Living Works of Art
It's impossible to tell what she's wearing, if anything at all. Women wonder how she got her eyeshadow to match her dress, men strive to maintain eye-contact, but the truth is that 20-year-old Danielle Costanzo is wearing her own art: painted patterns that match her skirts and fool the eye.
It’s impossible to tell what she’s wearing, if anything at all. Women wonder how she got her eye shadow to match her dress. Men strive to maintain eye contact. But the truth is that 20-year-old Danielle Costanzo is wearing her own art: painted patterns that match her skirts and fool the eye.
“No one can really tell at first. They’re like, ‘Oh my God, are you naked?’” said Costanzo, a New York University sophomore from Willowbrook, Staten Island.
Every week Costanzo serves as the keystone for “Agency Thursdays” an ad-agency-oriented night that’s open to the public at the FuelRay bar and lounge, located on 68 West 3rd St. in Manhattan. With a table reserved for her in the corner, Costanzo offers free body-painting courtesy of FuelRay. It’s a brand new concept that’s attracted a lot of attention and loosened people’s inhibitions. Typically strait-laced ad executives take off their shirts and let their bodies serve as canvases for Costanzo.
“[Her work is] so intricate and detailed that you can’t tell it’s not a costume,” said Priya Shuckla, FuelRay’s event manager. It was she who decided that Costanzo’s art was what the club needed to draw in a creative crowd of professionals for “Agency Thursdays.”
Before Costanzo began working at FuelRay, her art was typically reserved for landscape painting, sketches and metal work. It wasn’t until last year that Costanzo became fully immersed in her art. Two days before the 2004 Village Halloween Parade in Manhattan, Costanzo had been searching fruitlessly for the perfect costume when she finally declared, “I’m just going to paint myself!”
Donning a skirt, Costanzo continued its jungle pattern onto her upper body using paint. She said she was the Rainforest from “Ferngully: The Last Rainforest,” an animated movie released in 1992, but the resident assistant of the Lafayette dorm where she lives, thought she was naked.
Unperturbed by the misunderstanding, Costanzo recreated the effect for the parade and became a minor celebrity with people requesting to take pictures with her at every step. Seeking a moment of respite, Costanzo stopped at FuelRay, where she was approached by Shuckla.
A triple major studying romance languages, writing and art in the Gallatin School for Individualized Study, Costanzo was unsure whether she could balance her classes and work at the time. It wasn’t until March of this year, when she felt she could, that she contacted Shuckla. That’s when FuelRay began “Agency Thursdays.”
For Costanzo it’s the perfect job. She earns $100 for one night of work, which helps with college expenses, while still allowing for studying time. While other college students work more banal jobs at places like restaurants and stores, Costanzo’s painting everything from chili peppers to butterflies on customers at the city’s “#2 Best Date Spot” and “#3 Best Lounge,” according to CitySearch. The men are always eager to be painted (some too eager, asking if they can take off their pants in addition to their shirts), and a few women have even asked to be painted topless but most pass — for the moment.
“A lot of women don’t do it because their husbands are there, but they want to hire me for them and their friends,” said Costanzo, who is frequently approached to paint for patron’s private parties.
Her popularity is ironic considering her parents, though appreciative of her abilities, always warned Costanzo against attending college with the purpose of studying art. Now Costanzo is lining up private gigs and has even been asked to model for a customer’s couture clothing line. Said Costanzo of the publicity: “It’s great. I never asked for it, and it’s turning into this big thing!”
“Most people can’t believe that she does it herself,” said Shuckla, “[Now] she has a following where people come just to be painted by her.”
Despite her growing fame, Costanzo still has her critics. A few women who have seen her on “Agency Thursdays” have given her “weird looks,” but it wasn’t until someone insulted her art that she became upset. Since it is Costanzo’s habit to encourage patrons to try to paint themselves and their friends, she gladly handed over her supplies to a woman who wanted to use them. The woman though, in an art faux pas, attempted to touch-up the work that Costanzo had just completed on another customer.
“That is the biggest insult you can give someone,” said Costanzo who, ever the professional, maintained her cool.
This reaction is an understandable one from someone who takes her artwork seriously and wants to share it with others. Her life is so entrenched in her work that she can’t remember ever not being an artist. Costanzo mostly kept to sketching until junior high school when she met a teacher named Mr. DeSantis, who she says influenced her life and art. That’s when she began painting.
Now, her father asks if she’s going to “paint the world,” but Costanzo’s more than content with her new gig.
“I’m representing myself and my art,” she said.