Artist collaboration

Let there be light: Shiseido holiday 2017 featuring Sisyu

Today I'm sharing another shiny holiday 2017 release to brighten up this dreary winter day.  Shiseido collaborated with the rather enigmatic Japanese calligraphy artist Sisyu to create some beautiful packaging for their Symphony of Light collection.  Centered on the theme of light (or as it's known in Japanese, Hikari), Sisyu drew 21 versions of the Japanese character (光) to "express the way light brings out each person’s inner beauty differently," according to the website. The artist then intertwined and layered these characters to form a "luminous holiday garland".   The finished design indeed resembles an intricate, iridescent garland draped across the palette and encircling the cushion compact.

Shiseido holiday 2017

I don't know whether Shiseido or Sisyu came up with the idea of a reflective rainbow effect, but it really enhances the light concept.

Shiseido holiday 2017 Symphony of Light palette

 I couldn't resist couple more shots of the iridescent yumminess. 

Shiseido holiday 2017 Symphony of Light palette

Shiseido holiday 2017 Symphony of Light palette

Shiseido holiday 2017 Symphony of Light palette

Here's the cushion compact.  It was also available in white, and there were several other skincare items in the collection.

Shiseido holiday 2017 Symphony of Light cushion compact

And here are the characters created by Sisyu that were interlaced on the packaging.  I'm assuming the regular character for Hikari that these are based on isn't included, since I count only 20 and not 21 characters.

Sisyu Hikari characters for Shiseido

Let's learn a little about this very mysterious artist.  Sisyu (whose alias comes from the words for "purple" and "boat"1) was born in Japan and began calligraphy when she was only six years old.  She prefers to keep her real name and age under wraps, so about all we know is that she's currently a professor at Osaka University of Art.  I also couldn't find any information about where/if she formally studied art, but it appears she has significant training in traditional calligraphy.  What I do know is that Sisyu is a world-renowned artist who uses her background in more conventional methods of calligraphy to expand and modernize the this art form.  Whether it's making iron and glass sculptures out of characters or digitally animating them on a gallery wall, Sisyu is bringing calligraphy into the 21st century in a variety of creative ways.

Traditional calligraphy done by hand is appealing to Sisyu for two reasons.  First, it requires a high level of concentration and the ability to tune out everything else, a difficult feat in the digital age.  Secondly, calligraphy acts as one of the oldest forms of self-expression - much can be revealed by studying how the characters are written (sort of like analyzing one's handwriting).  Sisyu says, "The brush is not easy to control. It needs an intense level of concentration. When you are able to command the brush, you master that concentration, you are able to free yourself from anything that binds you down. You are able to focus yourself on just that moment in time...Just as the body and heart are connected, there is also a connection with what we write. You can tell things from it about the person who wrote it, like the proof of their existence, the emotions they were feeling, and so on."  Here are a couple of the artist's more traditional pieces.

Calligraphy by Sisyu, 2014

Calligraphy by Sisyu

These more colorful ones combine characters with brightly colored images, a Japanese tradition that, as Sisyu notes in an interview, goes back thousands of years and is continued today in manga and anime. 

Calligraphy by Sisyu, 2013

Calligraphy by Sisyu, 2014

Calligraphy by Sisyu, 2014

I apologize for the lack of titles on all of these.  I tried Google Translate and as usual it generated nonsensical phrases.  This one, for example, came up as "Wind Day Sun Chicken".  Oof.

Calligraphy by Sisyu, 2014

You know how I love bold color so my favorite pieces are in this 2017 series, which includes a phoenix and depictions of the traditional Japanese gods of wind and thunder/lightning.  The vivid colors make them seem just a touch psychedelic.

Fenix, Sisyu, 2017

When I went to look up the names for these two, I just saw that Fujin and Raijin were names of gods and then tried to test my visual comprehension skills to guess what they stood for just by looking at Sisyu's images. She makes ideas easy to understand, a point I'll return to later.

Fujin, Sisyu, 2017

Raijin - Sisyu, 2017(images from e-sisyu.com)

While these examples demonstrate her skill in more traditional, albeit colorful calligraphy, Sisyu maintains that it's important to incorporate a digital component to make calligraphy more accessible to a younger crowd and to cultures outside Japan.  It's also a way to represent both Japan's artistic heritage and leadership in technological advances.  She explains, "When we were young, it was basically still an analogue world, right? But since then, digital has spread all over. One argument for why is that it’s just ones and zeros: Like kanji written on paper, its components or brushstrokes are hidden, allowing for expression that’s free from conventions. Things like age, origin and nationality don’t matter. In that same way, if I incorporate calligraphy into digital art, it makes it easy to approach and it might affect young people, or those from abroad, in a way traditional calligraphy doesn’t. Plus, more than anything, Japan is a country of culture and technology. I think combining those two elements is the best way to transmit Japan to the world.  Until recently, Japan was very strong in terms of economics. But that’s no longer the case. In our age, in order to get people to take interest in Japan, we can use cultural power rather than economic power. That’s what my generation can do."  These ideas are expanded upon in the interview below.

I thought one of the most interesting parts of the interview2 was her desire to give a modern twist to calligraphy by making it three-dimensional.  "Instead of writing characters directly on the screen, I put sculptures about 50 cm from the screen, and they cast a shadow.  The shadow collaborates with the screen.  It's all about taking writing and calligraphy beyond tradition and beyond the page."

Tetsu-2010

I'm blown away by these animations in which one touches a character on the wall and up pops a beautiful illustration of the meaning of that character.  In this way Sisyu achieves what she set out to accomplish: making Japanese culture and calligraphy easier to understand via the use of digital technology.  Above all, her work is driven by the need to communicate a specific idea across all cultures and ages.  After showing her work at the Venice Biennale in 2005, she still felt it wasn't getting across.  "Art expresses things.  It crosses borders without the need for words.  Why can't Sho-do [calligraphy] do the same?  Is it because the language is Japanese?  We sing songs in languages we don't understand.  How can I get to that sort of level?  I thought, okay, from now on I'm going to make art that gets across to people even if they don't know anything about traditional Japanese culture."  This epiphany led her to create the calligraphy sculptures and utilize new technology that goes beyond paper and ink.

There wasn't much information on the process behind the Shiseido collection, but based on the very short ads I suspect the artist used a similar digital animation program to create the final design from the original hand-drawn characters. 

In the video interview, Sisyu also discusses how she can make up to 500 versions of a single character to express its different meanings.  I believe that the 21 versions of Hikari she created for Shiseido was her way of representing all different types of light - from the physical, such as stars and holiday lights - to the spiritual, as in positive energy.  She says: "The holiday season is the peak time of the year when lights inspire people, and they are uppermost in people's minds. Light has significance—it illuminates and brightens people. The light collection expresses the image of lights that brightens up each and everyone of us in the world.  Merciful light that illuminates everyone's road ahead. Soft, tiny, big, weak, strong, tender, or dazzling lights. Light that visibly and invisibly supports you. Light that makes your path to the future brilliant. I gathered light together, like a glimmering sunny spot, so that it may gently continue to be with you."

In sum, I think this was a gorgeous and thoughtful collection.  Sisyu is an excellent match for Shiseido, as they both have a thorough understanding of the past and build upon it on to create a harmonious fusion of old and new.  Sisyu adds digital and 3-D technology to calligraphy and Shiseido continuously revamps its most iconic products, but neither lose sight of the traditions and history from which they came. And like Shu Uemura, Shiseido is strongly committed to celebrating Japanese art and culture and sharing it worldwide. Sisyu, with her focus on communicating a message across all demographics, is perfectly suited to this task.  She effortlessly translated the Japanese Hikari character to a more modern format that everyone can understand, and created a beautiful piece of art in the process.  Even if you're not familiar with Japanese calligraphy and characters, you know the packaging symbolizes light.

What do you think?  And have you ever attempted any sort of calligraphy? 

 

1 Sisyu shares why she chose her pseudonym:  "In Japan, purple is thought of as a very noble colour. It also refers to the character Murasaki in ‘The Tale of Genji’. Murasaki was exceptionally beautiful and beloved by her suitors. As for boat, it’s a character that’s been used in the names of many calligraphers and sumi-e (Japanese ink painting) artists throughout Japanese art history, so I adopted it as a part of that tradition."

2. Another interesting part of the interview was where she talks about her desire to create kanji for Hollywood movies.  She was granted her wish in 2015 - Pixar hired her to make the kanji for Inside Out.

