Book Cover
The Story Behind the Painted Faces

Redefining face painting as the modern expression
of a profound and ancient art.

© 2006 Text and Art by Christopher Agostino

Published by Kryolan GmbH, Berlin
144 pages, 10” x 11”, softcover
Over 570 color photographs, plus original illustrations, index and bibliography
ISBN: 3-935946-13-9
Writing this book gave me the opportunity to re-examine what I’ve been doing for 30 years, and why. Right from the initial offer to publish a book I’d write, my friend Joe Korts at Kryolan encouraged me to make this the story of my personal journey as an artist and what I’ve learned from painting so many people, and not a “how to face paint” book. Thank you, Joe. Through this retrospective process I have come to understand that my art is less about the designs I paint on people then it is about the actual experience of being transformed—about how the act of being painted makes a person feel, how they feel when they look in the mirror and see themselves changed, and how they feel as others look at them wearing this fantastic identity.

The book includes chapters on cultural uses of masks and body art, and the inspiration I take from knowing I am part of such an ancient tradition—illustrated by my re-creations of traditional designs painted, for the most part, on everyday people at events around New York. There are also chapters on how my company and I have applied what we’ve learned from cultural sources to develop the uniquely creative style of faces that is our company brand, how we present face painting to the public as an artistic adventure, and about my performances combining painted faces with storytelling. At the heart of the book is my belief that face painting is an interactive art, with profound cultural origins, that still retains the power to transform identity and bring some magic into the world.
What's Next?
Painting my first faces at Adventureland Amusement Park in the late 1970s I was unknowingly at a leading edge of the growing popularity of face and body art of all sorts. There are now face and body painting conventions and competitions world-wide that attract thousands of spectators, and, in my company alone, we paint about 15,000 faces at the Bronx Zoo annually.

With public interest in face and body art growing, I am continuing to collect information and write articles, examining the current trend in the context of its cultural origins (see my article about Mike Tyson’s Tattoo), aiming towards a book that will be along the lines of The Painted Body by Michel Thévoz (1984), but from a practicing artist’s perspective rather than an anthropologist’s.

I am also writing down the stories I have been performing for all these years to be illustrated by painted faces for a book of StoryFaces.
Re-created in a school assembly from a foto of an Amazon traditional design, identified as a bird motif.
Possibly the first time I painted animals walking across a face, from the St. Francis Day Fair at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1989.
Celebrating my wife's pregnancy with a design I first did on a ceramic bowl commemorating our wedding, and then started painting those silhouette animals onto faces too.
The life-cycle of the monarch butterfly (our first company logo), painted in 2006, to open the butterfly chapter of the book, illustrating the process we had witnessed in our flower garden that summer.
An iconic design from George Catlin's portraits of Plains Indians, painted by Lorraine during a school program.
My face, painted in 1983 by Jenn, partner in my first facepainting company, RE:FACE, in LA., intended as a promotional image demonstrating facepainting as art.
The "Multiface", painted specifically as the "author's portrait" for the book to represent the cultural traditions of painted faces.
My first attempt to paint the full complexity of the designs from the Kerala region of India was on my own face.
My face designs and inspirations become the basis for my painted costume T-shirts, such as this one of George Catlin portraits of Plains Indians.
Going through old fotos as I put the book together I was surprised to see that I started painting culturally inspired designs such as this Chinese Opera face on regular people as soon as I first saw them, back in LA in 1983.
The same day in 1983 that Jenn painted me as abstract art to promote our new RE:FACE company, I painted her in this classic Chinese Opera image, which we still use on our promo.
The "Monkey King" from the Chinese Opera, one of many cultural designs that I find work especially well on adults.
Another inspirational Chinese Opera design, the "shattered face", remarkable for the asymmetry and the swirling motion that makes the face seem in flux.
Painted very quickly at a theater festival in Mexico, 2001, an example of how a simple, gestural approach to imagery can be effective.
"The Eagle in Human Form" - Designed and painted for the book, to illustrate a NWC transformation mask concept, that the mask can portray a mythological character both in its "human form."
..and the mask can transform to depict the mythological character in its "celestial form."
At the Bronx Zoo in 1999 over several weeks I painted variations on this design and took photos, looking to create an iconic image that would exemplify our approach to event facepainting: bold, colorful mask-like faces that look good from a distance - it became our logo.
I painted my face for the book in a traditional Kabuki sinew design, and took photos with various facial expressions to show how it functions as an actor's makeup.
This was my best attempt at the "demon dweller glare" of the legendary Kabuki actors, but it wasn't good enough and didn't make it into the book.
For several years in the 80s I painted at Unique Clothing in Greenwich Village. From around Halloween 1989.
Painted for the book, to illustrate the "Two Lizards" story that has become a centerpiece of my performance program on mask concepts and traditions.
Painted for the book, duplicating, as best I could, a Maori facial tattoo design in a book from the 1890s.
When I was doing a facepainting workshop for fun with the neighborhood kid's, my daughter Chloe added a baby penguin like this to the penguin face I'd shown her, and it has continued to inspire playful face ideas.
A kid at a regular event, painted in a face design from Papua New Guinea on the other side of the world.
A man in a face design from Papua New Guinea, painted in Manhattan at the Kite Festival. This is my favorite event photo because of the juxtaposition of the traditional and the modern.
I silkscreen printed my own business cards for RE:FACE when I moved from LA back to NY, using the Chinese Opera design I had painted on my partner Jenn's face.
A typical example of how, while working in the entertainment industry in NY in the 80s, I tried to do more elaborate work at parties than the little cheek designs and eye glitter client's were used to.
A girl at an event, painted in a version of the traditional style of the Surma people, as depicted on my banner backdrop.
I took three practice attempts at this face before doing the photo shoot for the book of this design from the Kerala region of India.
"The Tiger Gets Loose" As the book was nearing completion I was starting to work in a looser style of painting animal faces, breaking the animal up into component imagery, and used these explorations as the basis for a chapter on how my own design process works.
My son, in 12 variations of traditional patterns, exemplifying how the fundamental tribal approach using geometric forms to break up the human face and baffle identity.
One of the last faces I painted for the book, to illustrate how I use a face to tell a story in performance.