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October 2017

Quick post: freeing the beast with Burberry

Apologies in advance for this short and rather sloppy post on Burberry's latest palette...the Curator is both generally exhausted and busy as a little bee working on more exciting things like the fall exhibition and some truly amazing holiday collections.  This is not to say that Burberry's fall blush is subpar; as a matter of fact, I think it may be the most intricate one they've released to date.  The detail on the leaves is beautiful, but I think my favorite part is that they're raised slightly above the background - it really allows the interplay of matte and shimmer textures to shine.

Burberry fall 2017 blush palette

Burberry fall 2017 blush palette

Burberry fall 2017 blush palette

As with previous seasonal palettes, the print is a reproduction of one that appeared on some of the pieces from the fall 2017 fashion collection.  In particular, the fall palette borrows one of Burberry's "beasts" prints, which were inspired by the fanciful mythical creatures lining the pages of medieval English manuscripts.  This particular print surfaced on much of Burberry's line: womenswear, menswear, accessories and kids' clothes.  (There was another beast print that was used on this lovely beauty box but I skipped it as I didn't think it was that special, plus I need to budget for many holiday items!)

Burberry fall 2017

Burberry fall 2017

Burberry fall 2017

Burberry fall 2017
(images from us.burberry.com)

For the life of me though, I couldn't find an exact match for the pattern on the palette, so I think it may have been modified slightly to fit better.  More specifically, I'm noticing two key differences on the right side of the palette.  It looks like the beast's profile has been erased and replaced with some leaves, and another four-petaled flower has been added in place of his paws/hooves.

Burberry fall 2017 beast print and palette comparison

I also went slightly insane trying to distort the print in Photoshop so that it matched the exact angle of the palette's print.  In the end I couldn't figure it out and gave up before I threw my computer out the window.  I can rotate images just fine but couldn't seem to do any fancy stuff (distort, warp, skew, perspective, etc.)

Burberry fall 2017 beast print and palette comparison

It would have been great if Burberry had kept the print exactly as it was - wouldn't you have liked to see a little medieval beast peeking out from your blush?  I also would have appreciated it if they would have been a little more specific in their references so I could have found the original images.  For example, even though the spring 2017 blush's design wasn't my favorite, I was overjoyed when I found the exact wallpaper print they used, and all they needed to divulge was that the wallpaper was at the V & A.  This time it would have been useful to know the specific medieval manuscripts they were looking at so I could have done some digging.  (I did do a cursory search for medieval manuscript illustrations but didn't see anything strikingly similar).

Anyway, despite these slight missteps this was one of Burberry's prettiest offerings and certainly Museum-worthy.  What do you think?  Oh, and if you crave a daily dose of medieval manuscript illustrations chock full of mythical creatures and other assorted weirdness found in the margins of these tomes, this is the Tumblr for you. ;)


Oh deer! Isa x Bambi

I have no idea how I missed this adorable collection when it was released last fall, but I'm glad I managed to track it down.  Since there are so many Disney collaborations I tend to be fairly selective as to which ones to purchase for the Museum, but I thought this Bambi collection from Korean brand Isa Knox was special enough to be worthy.  :)

Isa Knox Bambi

The outer packaging alone is lovely.  The sides of the boxes have delightful floral prints and Bambi illustrations.

Isa Knox Bambi

Isa Knox Bambi

More pretty floral patterns abound on the compacts themselves, and Bambi's brown fur gets a vibrant, overlapping watercolor makeover.

Isa Knox Bambi

Butterfly!!

Isa Knox Bambi

Isa Knox Bambi

I'm not much of a Disney buff, but I do follow a lot of art blogs, which is how I came across the story of artist Tyrus Wong (1910-2016).   Wong went largely unrecognized for his groundbreaking work on Disney's Bambi until the early aughts, but I'm glad he finally got his due, since his style was instrumental in setting the film's tone and atmosphere and also created an entirely new direction for Disney.  I thought it would be fun to look at the Isa collection within the context of the original Bambi art.