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A love story for the ages: Kathe Fraga for Clé de Peau

Kathe-fragaI was positively giddy when I heard the news that artist Kathe Fraga had been selected to collaborate with Clé de Peau for their holiday 2017 collection.  Kathe (yes, we're on a first-name basis!) is very talented in her own right, of course, and I knew she'd create a beautiful collection, but the other reason I was ecstatic was that she has kindly been following my ramblings for a few years, so I was very pleased to see a Museum supporter nab such a high-profile beauty collaboration.  Fortunately there was an abundance of information on how the collaboration came to be and Kathe also very nicely answered some other questions I had, so let's get to it!

A detailed entry at Kathe's blog explains the concept and process for the collection as envisioned by Clé de Peau's Creative Director Lucia Pieroni.  Pieroni wanted to do a love story/narrative entitled "Nuit de Chine" inspired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s  2015 China: Through The Looking Glass exhibition. Via email I asked Kathe for a few more details about the collection's theme and her role in helping it come to life.  She said:  "I believe that CPB Creative Director, Lucia Pieroni, discovered my work via social media.  As you know, she was very inspired by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition, China: Through the Looking Glass. If you scroll through Lucia’s Insta account, you’ll see her 'wall' with a variety of different images that she used to guide and create the Nuit De Chine collection and love story-a number of my paintings and cards are on this mood board.  I discovered through Facebook, and a number of the designers that I’m FB friends with, that the NY exhibit was offering a catalog of the event. I ordered it and found out much later that Lucia had the same catalog-so we were on the same 'wavelength' even before we met!"  The collection took a year and a half (!) to produce.  Clé de Peau selected six original paintings for the collection, 4 of which appeared on the items (the others, I believe, were used for store displays/backdrops and PR materials.) 

Kathe Fraga for Clé de Peau, holiday 2017

The skincare set features Kathe's painting "Premonition".

Kathe Fraga for Clé de Peau, holiday 2017

Kathe Fraga, "Premonition"

Kathe Fraga for Clé de Peau, holiday 2017

Kathe Fraga for Clé de Peau, holiday 2017

"Distance" was chosen for the nail polish set.

Kathe Fraga for Clé de Peau, holiday 2017

I couldn't seem to find a larger version of this.

Kathe Fraga, "Distance"

Kathe Fraga for Clé de Peau, holiday 2017

The eye pencil set shows "Encounter". 

Kathe Fraga for Clé de Peau, holiday 2017

Kathe Fraga - Encounter

Kathe Fraga for Clé de Peau, holiday 2017

"Passion" is the name of the painting that appears on the coffret.  Kathe also did pencil sketches of the embossing on the colors inside.

Kathe Fraga for Clé de Peau, holiday 2017

Kathe Fraga, "Passion"

Kathe Fraga for Clé de Peau, holiday 2017

Kathe Fraga for Clé de Peau, holiday 2017

Here's "Nuit de Chine", which appeared on Clé de Peau store banners in Japan.

Kathe Fraga, "Nuit de Chine"

Kathe also painted some beautiful makeup pouches with 18kt gold at several launch events at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco and Dallas.  Sadly these were available for in-store customers only, so obviously I wasn't able to get my hands on one...but I would have loved to meet Kathe and have my initials hand-painted in gold!

Kathe- Fraga-cdp bag

Let's learn a little more about Kathe and her style.1  She explains how her frequent childhood moves due to her father's Navy career influenced her signature fusion of art forms from all over the globe:  "Growing up, I had the opportunity to live in a variety of places that have influenced my inspiration and the direction of my art. From a young age, I have lived in South America, both coasts of the U.S. and in Europe. The stained glass and gilded interiors of old world Quito, the pinks and golds and pastels of Paris, the bright reds of Copenhagen, the easygoing style of beach towns in California and the buttoned up vibe of New York have all been a part of my direction. But there was one moment that had an enormous impact - when my father returned from an overseas trip to Japan. He surprised my mother with the most beautiful dark green silk kimono jacket with the most exquisite Chinoiserie patterns in bright orange, red, pink, blue - an unexpected pairing of hues and motifs and I was in love! It opened the door to the joy of combining lovely dense patterns and blocks of colors, which you’ll see in many of my paintings."  

Another point to consider is how modern and fresh these look.  Let's face it, florals can look stuffy and frumpy real fast which is one of the reasons I'm not usually drawn to them. But these are totally updated and contemporary - there's no mistaking them for some hideous floral pattern you'd find on a cheap sofa.  While their styles and mediums are completely different, Kathe's work reminds me a little bit of Olympia Le-Tan's in that they're both able to modernize things we normally associate with being outdated (in Le-Tan's case, embroidery).

Kathe Fraga, "The Joy of a Beautiful Morning"

One of the reasons I believe Clé de Peau tapped Kathe for this collection is their shared passion for bold hues and unexpected color pairings.  Pieroni wanted very rich shades suited for the holidays, and Kathe's unique color schemes fit the bill perfectly.  Her childhood travels as well as the abundance of nature surrounding her island home in the Pacific Northwest contribute to her love of color. "Color reacting to color is a big influence for me. It’s exciting, for example, to paint a bold wide swath of red and then layer it with bright orange and then add a subdued branch of soft little pink blossoms to create a surprising mix of modern and sweet small detail.  Nature inspires me. From the overwhelming beauty of the blooming Yoshino cherry trees at the University of Washington, to the multi-colored little forest mushrooms that spring up along our wooded trails in the fall, the colors of the Pacific Northwest are wonderful inspirations. (That green moss in our Island forests is the most spectacular green ever!) Our Island beaches, rich with oyster and clam and mussel shells, also hold hidden treasures."  I love the colors in all of her paintings, but I'm really struck by the orange, green, and red combined with the soft pink and purples in this one.

Kathe Fraga, "Dior"

Another aspect of Kathe's work I adore is the slightly faded, worn look of some of her pieces, a quality that was inspired by her time in France.  "Liv­ing in France and expe­ri­enc­ing Europe and its beauty—old, decay­ing, historic—this mem­ory guides me every day in my color choices and how I like my paint­ings to appear worn and with a story—like they were plas­tered pan­els in an old French man­sion and had been cut away and pre­served just before the wreck­ing ball hit...My ‘French Wallpaper Series’ is all about color, texture, the love of old, the whispers from generations that came before, of relationships...I paint over some parts of my paintings to give a suggestion of a story that was being told but interrupted by another.  Have you ever lived in an old house that you’ve fixed up…perhaps a bedroom or the kitchen?  You take down a cabinet or pull down a window molding and then there, like treasure, like a voice from the past, you see a lovely old patterned wallpaper that’s been hiding till now.  It’s just magical. Who put it there? What was their life all about in this home? What was their story? I see my paintings as parts of a larger frescoed wall, taken from a place from long ago. That’s why flowers will run off the edges, or patterns will continue beyond the canvas."  The idea of archeological treasure being rediscovered and rescued for preservation is very appealing to the art historian in me.  What can I say?  I just appreciate old things and believe they need to be cared for somehow, even if they're worn and faded.  I believe the wear tells their history.

Kathe Fraga, "Paris Morning"(images from kathefraga.com and instagram)

Combined with the modern style and rich colors, it's this storytelling ability that clinched the Clé de Peau collection. Lucia Pieroni wanted to share the journey of a couple in love, and fortunately most of the stories Kathe tells via her paintings center on themes of love.   As she says in the video below, "Everywhere I look, I see love stories...when I think about love, you'll see in a lot of my paintings, I never use a single animal.  I use deer and birds and butterflies, and typically they're always in a pair, because I think that tells a story of love and relationship and trust and color.  I don't think true love can ever fade, and I also believe it lasts over generations. I think when two people fall in love, maybe their story continues and they fall in love again and again and again."

As you might have guessed, I love this collection and was so happy to see Kathe's work on Clé de Peau's packaging.  While I've been impressed with Pieroni's careful selection of artists for previous Clé de Peau holiday collections, I think this one was the most inspired and most appropriate for both the brand and Pieroni's vision - there was really no better artist to make her ideas come to life.  For example, I enjoyed last year's collaboration with Ashley Longshore and admired how she shifted her style ever so slightly to fit the Clé de Peau aesthetic, but with this year's there was no modifying necessary.  Kathe's work was just a natural fit all around.  And on a personal level, Kathe genuinely seems like a nice person who has not only been supporting the Museum but has also been incredibly friendly and humble even though she's hugely successful - I so appreciate that she's not too "important" to follow me on social media and answer my inane questions.  She is one artist I'm not afraid to approach and for that I am grateful.

