When I first spotted this collection at Sephora I thought it was another collaboration with Curtis Kulig. Surprise, there's actually another street artist who has made grungy, graffiti-style hearts and love the main themes of his work. UK-born J. (James) Goldcrown spends his time shuttling between New York and L.A. making colorful, heart-filled murals to liven up city streets and spread a message of hope and positivity. I'm not sure how the partnership with Sephora came about, but I do know that the business-savvy Goldcrown is no stranger to these sorts of deals (more on that later.)
The collection included several makeup bags, a brush set and a quadruplet of heart-shaped makeup sponges. I picked up the last two since I thought they were the best representation of his work.
I love how the sponges are meant to resemble chocolates, both in the heart designs on the box and the paper liners to hold each one.
The rainbow of overlapping hearts that Goldcrown is so famous for were a sort of happy accident. "‘Bleeding hearts’ kind of started as a mistake. I was aware I was doing it, but at the same time, I wasn’t doing it for anyone. I was actually testing the pressure of spray cans because I mixed spray paint with my multimedia and fashion photography work. To get the right pressure from the cans, I sprayed hearts on this door in my studio. Eventually, the door was full of hearts. When a client came in to pick up a piece I made for him, he ended up buying the door as well—he loved the hearts. Soon after I went to Art Basel and showed a wide spectrum of my projects. Two of them were bleeding hearts and they sold immediately. It ended up being a sell-out show, but I realized that what the people were ordering were the bleeding hearts."
Born in West London and entirely self-taught, Goldcrown started out as a fashion photographer. After taking a brief break from fashion to make an award-winning documentary on the AIDS/HIV epidemic in Africa, he founded a communal New York studio in 2014. In November of that year a local eatery approached Goldcrown for a mural. Ambivalent at first, he eventually took the plunge: "[Lasso] asked me if I’d like to do a mural, but they were booked until February, and that was in like November, so I had time, and then I was -had no idea what to do, I’d never done a mural in my life, I’d never done anything in the streets apart as a kid – I’d never done anything legally or being asked to do it and paid for it! One of my friends was like 'why don’t you just do the hearts?' but I thought it was too obvious — again – being told what to do. I was like “NO” and as it came I was like, 'Shit yeah, I should really do the hearts, it’s valentines there’s a lot of logic behind it.' And then I did it without any kind of understanding where I was and the power of – and people just genuinely come here to photograph street art and then I think four days later I was in a paper and it was just like people just using it as a backdrop and it just went viral."
Indeed, Goldcrown's success is due not only to the quality of his work but also being in the right place at the right time. After Lucky magazine founder Eva Chen posted a photo of her posing in front of the wall, Goldcrown gained roughly 4,000 Instagram followers. And #lovewall has over 1 billion tags on the platform. As more fashion bloggers started to expand their social media presence to Instagram, "wall-scouting" has become a veritable art form in and of itself over the past several years; Goldcrown's work hit just as fashionistas were searching for the latest and greatest backdrops as a tactic to boost their IG numbers. “It’s really just some hearts layered up, in bright colours. I can see the appeal to a fashionable eye – the colours are bound to match something. But it’s also fun. People like that, to liven up their social media presence. Maybe people are looking for more in their Instagrams,” Goldcrown muses. In addition to his painting style, I'd wager that his experience in the fashion industry gives him a natural eye for what will photograph well, an ability that definitely helps skyrocket one to Instagram fame. It's also this background that allows him to carefully select the collaborations he feels are in line with his professional goals. "I want to kind of stay the level of the people I’m working with, the brands like Rag and Bone and Toms, because it’s very important like I’ve done a lot of work as well cause I feel it’s not the right fit for me." I can see those two companies, but Maybelline doesn't seem like a "right fit". However, the draw for Goldcrown was that he would be creating the packaging for their number 1 best-selling item worldwide, Baby Lips lip balm. I don't think I'd pass up that opportunity either. And I guess after having completed one successful cosmetic collaboration, teaming up with Sephora seemed a natural next step.
I think it's worth pointing out that for Goldcrown, it's less about selling products and more about contributing to the brand by creating actual art that can be enjoyed by people passing by the business, no purchase necessary. With the exception of Sephora and Maybelline collections, I find the products bearing his work to be generally downplayed. For example, while Goldcrown did create a line of shoes for Toms, the emphasis was more on the art he made for the storefronts.
Or this wall for Space NK in Nolita. As far as I know there weren't any products to be sold at Space NK with his work, just good old fashioned art.
I also had the pleasure of seeing one of Goldcrown's pieces firsthand when I was in NYC a few weeks ago to see this exhibition. We regularly stay at the NoMo Soho and I was positively tickled to see these panels in the dining area. I managed to snap a few pictures before we left.
