they want to do it, especially with adults. Here I had to convince people cold — the glitterati invited to the event would walk by my room and I’d say “come in and be transformed”, “transform your face and transform your evening”, or just  “I’m doing body painting and looking for someone to paint.” Some did, most didn’t, most wouldn’t cross the threshold into the room. (I’d suggested to the producers that I bring a body model to paint throughout the event but they preferred that I try to get the guests painted instead).

When I was younger, a night like this of trying to sell myself with limited results would have been much tougher on me. Now, I believe more in what I do. I believe that painting someone’s face (especially an adult’s) gives them an opportunity to experience an adventure, to “transform their evening.” I wish more adults would get painted at events because it would do them some good.

Still, events like this are tough. Too much rejection, too little of the joy of painting, and the painting itself is tough with no chance to work into a good groove. Over the two hours I painted about 15 people, mostly women’s arms but also a few faces on a handful of men.

There was one older man (which means older than me, which is starting to get really old), who’d come by my room a few times, hesitating, then finally he’d made the effort to come back to me later in the event after his group had moved on to another floor. He was still hesitant and asked for something subtle, but I told him that “subtle” misses the point, that the reason to get painted is to have an effect on how people see you. And I wrapped a feathered serpent (Quetzalcoatl) around half his face. (It was a random choice on my part, I was using the colors of the decor and trying to paint less usual things to fit the unusual festival concept, but it turned out he’d recently come back from Tikal in Guatemala and so it made a connection for him). As I painted him there was a young turk in the doorway making fun of the process, calling out stupid things I could turn him in to, really the only rude person I had to deal with last night. I hoped that the he didn’t know the older man, because if he did he was being cruel.


Afterwards I headed to the seemingly endless cocktail party that accompanied the event, looking for a drink, talking a bit with some of the other artists — and looking for some of the people I painted, looking to see what effect I’d had. I saw Mr. Feathered Serpent and asked him how his evening was going, how it felt being painted. He told me that he felt like a celebrity. Everyone was taking his picture and talking with him. Before that, he said, he was just a guy alone, walking around a party without being noticed.

Part of why I believe in what I do is my own understanding that masking and transformational face and body art give physical, tangible credence to a fundamental human belief in the mutability of form, that things are not limited to their appearance. That I may be more (and different) than I appear to be. The experience we gain when wearing a new, painted identity — the change in how people perceive us — gives us proof of this, hopefully an encouraging proof that lasts beyond the mask. There is no limit to who or what we can be.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Hamlet Act 1, scene 5