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.
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.