Of course, because I'm a moron, I failed to look up and witness the ceiling portion...I only discovered it at Goldcrown's website a few days ago.
One of my favorite anecdotes is how he turned down the opportunity to partner with Apple. Just a few years prior, while selling his art outside of an Apple store, he was told by an employee to move across the street. Who knew that years later they'd be knocking at his door? While Apple would seem like a plum job (see what I did there), Goldcrown maintains that such a seemingly big opportunity actually would have eliminated future possibilities and diluted his brand. Like Murakami, the artist understands the importance of turning one's art into a marketable label. "I just think when you work with brands that big, you lose your identity and I’ve learn from that as well that it’s really important do work for brands that my name has to be included, not like an artist thing like reason and everything, it’s more because that’s the brand identity and it’s like important, it’s like if you have a t-shirt and it doesn’t have a label that says where it’s from, it’s like they lose their identity and no one knows where to get it."
However, if you still think Goldcrown is only doin' it for the 'gram, lately his work has taken on a more political stance. In November 2016 the artist completed several window murals of the Henri Bendel department store in NYC, directly across from the Trump Tower. (There was a line of purses as well, but I barely even read about those. Again, the focus seems to be on Goldcrown's art rather than the product).
In an interview held shortly after the presidential election, Goldcrown explained how the "Love Wall" is moving beyond serving merely as a pretty Instagram backdrop and is helping to spread a positive message of tolerance and unity, notions that lie in stark contrast to the hatred and vitriol emblematic of the Trump era. It's also a literal opposition to the idea of Trump's proposed wall along the Mexican border. "Going forward, I definitely would like to use the wall to make more of a politically-charged message. I feel a huge responsibility for the message this [artwork] puts out into the world. With the current political forecast, it’s more important than ever to make a statement with my artwork. Love Wall started off as a sort of an Instagram backdrop for beautiful photos. However, now it definitely has taken on a powerful political message...I think that having my artwork across from Trump Tower is some sort of parallel universe meant to be thing. I hope seeing the contrast here on Fifth Avenue gives people hope and faith...the past few days [after the election], it’s been crazy the things that have been coming out of the woodwork. Even kids in middle school chanting 'build a wall,' and saying racial slurs to their peers. It angers me that this country has now taken several steps back with this presidential-elect. He allows people to amplify their racist voices. I hope the Love Wall helps people take a stand against that hatred." Lately Goldcrown has expanded his oeuvre to include text mingled with the hearts to emphasize the message.
I greatly admire the style and positivity of Goldcrown's work. Hearts are not a new motif, and using them to spread any sort of "inspirational" message would normally make me gag. But rendered in an edgier graffiti style in vibrant colors removes the saccharine factor and makes them much more palatable. Plus, the urban setting and grand scale make all the difference. I don't think the bleeding heart pattern has the same impact when reduced in size to accommodate shoes or makeup or bags, but when it appears on a gritty wall in the middle of a bustling city it feels overwhelmingly comforting and peaceful. It's a reminder that while the world can be a terrible place at times, there's still beauty and love. And it's just nice to be going about your daily business and be confronted with something positive - I'd rather see a bunch of hearts than graffiti telling me to fuck off (even though initially it would probably make me laugh).1 Finally, hearts are a universally understood symbol that has the capacity to unify people. As Goldcrown says, "Love Wall has become a universal language. Just like soccer is played across the world and everyone knows the same rules, you don’t need to talk to each other about what hearts represent. They speak for themselves. I truly believe that seeing these walls all over the world brings peace to people’s minds." Along those lines, I wish Goldcrown would lend his talents to Baltimore. I'm not going to pretend a mural would magically solve the out-of-control murder rate and homeless epidemic, but the city could really use some good vibes in the form of public art.2
As for the Sephora collection, I definitely would have preferred to see actual makeup instead of just accessories with Goldcrown's art. Could you imagine a highlighter or eye shadow palette with all those different colored hearts?! Additionally, I do think his work is more powerful on a larger scale given the heart motif and underlying message. Reproducing street art on makeup products can be tricky; sometimes it translates nicely, sometimes, not so much. Having said all that, even though I think more could have been done with this collection, I always appreciate an artist being brought to my attention via beauty products and having a little piece of their work in makeup form.
What do you think? Do you heart Goldcrown's work? ;)
1. It reminds me a little bit of John Lennon's reaction to Yoko Ono's Yes Painting: "It looked like a black canvas with a chain with a spyglass hanging on the end of it. This was near the door when you went in. I climbed the ladder, you look through the spyglass and in tiny little letters it says 'yes'. So it was positive. I felt relieved. It's a great relief when you get up the ladder and you look through the spyglass and it doesn't say 'no' or 'fuck you' or something, it said 'yes'."
2. The poor guy would probably get mugged while painting, but hey, it's worth a shot, right?