Wong was born in China and came to the U.S. when he was nine (Tyrus is an Americanized version of "Tai Yow" that a teacher assigned him in elementary school).  His father, taking note of his son's interest in drawing, taught him calligraphy every night using a brush dipped in water and "painting" characters on newspapers, as they couldn't afford ink or drawing paper. A junior high teacher noticed Wong's artistic skill and arranged a scholarship for him to attend the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, where he studied both Western art and the landscape paintings of the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960-1279).  Wong graduated in the early '30s and showed his work in exhibitions throughout the country.  In 1938 he got a job at Disney as an “in-betweener" drawing the thousands of frames that occur in between the main animation sequences.  I didn't know this, but "in-between" animation is incredibly dull and repetitive - it's basically assembly-line production.  When Wong found out Disney would be adapting Felix Salten's 1923 book into a film, he jumped at the opportunity to showcase his work. 

Tyrus Wong

"I said, 'Gee, this is all outdoor scenery...I said, gee, I'm a landscape painter. This will be great!'" Wong recalled in a video used in a 2013 exhibition of his work at San Francisco's Walt Disney Family Museum.  Using pastels and watercolors as well as inspiration from the Song dynasty landscape paintings, Wong sketched out a few samples with emphasis on the play between light and shadow rather than meticulously drawing each leaf and branch.  As you can see, it's more of a pared-down, Impressionist approach that evokes the forest rather than being a literal representation. "I tried to keep it very, very simple and create the atmosphere, the feeling of the forest,” Wong said.  Adds Michael Labrie, director of collections and exhibitions at the Disney Family Museum, "He visualized the forest as being ethereal...the sketches were more of an impression of the forest."

Tyrus Wong - concept art for Bambi

Tyrus Wong - concept art for Bambi

Tyrus Wong - concept art for Bambi

Wong was definitely in the right place at the right time:  Disney realized that the ornate style used for the forest scenes in their 1937 feature Snow White, despite the success of the film, could not be carried over to Bambi.  The highly detailed leaves and trees were overwhelming, basically camouflaging Bambi and the other animals.  Wong's approach not only was perfect for the film's subject matter, but also presented a strikingly different direction for animated films.  “Walt Disney went crazy over them,” notes John Canemaker, who wrote about Wong in his 1996 book. “He said, ‘I love this indefinite quality, the mysterious quality of the forest.’”  Adds chief creative officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios John Lasseter, "This sophistication of expression was a gigantic leap forward for the medium."

Tyrus Wong - concept art for Bambi

Tyrus Wong - concept art for Bambi

Tyrus Wong - concept art for Bambi

Tyrus Wong - concept art for Bambi

Tyrus Wong - concepts for Bambi

Tyrus Wong - concepts for Bambi

Here's short video with a few more paintings and commentary both from Wong himself and other people who worked on the film.  (There's another video here but I couldn't figure out how to embed it into this post. Sigh.)

After his time at Disney, Wong produced illustrations for live-action movies at Warner Brothers.  In his later years he continued painting and also branched out into kite-making.  His story is very inspirational, as he was a poor immigrant who worked incredibly hard to overcome not only poverty, but also endured the rampant racism against Chinese people to become an acclaimed artist.

Tyrus Wong(images from cartoonbrew.com and thisiscolossal.com)

Getting back to the Isa collection, I still think it's a solid addition to the Museum (and will look excellent in the fall 2017 exhibition so keep your eyes peeled!), but now a part of me wishes they had used Wong's paintings for the packaging.  As a matter of fact, I'd love to see more companies use original sketches rather than the finished Disney designs.  The only time we've seen the preliminary artwork for a Disney collaboration, at least to my knowledge, is with MAC's Venemous Villains.  

Anyway, what do you think?

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Makeup as Muse: Michelle Murphy's out of this world makeup photography

Michelle MurphyA few months ago I was watching the Instagram stories of one of the many beauty bloggers I follow, and she was at an exhibition full of stunning macro photos of makeup.  I knew immediately the artist behind them would be the next Makeup as Muse installment.  Michelle Murphy received a BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art and a MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  She spent over a decade working as a photographer for NASA, and it's this experience that influenced a series of beauty and makeup-related photographs that she began in 2011.  Since I am both bad explaining another artist's work and rather tired today, I figured I'd let an excerpt from Murphy's artist statement provide an overview of the themes in this series:  "Working in a culture where the attainment of beauty is paramount and science strives to engineer the ultimate look, my photography explores the relationship between consumption and rebellion of these ideals. What contemporary advertising and media culture continue to broadcast as expected in female appearances provides my motivation to examine beauty products.  Inspired by Op Art, scientific imaging, and third-wave feminism, I produce slick macro close-ups of the adorned, treated body and beauty 'tools'. Through my processes of creating still life and tactile experiments in my studio, I playfully use beauty products as art materials changing their purpose away from concealing or accentuating my face. In the more formal images I repeat and magnify the subject creating optical plays within two-dimensional space. My lighting, studio props, and color palettes provide an aesthetic mimicking modern advertising and scientific imaging...Beauty in its contemporary context is my discourse. I desire to shift 'the gaze' away from the female as a subject (or myself) to the over-the-counter beauty maintenance products themselves. The resulting images blend perceptual space and our cultural space…revealing the subject as abstraction, as metaphor, and again as consumable object."

