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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Face Painting

Face painter, James Kuhn, has as his goal to come up with one new face
painting each day for a year. This is one of his best.
I've always felt that there should be an element of "fun" inherent in art. Perhaps it's the art teacher in me. In any case, with the Halloween season coming up, I thought I should showcase face painting, which may be about the most fun you can have in art without a license. It's almost infinitely creative, as funny as it is fun, and most importantly, it'll wash off. Having said that, let me confess I've never painted a face (other than portraits) nor have I ever had mine painted, though I wouldn't be adverse to either. As with most aspects of art, there are amateurs and professionals (sometimes known as makeup artists). Likewise, there are exquisite masterpieces and unholy horrors, all captured for posterity thanks to the photographer's art. (There's no such thing as temporary art anymore.)

The hedgehog--whimsical,
age-appropriate, creative,
and just plain cute.
From an historical perspective, face painting may be the oldest form of art known to man. One can't help but think the prehistorics probably painted one another before they painted their cave walls, and certainly the feminine gender has been painting their faces for many thousands of years as a form of beauty treatment. At the same time, their male, ancient warrior counterparts did so for the opposite reason (not unlike football players and camouflaged combatants today). All these factors play a part in modern day face painting--the good, the bad, and the ugh-ly. Basically, face painting today falls into three categories (1) the decorative, (2) the whimsical, and (3) desecration. It just occurred to me that one might argue these categories apply to all forms of art.
The elegantly decorative.
That face painting which is decorative grows from its original, feminine form--makeup. We might liken it to abstract content to speak of other than its own existence and serving no purpose other than to beautify (which may, in fact, be art's highest purpose). It's often quite elegant, restrained, subtle, and usually centers around the eyes. In it's male manifestations, such decoration often involves symmetrical geometric patterns covering the whole face, sometimes evoking an African motif. In the case of children, such facial decoration quite often has it's most uninhibited display of creative expression.

A teen tiger, just don't call it whimsical.
Without a doubt, whimsical face painting is the largest, broadest, and deepest category, usually centering upon animals, cartoon characters, fairy tales, and action heroes. Unlike mere decoration, where the artist's manual dexterity is critically important, with the whimsical, the painter's imagination comes to the fore. Tigers and other feline friends are "done to death." Monkeys are passé. Mice are so Disney. And how many different ways can you depict Spiderman? The real creative artist might, instead, paint a whimsical Winnie the Pooh (and Tigger too), or Felix the Cat, or perhaps Mike Doonesbury. How about replicating Michelangelo's vision of God from his famous ceiling?
Face desecration, but oh, so creative.
Then there's the ugh-ly--the facial desecration. Zombies abound, skulls are a close second (or worse, half-sculls featuring torn flesh), accident victims, plastic surgery gone terribly wrong, and pretty much the whole, Halloween house-of-horrors character roster. Fun? Yes, I suppose, depending upon your definition of fun, but certainly the most egregious form of fun with hints of mass murder, torture, maiming, bodily decay, pain, and suffering. Here especially, one has to be thankful it all washes off.

Defaced disfigurement
Ideally, face painting should be keyed to the age, gender, and personality of the not-so-blank canvas to which the paint is applied. And while on the subject of paint, not just any paint will do. Rooftop creosote is to be avoided at all costs. Children's watercolors are probably harmless for short spans of time but acrylics (oils dry too slowly) and tempera, depending upon the colors, quite often contain pigments you wouldn't want on your face. And then there are allergies to various paint chemicals. Moreover, the words "non-toxic" were not intended to apply to faces, especially inasmuch as paints are now made and marketed especially for faces. In any case, in using your safe, specially formulate, facial paints, you probably wouldn't want to paint your grandmother as a zombie or your toddler as Hannibal Lecter. Unlike most forms of painting, face paintings move, they walk, they talk, they laugh, they cry, and, to paraphrase that old Halloween fun guy, Dr. Frankenstein, "They're ALIVE! THEY'RE ALIVE!!"

There ought to be a rule, all face painters must first paint their own.

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