What do you think?  Oh, and if you'd like more of Kathe's lovely work, she has note cards and pillows available...but I'm still dreaming of owning this painting for my living room (despite the title, haha!).2

 

1 Kathe frequently refers to her work as "Chinoiserie-inspired".  While I don't think her work is culturally appropriative - I maintain that it's more of a mix of various artistic styles she's observed during her travels - I want to briefly note that the jury is still out as to whether Chinoiserie is a type of cultural appropriation, particularly as it applies to the decorative arts.  The aforementioned Met show that both Kathe and Lucia Pieroni were so inspired by had its share of critics.  And Chinoiserie's roots in the 17th century are certainly based on colonialism and "otherness", i.e. Westerners fetishizing so-called "exotic" cultures.  However, I believe in Kathe's case, her use of "Chinoiserie-inspired" is merely a descriptive phrase to help people understand her style and not actual Chinoiserie.  Obviously cultural appropriation is something I'm sensitive to and if I thought Kathe's work was appropriation I'd discuss it in full, but when I look at her paintings I see a unique take on the global art styles she appreciates, not a bland rip-off of various cultures that's oblivious to the actual history and meaning of their art or some idealized fantasy of places she's never been.

2 If I was going to buy any of Kathe's work it would obviously be one of the paintings she did for this collaboration, but Clé de Peau has purchased all the pieces for their headquarters in Japan.  :(

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Taking flight: Hiroshi Tanabe for Addiction

Japanese illustrator Hiroshi Tanabe is back in the makeup packaging game!  You might remember the lovely flower fairies he created for RMK's 15th anniversary palettes back in 2012.  Five years later Tanabe has returned to team up with Addiction, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite brands for their stunning artist collaborations

For Addiction's winter 2017 collection, entitled Vanilla Break, Tanabe came up with two designs:  a close-up of a woman in profile swathed in her feathery wings, and another winged woman clad in a nightgown atop a winged tiger.  I love how the minimal black and white color scheme are the reverse of one another.

Hiroshi Tanabe for Addiction, winter 2017

Hiroshi Tanabe for Addiction, winter 2017

Hiroshi Tanabe for Addiction, winter 2017

I'm obsessed with the rendering of the feathers...so crisp yet delicate.

Hiroshi Tanabe for Addiction, winter 2017

Hiroshi Tanabe for Addiction, winter 2017

Hiroshi Tanabe for Addiction, winter 2017

Hiroshi Tanabe for Addiction, winter 2017

Hiroshi Tanabe for Addiction, winter 2017

Hiroshi Tanabe for Addiction, winter 2017

Because I'm both lazy and in a rush (what else is new?), here is a brief artist bio courtesy of British Vogue (a full one is available at the artist's website):  "Born in Kanagawa, Japan, Hiroshi Tanabe graduated from Tama Art College with a degree in Graphic Design. In 1990 he went to study at the Accademia Di Brella in Milan and focused on fine art and sculpture. He began focusing on illustration while studying in Italy. His first project was a T-shirt design for a night-club in Milan. Hiroshi's unique and vibrant illustrations mirror the graphic line work of traditional Japanese woodcuts. His illustrations have evolved into more refined and layered drawings throughout his career. Though constantly changing, his works marry old-world beauty and modernity in a way that is thoroughly fresh."   Tanabe has done a countless number of ad campaigns for the biggest names in fashion as well as a slew of top publications, including Anna Sui, Pucci, Bergdorf Goodman, Harper's Bazaar, and The New Yorker.

I was curious to see whether Tanabe had previously done anything similar to the Addiction designs, and it turns out his illustrations of feathers and women shown riding a variety of fanciful creatures don't represent a new direction for the artist.  Take, for example, the designs he created for a collaboration with Stussy in 2012 and Gap Red in 2009.

Hiroshi Tanabe for Stussy, 2012

Hiroshi Tanabe for Stussy, 2012

Hiroshi Tanabe for the Gap, 2013

Hiroshi Tanabe for Gap Red, 2009
(image from thefashionisto.com)

I thought I'd take a quick peek to see what Tanabe has been up to since the RMK collab.  Feast your eyes on these beautiful editorial illustrations for Saint Laurent and W Magazine.

Hiroshi Tanabe - YSL illustration, spring 2016

Hiroshi Tanabe - YSL illustration, 2016

This star-studded illustration combines a dress by Anthony Vaccarello, Roger Vivier shoes and bag, and starry makeup by Giamba, all taken from the fall 2015 runways. 

Hiroshi Tanabe, fall 2015

Just for fun I thought I'd include the actual items for this one, since you could say I was starstruck. (I know you love my bad word play).

Anthony Vaccarello, fall 2015
(image from vogue.com)

Roger Vivier fall 2015
(images from lyst.com)

Makeup at Giamba, fall 2015
(image from thegloss.com)

But my favorite work by Tanabe in the past 5 years are his illustrations for Shiseido.  These are a fairly different style for him, in my opinion.  I'm seeing more Art Deco lines reminiscent of Shiseido's early advertising rather than the woodcut-esque, fine-line work we normally see from him.  In fact, the more I look at them the more I'm convinced they're a modern spin on Shiseido's ads from the 1920s and '30s

Hiroshi Tanabe for Shiseido, 2014

Aren't the colors to die for?  So vibrant but not garish or harsh - just the right amount of saturation to be pleasing to the eye rather than overwhelming it.  And you would think of a combination of hot pink, lime green and dashes of bold red, as shown in the ad below, would clash, but Tanabe's careful design keeps them in harmonious balance.

Hiroshi Tanabe for Shiseido, 2017

Hiroshi Tanabe for Shiseido, spring 2017

Hiroshi Tanabe for Shiseido, spring 2017

Here are a few to get you into the holiday spirit.

Hiroshi Tanabe for Shiseido, 2016

Hiroshi Tanabe for Shiseido

Hiroshi Tanabe for Shiseido

Okay, these are actually from 2011...but who cares?!  They're gorgeous.  And a little '80s.

Hiroshi Tanabe for Shiseido, 2011

Hiroshi Tanabe for Shiseido, 2011
(images from instagram)

As for the Addiction collab, once again I have no idea how it came about or how the particular images were chosen.  I'm assuming the company approached Tanabe and they went from there, but I'd still like to know why they selected these designs for the palettes.  Given Tanabe's background in fashion and makeup advertising, I was a little surprised they didn't choose something more along the lines of the illustrations he did for, say, Clinique.  I mean, I can't say I see the connection between makeup and a winged woman riding a tiger.  Then again, it's a pretty cool image nevertheless, and the art that appears on makeup packaging doesn't have to be beauty-related in the slightest.  And that's part of the fun of artist collabs!  Initially I was also kind of hoping for something a lot more colorful along the lines of the Shiseido ads, but Addiction isn't really known for bold color.  All the collections I've seen, even the spring 2017 collection which contained many colorful pastels, feature more muted shades.  Vanilla Break in particular is about a "subtle beige-hued monotone", according to the website.  So I think it's appropriate that Tanabe kept it simple color-wise.  Plus, you wouldn't want to do the same illustration style for two different makeup brands - for the Shiseido ads, Tanabe is paying homage to the company's own early advertising.  It's so distinctly Shiseido that it simply wouldn't work for a different brand.

All in all, I was pleased with this collab.  And maybe I'll get up the courage to ask Tanabe himself what his inspiration was for the images on this collection as well as the upcoming spring 2018 Addiction collection.  ;)

What do you think?  If you're really smitten, there are two books of Tanabe's work for you to drool over.  :)


Fierce or farce? Patrick Nagel for Urban Decay

Welcome to the first of many, many, many artist collaborations this holiday season!  I'm kicking them off with an unexpected collaboration between Urban Decay and artist Patrick Nagel.  If you were an '80s child and/or had an older sibling who was into Duran Duran, Nagel's work might look familiar.  

