‘Wings’: A painting portraying Angela Chu on flying silks

Angela Chu was the teacher for the aerial silks level 1 classes that I took at Aerial Artique. Angela has the ability to make the simplest aerial movements look graceful. I wanted to try to capture her refined quality of movement. This led me to choose to paint her doing a flying silks routine.

‘Wings’: Acrylic on canvas (portrait of Angela Chu performing a flying silks routine)


Angela was the first aerialist that I approached to be a featured aerial artist for The Art of Flying. I feel like she had a large impact on how much I enjoyed learning aerial silks from the start. She always taught in a way that was very approachable. At the same time, she was very impressive, and set a high bar for her students to strive for.

Angela makes even the smallest and simplest movements seem extremely important. I think this really sets Angela apart as an aerialist. She really draws the audience into the artistic world that she creates. Angela makes extremely complex movements look like they took no effort at all — meaning that when she performs difficult tricks, the fluidity of her choreography is not lost.

Q&A with Angela:

What made you decide to try aerial?
It had never occurred to me until I saw Rain, from the Paper Doll Militia, perform at one of the Athletic Playground‘s showcases. She and her aerial partner, Sarah, taught classes at the Playground and I soon as I saw her act, I had to try it. I had never seen aerial silks before, either live or a screen. A part of me always wanted to be a dancer, but I had tons of foot and knee issues in college and was told by a physical therapist that I shouldn’t ever go barefoot. So I had kind of given up on that. But when I saw Rain perform, I saw a way I could do dance but avoid impacting my feet. 
What was your favourite aspect of aerial Silks when you got started?
The musicality & performance aspects of aerial silks. I came from a background in theatre and music, and Rain and Sarah taught very much from an angle of expression and artistry, rather than strength and tricks, so this made it all very accessible to me, and kind of framed in a language I could understand. Whenever I could play my music of choice in the studio, that was like two amazing worlds colliding. 
What do you like most about aerial now?
One piece is definitely choreography and act creation — again getting to work with music I love and expression ideas and emotions through movement. And another aspect is making that same art available to my students. I try hard to make silks as accessible and fun and *not* stressful to my students as much as Rain and Sarah did. I love teaching our performance workshops because you see students grow and change so much when they are working towards a show. And finally, I love the community– coming in to any circus space around the Bay Area and always seeing someone I know, and catching up on what they’re working on or where they’re performing. And especially coming in to Aerial Artique where I just about everyone is kind, excited to be there, and so supportive of each other. 
What do you try to convey in your performances?
It depends. In an artistic setting, whatever moves me in the music. I tend to get super intimate with my fabric and the music and I almost don’t care that the audience is there. But if it’s a corporate or club setting, you’re a little bit just showing off for them, and pulling out the most impressive tricks and the biggest smile. I like both types of performance for different reasons, but am definitely more drawn to the artistic. 
What is something new you would like to try or possibly improve upon in your current aerial practice/performance/teaching?
There are so many things! That’s what’s fun about the aerial arts. There are so many apparatuses and skills and styles of movement. I have a duo aerial globe act with my partner Nina, which we don’t get enough chances to perform. I’m also very into single point trapeze right now. But none of them have really addicted me the way that aerial silks has. As an instructor, I feel you should always be improving whether it’s through learning new material, observing other teachers, or introducing different exercises. It’s easy to repeat the same lessons and get stuck in a pattern, and I know I need to expand on what I bring to my students.

Angela’s portrait was painted from a reference image that was taken from an excellent flying silks performance. I think this performance demonstrated a lot of the aspects of her aerial performance that I enjoy the most.

Angela describes the flying silks performance:

It was choreographed for a church in Oakland that was celebrating an anniversary, and they hired me to perform. They chose the song and asked if I could do “something angelic”. I wasn’t really feeling the music at first, but by the end, I really got into it. I only had 2 runs practicing it in the venue, and all the other rehearsal was done at Circus Center or Kinetic Arts Center. So there was so much pressure to get everything right the night of the show, because I really only had one shot at each of the takeoffs and landings. But it all worked out!


rigging and production: TrapezeWorld, videographer: Jazz Tigan, May 30, 2014


Progress photos of ‘Wings’

Artistic process

I wanted to try to capture the pink, orange and peach colours of the lighting in the performance. So I made a soft and bright background with obvious brush strokes. I angled the brush strokes up and to the right to reflect the directionality of the movement. I wanted this technique to aid in portraying Angela flying through the air, with the fabric billowing out behind her.

In a lot of my artwork I tend to use unnatural colours for skin. I continued this practice for this piece, using bright red and yellow for the main shadows and highlights respectively. This reminds me of how skin looks under performance lighting. I also added in some black and white sharp highlights and lowlights to create greater contrast.

Finally, I decided to call this piece ‘Wings’. The position of the silks, especially when flying through the air, strongly resembles a pair of flowing wings.

Please share this post with any art, circus, dance or flying enthusiasts that you know 😉

Also published on Medium.

2 Replies to “‘Wings’: A painting portraying Angela Chu on flying silks”

  1. This one is fantastic! I also love this performance – I knew immediately which one it was from the blog announcement. Excellent job!

    1. Thanks I am glad it is recognizable because I absolutely love this performance too! Such a magic moment when Angela first starts flying through the air 🙂

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