We've seen macro images of makeup before, but it's Murphy's unique perspective that sets these apart from other close-ups.  Weaving together her background in science-based photos, third-wave feminism (yay!), and art history, these aren't simply pretty pictures; they're a statement about consumerism and how we perceive and approach the notion of beauty.  However, while the photos hold a deeper meaning, there's nothing wrong with appreciating their aesthetic qualities.  As the artist notes, "When you stare at something closely for a long time, it dematerializes, losing its original significance and gaining significance in new ways. If we surrender to the images as only formalist works of art, we become lost in the lines, the texture, its metallic luster, and its play with scale. The makeup is no longer the subject; the viewer can escape into stardust or can simply scan back and forth over a flattened space eliciting nothing more than shapes, grids, or metallic gradients."  I'm in full agreement on this - I can absolutely see myself getting lost in these images if I were able to see them in person.  The macro scale also calls attention to how makeup is designed for the utmost visual appeal.  It's an age-old advertising tactic, but one that still works hook, line and sinker today:  if we own this beautiful object then we too can be beautiful.  "I am using photography to reveal how an $8 manufactured palette of eye shadow entices a consumer. Its design and beauty works as a signifier of modernity, a utopic belief that you will become better by owning and using such a small thing. Because we already have years of advertising literacy embedded in our memory, buying this particular object becomes 2nd nature. Buying/consuming a product in this Western world is too easy when we think it is formally beautiful, and if we believe it’s necessary for personal improvement," Murphy states.  Indeed, by focusing on makeup's texture, shapes and colors, Murphy captures what makes cosmetics so enjoyable and, for makeup enthusiasts, irresistible. 

Let's get to the photos!  Here are some from the first Perceptual Beauty series.

Michelle Murphy, Purple Rain Palette Maze

Michelle Murphy, Bronzer Sunscape

Michelle Murphy, 100 lipstick gradient 1 lipstick color

Michelle Murphy, Eyeshadow: out n back again

Michelle Murphy, Split Shadow Chevron

Michelle Murphy, Viscosity Test

Michelle Murphy, Amorphous

Michelle Murphy, Turbulence

These last two directly reference two Op-Art artists: Bridget Riley and Josef Albers, respectively.  I've provided examples of their work.

Michelle Murphy, OP Lipstick (after Bridget Riley)

 
Bridget Riley - Britannia, 1961
(image from missomnimedia.com)
 
Michelle Murphy, Foundation to the Square: Chosen, after Albers
 
Josef Albers, Homage to the Square: With Rays, 1959
(image from metmuseum.org)
 
Here is the second installment of Perpetual Beauty, which is heavily influenced by Murphy's work for NASA and resembles otherworldly landscapes.  Once again, it's the artist's background in scientific photography that allows her to see makeup very differently than most of us do.  I can't say I've ever been to a drugstore and noticed the visual similarity between an eyeshadow and the surface of another planet!  "I am shopping at CVS for a depleted daily item that brought me into the store on my lunch break…10 minutes, 20 minutes slip away from me...I am thrilled to find an eye shadow that looks like Mars! NASA just announced the Curiosity rover landed successfully on Mars, and this product looks just like the fish-eye view from photos taken on the surface."  Having looked at these, I'd be so curious to see Murphy's take on makeup products that intentionally attempt to look like galaxies and other outer space phenomena.  I also imagine her photos of holographic/duochrome products would be exquisite. 
 