Patrick Nagel for Urban Decay

Here they are individually with their original artwork and open, in case you're not a crazy collector like me and want to actually use the palettes.  :)

Patrick Nagel for Urban Decay - Rio palette

Patrick Nagel

Patrick Nagel for Urban Decay - Rio palette

Patrick Nagel for Urban Decay - Sunglasses palette

Patrick Nagel

Patrick Nagel for Urban Decay - Sunglasses palette

Patrick Nagel for Urban Decay - Untitled palette

Patrick Nagel

Patrick Nagel for Urban Decay - Untitled palette

Patrick Nagel (1945-1984) was born in Dayton, Ohio and raised in Orange County, California. I'll just let his official website provide the rest of his bio:  "After returning from his tour in Viet Nam, he studied fine art at Chouinard Art Institute and California State University, Fullerton where he received his BA in 1969 in painting and graphic design. He then taught at Art Center College of Design while simultaneously establishing himself as a freelance designer and illustrator with memorable ads for Ballantine Scotch, IBM and covers for Harper’s magazine.  In the mid-70’s he began illustrating stories for Playboy magazine, bringing instant exposure and a large appreciative audience to his work. His years working with Playboy established him as the heir apparent to 50’s pin-up artist Alberto Vargas and gave Nagel the subject matter that he would continue to use to illustrate the newly liberated woman." And this is where I start rambling about Nagel's depictions of women so you're in a for a long, possibly boring ride. I simply don't think I can look at his work without debating some critics' premise that Nagel loved women.

To get better informed on the matter, I purchased The Artist Who Loved Women by Rob Frankel, in which he uses Nagel's personal life to come to the conclusion that the women he painted were strong, fierce, powerful ladies in their own right.  However, there are A LOT of details from Nagel's biography that lead to me to believe otherwise.1 The sticky notes in the photo below demonstrate all the instances where I found Nagel to be less than the champion of women he's perceived as in this book, along with where I take issue with Frankel's stance. 

Nagel-book

Why are Nagel's images of women so striking?  Well, according to the author, their beauty is only important as it relates to the male gaze; their power comes from whether they're perceived as attractive by men.  "There is one special moment in every man's life...it's that heart-stopping moment when he first beholds an incredibly special woman...her hair flows, her eyes sparkle, and she moves with liquid grace.  She is everything he imagined his perfect woman to be...it wasn't the woman in the piece [of Nagel's art that the author purchased.]  It was Patrick Nagel's ability to convey that special moment every man experiences - or hopes to experience - about the woman of his dreams.  The Nagel Woman has no distractions; she is fully and completely dedicated to fulfilling her role as Nagel's ideal woman." (p. 15-16; 101).  I mean, really?  So apparently Nagel's depictions of women aren't actually about them at all, only (heterosexual) men's reaction to them.  With this stance, it seems Nagel believed that women weren't worth painting unless they were able to capture his and other men's imagination - a female viewer doesn't fit into the equation at all, making it seem as though his images are merely eye candy for straight men rather than a representation of women who are beautiful and interesting in their own right.

Secondly, I question whether anyone who contributes to Playboy in any capacity - Hugh Hefner (who, incidentally, held the largest private collection of Nagel's art and who also claimed to "love women") can rot in hell as far as I'm concerned - truly believes women are human beings and not objects whose value is determined by their ability to attract men.2  Insists Nagel's friend and assistant Barry Haun, "Often he would get out and buy the models outfits, usually bringing in makeup and hair stylists, too. The sessions were always very professional. You could tell that he loved women, being drawn more to their sensual qualities rather than to their overt sexuality."  Uh-huh.  I'll just leave these Playboy images here. 

Patrick Nagel

Patrick-nagel-playboy

Patrick Nagel

I don't see any "overt sexuality".  Nope, not at all.  *eyeroll*

Patrick Nagel
(images from pinterest)

Based on another quote shared by Nagel's rather unscrupulous manager, Karl Bornstein3, I'm inclined to think the artist may even have been a bit judgmental of the women he drew. "The mystery of women was very important to him, and he held women in the highest esteem. But he said once, 'I don't think I want to know these women too well. They never come out in the sunlight. They just stay up late and smoke and drink a lot.'"  This is rich coming from a man for whom cigarettes, candy, coffee, Pepsi, aversion to exercise and staying up all night summed up his lifestyle.4 

Having said all this, while Nagel's images for Playboy aren't screaming feminism to me, others from the '80s do seem to be more positive in the depiction of women.  Perhaps the above quote could be construed as Nagel almost being intimidated by these fierce and fashionable ladies.  And if we can separate the Playboy pieces along with Nagel's personal relationships and perception of women from the rest of his oeuvre, perhaps these women can be viewed in a very different light.   Elena G. Millie, former curator of the poster collection at the Library of Congress, has this to say about Nagel's women: "She is elegant and sophisticated, exuding an air of mysterious enticement. She is capable, alluring and graceful, but also aloof and distant. You will never know this woman, though she stares out of the Nagel frame straight at you, compelling you to become involved, challenging you to an intense confrontation...His women of the seventies are shown as softer, more pliable, and more innocent than his stronger, harsher, more self-assured women of the eighties."  Adds the author of the blog '80s Autopsy, "They didn’t need your approval — you needed theirs. Regardless of how long you stared at them, they remained unknowable – and unattainable." I'm inclined to side more with these interpretations than Frankel's.5

Patrick Nagel

Patrick Nagel

No matter what side you take regarding Nagel's women, it's undeniable that his work both captured and defined '80s style. While Nagel's work is totally different visually from that of his contemporary Antonio Lopez, both artists contributed enormously to the overall look we associate with the decade.  As for Nagel's own artistic style, two distinct elements came into play: Japanese woodblock prints and posters from the late 1800s/early 1900s.  (Remember that Nagel studied both art history and graphic design, and also did commercial posters for clients more PG than Playboy.)  Millie explains, "Like some of the old print masters (Toulouse-Lautrec and Bonnard, for example), Nagel was influenced by the Japanese woodblock print, with figures silhouetted against a neutral background, with strong areas of black and white, and with bold line and unusual angels of view. He handled colors with rare originality and freedom; he forced perspective from flat, two-dimensional images; and he kept simplifying, working to get more across with fewer elements. His simple and precise imagery is also reminiscent of the art-deco style of the 1920s and 1930s- its sharp linear treatment, geometric simplicity, and stylization of form yield images that are formal yet decorative."  I've chosen a couple images where I think the ukiyo-e, poster and Art Deco influences are strongest.

Patrick Nagel

Patrick Nagel

Patrick Nagel(images from patricknagel.com)

In terms of process, Nagel first made drawings from photos he selected, then created paintings from those.  "His preliminary drawings for these designs are the exact antithesis of the final paintings. They are light, airy, ragged, and free. They are composed by line, but not confined by line. He would submit images for the client to choose from, subtly suggesting the product in the artwork. After the choice had been made, Nagel would then work up the finished painting, choosing the colors and lettering himself. He sometimes used as many as twenty-two colors per image...He felt that his drawings took him as far as he had to go with a design, yet his finished paintings are amazingly powerful images, rich with color and artfully imaginative. Finally, he would give the finished painting, along with a black line drawing, to the silk-screen printer for execution."

Now that I've done my due diligence in examining the content, style and process behind Nagel's work, let's get back to the Urban Decay collab.  I really have no idea why the company decided to put this artist on their lipstick palettes.  Obviously the licensing wasn't difficult to come by, as using Nagel's work for commercial purposes was, I'm guessing, another side effect of the mismanagement of his estate.6  This leads to the age-old question of whether a deceased artist would approve of their work being used to sell everything from makeup to t-shirts.  Even though it's a question that can never be answered, I always like to explore this issue.  It's hard to say in Nagel's case.  On the one hand I think he would have been flattered to collaborate with Urban Decay, a brand which always prided itself on catering to badass women everywhere.  If we interpret Nagel's art as being depictions of strong, powerful, DGAF women, the Urban Decay brand is a perfect fit.  But based on what I read in his biography, I'm wondering whether Nagel might have been opposed to his art appearing on items marketed mostly to women - I get the sense that he would have approved his images for more traditionally masculine pursuits, like beer packaging or car advertising, since, as his biographer claims, the beauty of the women Nagel painted were solely for men's enjoyment.  Along those lines, I bet Nagel wouldn't have been happy to see unlicensed prints and knock-offs being used at many a cheesy '80s beauty salon.

Anyway, while we can't answer that question or why Urban Decay chose to partner with Nagel, it's still an interesting collaboration.  My enthusiasm was a little deflated upon reading Nagel's biography, but I'm choosing to go with my gut reaction upon first laying eyes on these palettes (i.e. before I knew anything about Nagel) which was that they represent some of the most quintessentially '80s art and were simply a celebration of fashionable women.  Ignorance is bliss. 

What do you think? 

 

1 Other salient points to consider: 

  • Early in his career, Nagel abandoned his wife of 10 years and their infant daughter to pursue a more "glamorous" lifestyle in L.A., where he then married a fashion model several years younger.  As she grew up, Nagel allowed his daughter a 2 week-long visit to his home in L.A. every summer, but never permitted her to call him "dad".  Sounds like a real peach.  There's nothing wrong with not wanting a traditional lifestyle with kids, but maybe you should figure that out before you marry someone you're not happy with and, you know, have kids with that person.
  • There's one particular anecdote about Nagel, that, if true, made my skin crawl - apparently he was chatting up a young lady at a party and proceeded to balance 2 full martini glasses on her cleavage.  The author, of course, thinks this is both funny and charming - heck, the Nagel quote that Frankel chose for the book's introduction was "Martinis are like breasts.  More than two is too many." Like, you couldn't have found a quote about Nagel's thoughts on art?  Ugh.
  • Frankel notes that Nagel would never accept anything less than what he perceived to be the "ideal" woman (and actually defends the artist):  "To his few confidantes, Nagel related that he had no desire, no personal capability to be with anyone other than a 'perfect woman'.  He openly - some would say cruelly - admitted that he could never stay with a woman who suffered any kind of debilitating disease, such as breast cancer.  Like all men, Nagel had an idealized notion of what women meant to him which some might casually dismiss as objectification.  In Nagel's case, however, it would be more accurately described as deification.  To Patrick, women were divine and divinity tolerated no imperfection" (p.100).  LOL, nope.
  • Frankel also notes that there are "no women, living or dead" who mentioned Nagel sexually harassed them (p. 96).  Throughout the book Frankel relentlessly points out that Nagel was, by all accounts, very courteous and professional.  So great.  Just because no one has come forward doesn't mean Nagel didn't harass them, and even if he really wasn't a creep, why does the author insist on giving him a cookie for it? 

2 Just to be clear, I have no issue with female nudity or expressions of women's sexuality...but I do take issue when rampant exploitation of women is involved, which is the case with Playboy.

3 Bornstein was painted in a particularly negative light in Nagel's biography.  I'm not sure how much of it is true, but apparently he was quite the "womanizer" (read: sexual predator) and exceptionally money-hungry, the latter of which caused him to colossally mis-manage Nagel's work after his untimely death. 

4 At the age of 38, Nagel died suddenly of a massive heart attack after participating in an "aerobics-thon" at a charity event for one of his models. The autopsy showed that Nagel had a congenital heart defect which was the official cause, but I'm guessing his attempt at exercise after shunning it for his entire life may have been a trigger.

5 Frankel peppered Nagel's biography with remarks that were not exactly women-friendly, so I'm really trying not to agree with his point of view on Nagel's women.  Frankly, both he and Nagel come off as tremendous douches.  Among Frankel's greatest hits: "Party girls are not known for their financial acumen" (p. 108) - um, ever hear of Paris Hilton or the Kardashians? These "party girls" know exactly what they're doing when it comes to business; people who don't approve of Playboy are "prudes and shut-ins" (p. 244); and the last straw was Frankel's "where are they now" conclusion in which he gives a one-sentence follow up on those who figured prominently in Nagel's life.  Surprise surprise, he saved what I'm assuming he thinks is the best for last:  "Hugh Hefner is, was, and will forever be Hugh Hefner" (p. 279). Barf.

6  About the only useful thing in the biography were the last few chapters, which describe in detail the unraveling of Nagel's legacy due to both the greed of his manager and the fact that he did not have a will.  There was a lot of legal and business jargon, but the gist is that Bornstein was chiefly responsible for the eventual devaluing and unlicensed reproductions of Nagel's work.  This was aggravated by the lack of a will for Nagel, which most likely would have stipulated trademark and copyright guidelines - without those, it was essentially a free-for-all for anyone wanting to make money off his work.  Things didn't go through the proper channels, and most of Nagel's art ended up being illegally reproduced.

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Who let the dogs out? Pai Pai!

Let me start off by saying that I am not a dog person.  It might have something to do with having a truly nice cat for 18 years (always wanted to cuddle and never hissed once!), or regularly being exposed to my aunt's slobbering, hyper, incredibly smelly canines, or the fact that I was bit by a black Labrador when I was a teenager...there's nothing like a trip to the ER for stitches and a tetanus shot after some off-leash beast sinks its teeth into your leg at the exact moment the idiot owner is saying "Don't worry, he won't bite!"  (Insert eyeroll emoji here).  Whatever it is, I've always gravitated towards felines.  Having said all that, Pai Pai's latest collection, created by Pinut Brein, proved too cute for me to pass up. 

Pinut Brein for Pai Pai

Pinut Brein for Pai Pai

I love that they all have names and in some cases have little descriptions and/or are based on real dogs.  Miau is the chihuahua, but I don't seem to have any other info on him.  The bichon frise is named Tiara, and she's adamant about making people know she's NOT a poodle.  Djoko, the Pomeranian, is actually a dog belonging to a Mexico City fashion and lifestyle blogger

Djoko
The French bulldog is a princess named Petunia.  She enjoys walks in the park, regardless of the fact that she doesn't have a boyfriend to stroll with.  :D

Petunia

Bono (a.k.a. La Corga) is the corgi. 

Bono

Rocco, the pug, is my favorite. 

Rocco(images from instagram)

Despite not liking dogs I've taken quite a shine to pugs over the past couple of years.  I think it's not only because of their adorable smooshed faces, floppy ears and little curly tails, but also because I suspect they're essentially Babos in dog form - I hear they're not very bright, but one of the sweetest and most loving breeds.  And they're lazy too, which describes most of our plushies to a T.  I don't think I've formally introduced Barney here at the blog or assigned him any Museum work, but he joined us last year.  I managed to get him to pose with the Pai Pai lipsticks, which he then tried to eat.  He definitely fits in with the rest of Museum staff, right?

Pinut Brein for Pai Pai

Now for some information on the artist.  Pinut Brein is a brand created by Mexico City based artist Maria...well, I'm not sure of her last name.*  So I'll just refer to her first name.   Inspired by the work of her architect parents, Maria always enjoyed sketching and doodling.  She kept her passion for drawing under wraps while studying audio engineering and working briefly as a sound/video editor.  But after meeting several other illustrators in her native town of Xalapa in 2012 and participating in their artist collaborative Malacara, Maria decided to strike out on her own and establish Pinut Brein in 2015.  (It's a play on "peanut brain" [cerebro de cacahuate"], a nickname teasingly bestowed upon Maria by her older sister).  I find her style utterly charming without being saccharine.  The illustrations work equally well as prints for one's living room as they would for nursery walls, i.e., not too mature for children but not too juvenile for adults.  And though they're stylistically pretty different, the ability of Pinut Brein's drawings to work on a range of items intended for different audiences is similar to that of Poni Lab

Pinut Brein

Pinut Brein

Pinut Brein

Pinut Brein

Her favorite animals are dogs and horses, and she dreams of owning a pony some day. 

Pinut Brein(images from facebook and kichink)

As for her artistic process, Maria tries to infuse each animal she creates with their own personality and assign human characteristics, such as a cat leading a punk band or a bear who's also a sailor.  At least, that's what I gathered from this quote:  "Desde hace mucho me ha gustado dibujar y crear personajes, la temática principal es el reflejo de distintas personalidades humanas en animales; por ejemplo, un gato y su banda de punk, o un oso marinero." Some are her own unique creation, while some are based on people she knows, hence the dogs of the Pai Pai collection having names or borrowed from real people.  I absolutely love this concept, as our plushies, though generally lazy and not very smart, each have their own distinct personalities.  The idea of giving animals individual character traits demonstrates the artist's genuine fondness for animals; you can tell there's a real love for creatures great and small, they're not just cute motifs to her.  I also admire the fact that Maria sketches with an actual pencil and paper first, then transfers the concept to a digital format and adds color and other finishing touches that way.  Don't get me wrong, digital illustration requires just as much skill, but I'm old-school and will always appreciate paper more than screens.  ;)

Here's one of her illustrations for Nylon Español.  I love the name of this cat-unicorn in Spanish: un "gaticornio".  So precious!!