Michelle Murphy, Curiosity Rover's View
 
Michelle Murphy, Fake Eyelash Refraction
 
 
Michelle Murphy, The Origin of Pigment
 
Michelle Murphy, Lotion Landscape
 
Michelle Murphy, Foundation: with less control
 
The final installment of the Perceptual Beauty series depicts transgender individuals applying makeup.  I'm afraid I don't have much insight into the meaning of these.  Perhaps it's a commentary on how rarely the beauty industry uses close-up photos of transgender people applying makeup in their advertising.  While we're seeing more of it, along with cis-gendered men who simply enjoy wearing makeup, the transgender models in these campaigns still adhere to more feminized notions of beauty.  These photos, on the other hand, make us question conventional beauty standards and also represent an attempt to normalize non-traditional beauty ideals.  As Murphy says, “My photographic and video art explores the opposing positions in the relationship – between consumption that objectifies the expression of idealized beauty – and rebellion against what our consumer culture deems as ideal.  My work shifts the 'gaze'  from the female as a subject (and often an object) to explore the purpose and role of beauty products.  With my work, I am essentially questioning the nature of beauty ideals in today’s society and asking whether these ideals are driven from a personal perspective, or artificially created by consumer culture.”
 
I think the series could also be viewed as a reminder of the greater societal marginalization of transgender people.  Sadly, the transgender community still faces much discrimination and violence on account of some not being to handle seeing those who perform gender differently than the norm, i.e. people who wear "traditional" visual markers of masculinity (facial hair, short men's haircut, etc.) but who also apply visible makeup.  Whatever the significance of this series, Murphy is staying true to her mission of shifting the focus away from the standard female subject.
 
Michelle Murphy, Trans Shadow
 
Michelle Murphy, Lip Gloss, Applied
 
Michelle Murphy, Zir Eye
 
Michelle Murphy, Blushing
 
Following Perceptual Beauty, Murphy embarked upon another series entitled Nature's Beauty Tools:  "I am replacing synthetically produced and manufactured beauty products (fake eyelashes, lipstick and silicone implants) with nature-sourced materials that serve as compelling stand-ins.  Temporary sculptural props of twigs, mushrooms, slate, tree-bark, leaves, etc. are physically manipulated into tiny sculptures which are then temporarily attached to the model and photographed in studio environments. These materials are organic and often disintegrate quickly, so the photographs are orchestrated within a day of finding the source material. The dramatic artificial lighting, high depth-of-field focus, along with the large-scale presentation of the finished framed work sets the overall tone for the viewer, referencing both the fine art photographic history and contemporary advertising."  Again, I'm not really sure what these are about...perhaps a critique of the beauty industry's use of "natural" in advertising their products, a term that has no real meaning.
 
I wonder if the lashes below were the inspiration behind these.

Michelle Murphy, Nature Modification

Michelle Murphy, Pinecone Brow

Michelle Murphy, Slate Manicure

Michelle Murphy

Michelle Murphy, Icicles Beard(images from michellemariemurphy.com unless otherwise noted)

You might be wondering why no companies have tapped Murphy to collaborate or use her work for advertising purposes.  Turns out a company actually did use her work, but I'm not sure which one as my internet searches proved fruitless.  The artist explains:  "In the process of creating this body of work, the PR Director of a well-known makeup brand called me through my website.  They saw the artwork I was creating with their products and wanted to co-opt my work into their social media outlets and in return to provide lots of their product as an in-kind donation to my art practice.  At first reluctant to join forces with the industry, I saw an opportunity to show my work to their consumer audience.  The success of this relationship was two-fold, I was no longer a customer of their make-up and I was offered several spin-off opportunities to beauty websites to share my work.  My favorite moment was an interview with a beauty culture news website. The writer asked me a lot about my opinions and relationship to makeup and most importantly my responses were not edited.  I had this moment to speak honestly to consumers about the difficulties with body politics related to the beauty industry."  Unfortunately, the interview she mentioned doesn't seem to be available, and I was too chicken to email her to both conduct my own interview and clarify the brand that contacted her, but I suspect it may have been Maybelline based on this post.  I would absolutely love to see more brands using her work.  And one of my burning questions is what she thinks of space-inspired beauty, given her NASA background.  ;)

Overall I'm quite smitten with these photos.  They make us consider the deeper issues involving beauty standards and consumerism, but also represent a clear appreciation for makeup design and a desire to capture the beauty of makeup as object.  I just wish that 1. more prints of her work were available and 2. I was close to Chicago so I could see the Responsive Beauty exhibition, which closes on October 21st.  If you're in the area please check it out for me!

What do you think?

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