Pinut Brein
(image from nylon.com)

In addition to the Pai Pai lipstick cases, the recent earthquake in Mexico spurred Pinut Brein to create illustrations of some of the rescue dogs who saved dozens of people trapped in the rubble:  Frida, Eco, Akasha and Titan

Pinut Brein - rescue dogs

Pinut Brein - rescue dogs

Pinut Brein - rescue dogs

Pinut Brein - rescue dogs

Pai Pai chose Frida and Eco to appear on some cosmetic bags, with all of the bags' sale proceeds being donated to earthquake relief. 

Pinut Brein for Pai Pai - rescue dogs cosmetic bags

Unfortunately with all the holiday releases I haven't gotten around to order these and it looks like Frida is sold out, but perhaps I will treat myself to Eco.  :)  And I can always buy this wonderful kit with stickers of all four doggies, since the proceeds from this also go to earthquake recovery efforts.

Pinut Brein - rescue dog stickers

So, despite my general preference for cats, this latest collection was definitely irresistible.  Pinut Brein must be very talented to make a non-dog person like me become smitten with these canines.  Which perrito was your favorite?

 

*The site I linked to lists "Maria del Mar Flores Ibarra"...but it seems kind of long to me, so I don't know whether it's just Del Mar or the whole thing. 

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This kitten's got claws: Brandi Milne for Sugarpill

I blinked a few times when I first laid eyes on this set by indie brand Sugarpill, thinking it was odd that Mark Ryden had collaborated with them.  But then I saw that the company had teamed up with Brandi Milne, another Pop Surrealist whose work, upon closer inspection, is markedly different than Ryden's. 

I won't make any excuses as to why I didn't get to posting about this before now even though it was originally released for Valentine's Day; the reason is that I'm simply disorganized.  The set got buried under a bunch of other makeup items in the office, and it wasn't until I recently started seeing mentions on various art blogs of Milne's new solo exhibition, which opened last week, that I remembered I had it. 

Sugarpill Feline Fancy set

Sugarpill Feline Fancy palette

Sugarpill Feline Fancy palette

Sugarpill Feline Fancy palette

Sugarpill Feline Fancy palette

Sugarpill Feline Fancy liquid lipstick

I love that one of the little teeth from the outside of the palette made its way to the interior of the box.

Sugarpill Feline Fancy box interior

There was a truly overwhelming amount of information and interviews with Milne, so I hope by whittling it down somewhat I can still do her art justice.  Get ready for a lot of quotes since I believe the artist's own words are the most useful in understanding their work.

Milne, a self-taught artist, drew and colored throughout her childhood in Anaheim, California (and in a strict Christian household) and began showing her work in various galleries in the early aughts.  By January 2008 she was able to make painting her full-time career.  Let's explore the various themes in her work and how her style has evolved over the years, shall we?

Early on, Milne's style was more illustrative, most likely due to the fact that she hadn't been exposed to much contemporary art.  She explains, "I grew up completely unaware of contemporary artists. In the 90s when I was drawing in my room ('developing my style' at that time), I didn’t know of Mark Ryden and Camille Rose Garcia, or anyone painting wild things the way they were. So I had only my own world of things that influenced me – the children’s books I had as a kid, Bugs Bunny cartoons, coloring books, Woody Woodpecker and Heckle and Jeckle, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland and Pinocchio, vintage Halloween and Christmas decorations, music that had inspired me – and the way my imagination interpreted all of it." 

Brandi Milne, Lucky You, 2009
(image from thinkspacegallery.com)

Her passion for art grew, and now Milne cites Mucha, Erte, Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell, along with the aforementioned Garcia, as her chief influences.  She gradually switched to painting, which allowed her to be a little less precise than drawing neat, contained lines.  "I used to work on paper/illustration board with watercolors, pencil and ink in order to keep things REAL tight and clean. I used to hold my breath whenever I worked, and my poor hand would cramp up because I was so pressed for perfection. Over time, I couldn’t stand feeling like a mistake would set me back the entire piece – I wanted to be free. Painting on wood was my ticket out of that stress filled bind I was putting myself in, and I took the leap a few years back, scared as hell! But since then, that freedom is the rabbit I’ve been chasing!"  Interestingly, Milne's husband custom makes all of the wood panels she uses as her canvas.  I always love a supportive spouse. :) 

Other stylistic shifts include Milne's choice of colors.  Earlier work presents a fairly neutral palette, but more recently Milne has favored a brighter, arguably more feminine palette that's heavy on red, pink and white.  In reference to her latest exhibition, she says, "In this new body of work, my palette went from really bright brights—fluorescents paired with really dark contrasts. I wanted to illustrate life blossoming from darkness. That so much beauty and life can spark from or grow from a place that seems frightening or lifeless...I love red and hyper pinks and whites. There was a year within the process of making this body of work where all I wanted to paint was reds and pinks and whites."  This is most likely the influence of a new florescent shade of red she stumbled across at an art supplies store a few years ago.  In any case, red, pink and white is the dominant color scheme for Milne these days, and this is reflected in the Sugarpill palette as well.

Brandi Milne, Little One, 2017(image from coreyhelfordgallery.com)

One aspect of Milne's style that's more or less remained consistent is the oddly extended limbs of the girls in her paintings.

Brandi Milne, And the Choir Sings Quiet, 2008(image from thinkspacegallery.com)

She notes that this feature came naturally: "I enjoy bending scale in my work...it wasn’t as important to bend the scale as it was to make the characters feel as if they were at home in their environment. These things are not intentional – they come [instinctively]...Maybe the exaggerated limbs represent a feeling of being larger than life. A feeling of being able to reach and grow beyond what one might feel their capabilities limit. "  So not only do these long arms and legs make for a more cohesive composition, they also represent the emotional "stretching" required to handle life's challenges.

Brandi Milne, Before I Hide Away, 2012

Brandi Milne, Here Inside My Broken Heart, 2014

Brandi Milne, Weep Now or Nevermore, 2017(images from coreyhelfordgallery.com)

Thematically speaking, Milne's portrayals of female characters are highly autobiographical.  The title work from her 2009 show "Run Rabbit, Run", for example, represents the emotional strife faced by Milne after the passing of her mother.  "The idea and feeling behind this body of work is strongly related to my mother’s passing in March ’08. My work is emotionally narrative (not by choice), and because I’m struggling through this huge loss, it’s reflected in my new works. I’ve tied in the show’s theme ‘Run Rabbit, Run’ – a lyric from Pink Floyd that hit hard for me one day while I was listening to Dark Side of the Moon, and really feeling my mom’s absence. It struck a note with me, and opened up this idea in my mind. This was the inspiration for my new show, and in turn, extremely helpful in my heart...My girls are an endless narrative for me. She’s my way of voicing an emotion in a piece, sad, innocent, scared."

Brandi Milne, Run Rabbit, Run, 2009(image from thinkspacegallery.com)

This painting depicts Milne trying to stay close to a dear friend who moved away

Brandi Milne, She Wears the Trees In Her Hair, and the Clouds In Her Eyes, 2012

And for I Never Dreamed of Such a Place, she explains, "She's kind of broken. Her body is broken, she’s giving up and hitting bottom. And then myself – I feel like the way that I grew up was in kind of a religious bubble. So in that aspect, I feel like I’m really innocent, you know? As a lamb, being slaughtered. That’s me...It looks cheery, but it’s bloody. She’s broken and I’ve been going through a lot – trying to help myself. So it’s all coming out in the work.”  

Brandi Milne, I Never Dreamed of Such a Place, 2014(images from coreyhelfordgallery.com)

These works show Milne's vulnerability but also her resilience.  Take, for example, Hold Fast, in which a girl receives stitches administered by a fairy godmother-like being, who's an embodiment of the artist herself "mending" her own psychological wounds.  It may seem a tad gruesome at first, but it's actually a message of healing and renewal.

Brandi Milne, Hold Fast, 2014

As for other themes, Milne's work weaves together the many influences from her childhood mentioned previously:  Fisher Price toys, holiday decorations, and, of course, proximity to Disneyland.  "Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Dumbo, etc. Having loved all those cartoons, going to Disneyland was surreal. The Tea Cup ride with all the lanterns in the shady trees and twinkly lights above. Flying over that lit-up city in the Peter Pan ride, Frog and Toad, the Matterhorn? Being at Disneyland as a kid, is really unparalleled to anything else. It was hugely influential," she says.   Additionally, her mother's religious outlook, coupled with the darker side of fairy tales and Disney movies, inspired the concept of duality that permeates so many of her paintings.  While they seem to be cheerful and innocent upon first glance, something sinister lurks beneath the candy-coated surface.  One example is Be Good for Goodness Sake, in which two happy snowmen naively enjoy some frosty cold milk...that's actually laced with opium, given the labels on the bottle.  (Yes, "milk of the poppy" is indeed a Game of Thrones reference.)

Brandi Milne, Be Good for Goodness Sake, 2015

Or Soothe Yourself, which shows an innocent little bunny surrounded by brightly colored sweets munching on a gingerbread man.  It's an adorable scene until you notice the gingerbread man is (understandably) frowning, while equally sad-looking teeth look on.  A piece of taffy (?) on the left cradles what appears to be a dead tooth, and the cherry cordial on the lower right has broken and spilled onto the snow.

Brandi Milne, Soothe Yourself, 2014(images from coreyhelfordgallery.com)

Milne says, "I love duality. It was so confusing to me growing up, I really couldn’t wrap my head around it and I fought it for so long. I believed that things should be black or white; that you were either a good person or a bad person. You were either happy or you were sad. In Disney movies, particularly, I was absolutely astonished to see that Disney chose to include such horrifically sad moments in his storytelling. We were watching a CARTOON and suddenly there was death and heartbreak and I was FEELING it!! I wanted to reject it, fast forward to the fun cute happy parts. I was disturbed by it. But as I was exploring my own work as an adult, I realized that it was that duality I was feeling and that I wanted to talk about. I love beauty and I love happiness, but I wouldn’t have either if I didn’t have the opposites and everything in between...This new body of work was inspired by the notion of good vs. evil, and the fairytale-like memories of being a kid.  I painted what it felt like to be happy and innocent and naive and then to discover certain truths about the world and reality."  This idea of yin/yang forces is expressed in several paintings from her latest exhibition.  Lynrose depicts a bright pink gingerbread house set among a forest filled with candy canes and ice cream.  While it looks positively charming at first, several ominous-looking skeletons are creeping up onto the house, and a closer look reveals that even the tree and shrub next to it have skull-like faces.

Brandi Milne, Lynrose, 2017

The title piece also seems utterly harmless initially:  it shows a group of jolly, red-cheeked snowmen enjoying some frozen treats.  But then you notice the trees in the background are dead, and the ice cream container has a faded skull and crossbones.

Brandi Milne, Once Upon A Quiet Kingdom, 2017(images from coreyhelfordgallery.com)

Despite the darker imagery in these paintings and others, by and large snowmen represent feelings of happy nostalgia for Milne.  She explains, "The snowman is the jolliest fellow! My mom LOVED Christmas –  she would transform the house with tinsel and knick knacks and vintage decor, Christmas music would be playing on the big family stereo and it was such happiness for me as a kid.  It was a wonderland!!  All these years later, I find myself trying to illustrate that feeling – trying to recreate it in my work.  The snowman tchotchke was a rare find in the house (there were plenty or reindeer and angels and Santa’s to be found), but I remember specifically adoring what snowmen figures we had, and probably hoarding them from my siblings.  The snowman best represents that spirit for me...I wanted that Christmas wonderland to last all year round!"  (Interesting side note:  Milne also enjoys drawing snowmen since she her favorite shape is a circle - "it has no harsh corners".  I suspect this is also the reason for so many paintings featuring Humpty Dumpty, her love/hate relationship with his character notwithstanding.)

Brandi Milne, No Reason to Stay, 2017

Brandi Milne, Candy, 2017(images from coreyhelfordgallery.com)

Brandi Milne, Holiday Takes A Holiday, 2014

While many of Milne's paintings represent the concept of duality, sometimes they're simply whimsical and joyful, with nary a menacing skeleton or dead tree to be found - just unbridled sweetness.  "Wide-eyed and maniacal, I try to capture the feeling of pure happiness and bliss as a kid."   I couldn't find anything dark or upsetting in the Sugarpill palette or in these paintings. 

Brandi Milne, Eat Cakes, You Kitty, 2014

Brandi Milne, Sweet Thing, 2014

I'm particularly struck by the maraschino cherries scattered about in this one.  They just look so succulent and juicy.  Milne greatly enjoys painting these too:  "I can't stop painting cherries and all I want is for everything to be translucent!"

Brandi Milne, The Last of the Snowmen(images from brandimilne.blogspot.com)

I love these since they remind me of characters from children's books, which makes sense given that Milne has illustrated one, not to mention all the delicious treats.  You know I'm all about sweets as well as childhood nostalgia since my own was so happy.  Milne's reminiscing about her mother's holiday decorations, coupled with the imagery in the paintings, instantly transport me back to celebrating various holidays with my family.  (In particular I'm remembering this adorable ceramic ghost with a red face my mom put out for Halloween, and a beautiful ceramic Christmas tree with multi-colored lights...if it wasn't out of my price range I'd commission Milne to paint a couple pieces featuring these items).

Anyway, while there was an enormous amount of information online, I still have a couple unsolved mysteries surrounding Milne's work.  First, I'm curious to know about the German references.

This little lamb seems to be wearing a traditional Alpine hat. 

Brandi Milne, Once Upon a Time, Life was Sweeter than We Knew, 2015

There are German words on the script in Strutter.

Brandi Milne, Strutter, 2012

And this poor little snowman is saying "ouch" in German, while in Long After This a sad pumpkin begs "love me".

Brandi Milne, Autsch, 2014

Brandi Milne, Long After This, 2014

Milne herself was also recently photographed wearing what appears to be a dirndl.

Brandi+Milne+by+Jessica+Louise(images from brandimilne.com)

I suppose it could be related to fairy tales, since the most famous ones in the Western world come from the Brothers Grimm.  Or perhaps Milne has a German background or just appreciates German culture.  Whatever it is, I'm surprised I didn't come across any explanations for it. 

The second item that left me scratching my head was how the collaboration with Sugarpill came about.  I'm assuming Sugarpill reached out to Milne first and they went from there, but it would have been nice to hear more about the process, the inspiration for the palette (who thought of a cat theme?) and how the artwork was created to reflect it.  I watched this video of a studio visit and read about Milne's artistic process, so I know a bit about how she operates, but I imagine things might be a little different when a commission for a makeup company is involved.  At least we know the artwork was an original piece made just for Sugarpill.

That was pretty long despite my best effort to condense everything I found while also trying not to leave out any major points regarding Milne's work.  So if you're still reading, thank you!  Overall, the Sugarpill palette is a wonderful addition to the Museum's artist collaboration collection and also helps make up for the fact that I failed to nab the Trinket lip gloss from 2016. I enjoy Milne's work so much I may have to ask Santa for a book of her work.  ;)  I feel as though I gravitate towards it since we're about the same age - we grew up with the same toys, Disney movies, cartoons (and even had similar holiday decorations!) and also because we had happy childhoods.  And obviously I love any artwork featuring delectable-looking sweets

What do you think? 


¡Es un milagro! ¡Bienvenido Pai Pai!

So I have some big news!  No, the Museum does not have a physical space, but this is almost as good.  You might remember I've had a long-time love affair with Mexican brand Pai Pai, but was dismayed at the inability to obtain their lipsticks in the U.S. Well, the makeup gods smiled upon me, for Pai Pai has revamped their website and international shipping is now only 20 Mexican pesos (roughly $1.12 U.S. dollars).  It was a veritable Christmas in July miracle!  Naturally I bought plenty of goodies. Welcome to the Makeup Museum's collection, Pai Pai!

I thought I'd start with the most recent collab and work my way back.  For those of you not familiar with Pai Pai, the company has the genius idea to work with a different Mexican artist each season to create limited edition lipstick packaging that celebrates the country's heritage.  The newest partnership is with 24 year-old, Mexico City-based Jorge Serrano.  I couldn't find anything about what inspired the prints for his collection, as the Pai Pai blog seems to have disappeared in the website redesign, and the cached version only provided a general description of his style.  I've been following him on Instagram (he has such a great feed - lots of color and uplifting quotes rendered in his beautiful calligraphy) and was thinking about requesting an interview, but I'm not 100% sure he's fluent in English and my Spanish is so atrocious at this point I couldn't ask him anything.  So while I don't have any real information, I must say that I am positively in love with the vibrant, tropical lusciousness of this collection. As I lamented in the notes for the summer 2017 exhibition, I was so sad not to be able to buy Serrano's designs since they would have been perfect for the fruity theme, but I'm glad they're in my hot little hands now.  That's all that matters.  :)

Jorge Serrano for Pai Pai

Jorge Serrano for Pai Pai

I love all the designs but these 2 are my favorites - pineapples galore and that bird is just too cute.

Jorge Serrano for Pai Pai

Serrano has dabbled in these motifs before.  Some examples from 2015 and 2014:

Jorge Serrano - Alas Olas

Bird illustration by Jorge Serrano

Pineapple print by Jorge Serrano

Pineapple print by Jorge Serrano

Thematically speaking, his work reminds me a little bit of I Scream Colour's - pop culture icons and mermaids abound.

Lady Gaga illustration by Jorge Serrano

These two were for Nylon Espanol.

Jorge Serrano for Nylon - Britney

Jorge Serrano for Nylon(images from @soyserrano)

Overall, Serrano is yet another artist whose work I have recently fallen in love with.  :)

Next up, released a little further back in the spring was a collection by Poni Lab, a design company run by sisters Minerva and Denisse Mendoza.  These illustrations are also a ton of fun!  I love pineapple anything, as you know, but I think my favorite was the reverse mermaid...who's wearing lipstick.  Not only is it adorable, it was also inspired by Rene Magritte's 1934 work The Collective Invention (and/or possibly this one.) So bonus points for a really cool art history reference!

Poni Lab for Pai Pai

Poni Lab for Pai Pai

I had no idea these were Dr. Who/Back to the Future motifs until I actually had them in my hands.  Looking online I just thought they were cute little prints, but then when I took a closer look I realized they were very specific references (which I've linked for those of you not familiar).  As I did with one of Paul & Joe's recent lipstick cases, I thought I'd show the details because they are simply too clever not to.  Let's see, we have a Weeping Angel (these are one of the creepier monsters from Dr. Who), Nikes on a hoverboard and puffy red vest worn by Marty McFly, complete with Doc's "Great Scott!" exclamation (Back to the Future), and then the Tardis and a Dalek from Dr. Who.  The car with "where we're going we don't need roads", which you can see in the pictures above, is from Back to the Future.

Pai Pai x Poni Lab

Alas, the other ones in this collection had already sold out, but they were overwhelmingly cute as well.  A literal sweet tooth, some Warhol-esque bananas, a print full of friendly dinosaurs, rainbows and cookies all transported me to my happy place. I mean, you can't be sad when looking at these, right?

Pai Pai x Poni Lab
 

As with Serrano I couldn't find a ton of information on what inspired Poni Lab and wasn't sure about their English fluency, but looking at their Instagram feed, it seems most of the the Pai Pai collection consisted of previously created patterns - it looks like only one was made specifically for Pai Pai, and that was also based on a previous design.

Poni Lab pouches

Poni Lab pineapple phone cases

Poni Lab dinosaur pouch

Poni Lab fish couple print

Nevertheless, I'm smitten with their style.  It's very nostalgic and playful, with lots of cartoony animals and cheerful anthropomorphic beings, and filled with some of my favorite motifs (pineapples and sweets).  And tons of unicorns, but also a few mermaids here and there. ;)

Poni Lab narwhal unicorn print

Poni Lab ice cream pouch

Poni Lab cherries print

Poni Lab it's pine-o-clock

Poni Lab unicorn plushes

Poni Lab pixelated unicorn pouch

Poni Lab mer-shiba pillow

I don't want kids but if I did, I'd buy this mer-kitty (or as Poni Lab calls them, "purr-maids"!) stuff in a heartbeat.

Poni Lab purrmaids

Poni Lab purrmaids t-shirt(images from @ponilab)

Finally, we have Talia Cu's amazing Frida Kahlo-inspired collection.  I've already discussed it so I won't re-hash it, but I must mention that these were actually sent to me for free by Pai Pai!  Talia spotted my blog post and contacted me on Instagram, saying she felt bad that I couldn't get my hands on them.  So she reached out to one of Pai Pai's founders on my behalf and told them all about the Museum, and they ended up sending these to me completely free.  It's the first time in 9 years of blogging that I've ever gotten anything for free from a makeup company!!  So a huge thanks to Talia and Pai Pai for their kindness and generosity.

Talia Cu for Pai Pai

I'm thrilled I was able to get all of these for the Museum, as they're all quite worthy additions.  I can't wait to see what the next collection is, as it's being teased on Instagram and the suspense is killing me...I think I might spy a pug design?!

What do you think?  Any favorites?

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Unicorns vs. Mermaids

Sigh.  After nearly 9 years of blogging I don't know why I still haven't learned to look before I leap when purchasing items for the Museum's collection.  After seeing the write-up at Allure of indie brand Tooth and Nail's Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette and previous mentions of this company in other reputable publications like Nylon, I nevertheless pondered whether I really needed yet another mermaid-themed palette to add to the Museum.  Initially I wasn't going to go for it, but I figured Allure would never steer me wrong, plus Tooth and Nail mentioned the name of the palette's illustrator/designer, Australia-based artist Megan Allison.  Once I read an independent artist was behind the design I had to buy it.

Tooth & Nail Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette

Tooth & Nail Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette

I actually got up the courage to email Megan with a request for an interview about her art and her work for Tooth and Nail.  She kindly obliged so here's some more in-depth information.  Megan has been drawing since high school and studied Visual Communication (graphic design) at the University of Technology Sydney.  When not working at her day job at an Australian packaging company, Megan creates stickers and enamel pins featuring a variety of whimsical (and sometimes creepy!) characters. 

Megan Allison - Blue Moon Dragon

Megan Allison - Kirby sticker

Megan Allison - Xenomorph pin

And since I had to know, she's Team Unicorn.  For shame!  Just kidding, of course.  ;) 

Megan Allison - Sweet Unicorn Carousel
(images from meganallisondesign.com)

Tooth and Nail found Megan via Instagram and contacted her to create some of the labels for their Sailor Moon-themed highlighters.  After the success of that collection, the company contacted her again for the Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette.  Hannah Foote, owner of Tooth and Nail, sent Megan a preliminary sketch of the general concept.

Tooth and Nail Unicorn vs. Mermaids sketch

From there Megan did her own sketch.

Tooth and Nail Unicorn vs. Mermaids sketch

Once approved, she did the full rendering, with the colors taking an entire day to get just right.  While Megan isn't loyal to one distinct style - she frequently goes back and forth between more traditional colored pencils to digital illustration and dark vs. cute themes - she enjoys tattoo design, an interest she shares with her sister (they have matching forearm tattoos, awww!)  I feel as though the mermaid looks a bit old school tattoo-inspired. 

  Tooth & Nail Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette

Seems all well and good, right?  Alas, a very sweet Instagram buddy of mine alerted me to the fact that Tooth and Nail has had a lot of customer complaints.  And it's true:  when I googled the company the fourth result that appeared was a complaint on Reddit.  Apparently not only was the customer service poor, the quality of the products themselves was shoddy.  While this one appeared nearly a year ago, other customers have shared their own tales of never receiving the products they ordered with a lengthy wait for a refund or zero resolution, some as recently as late May.  Sadly, the lack of service isn't limited to customers.  Via our email interview a few weeks ago, Megan stated that she never received the final versions of the products she designed (neither the Sailor Moon items nor the Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette), which was the agreed-upon payment for her services.  So not only have customers been ripped off, Tooth and Nail has allegedly also not paid their own designer.  I haven't been in touch with Megan since then so I'm hoping she has received her items in the past 2 weeks, but given everything I've seen it's doubtful.  It's especially disheartening since Megan agreed to accept products instead of money - it shouldn't be difficult for a company, even a small indie one, to fulfill their end of this simple barter. (Plus, as the wife of an extremely hard-working freelance designer who has had his share of clients screwing him over, I personally HATE people who don't think independent designers/artists deserve payment...which is more common than you'd think.  Freelance ain't free!)  

I certainly don't wish to vilify Tooth and Nail, but I felt the need to mention these incidents.  I'm also inclined to believe they're true - why would so many people complain without cause, and why is there no response from Tooth and Nail to any of them or going so far as to report/remove customers' comments on Instagram?  I understand that things happen beyond our control and that Tooth and Nail is a fairly new company with literally just two people rather than a huge, established business with lots of experienced staff to handle customer issues, but it seems other tiny indie companies are able to better handle any problems that come up.  With such a small company it's easy to get overwhelmed with orders, but whatever customer service system Tooth and Nails has in place clearly hasn't been working and needs to be addressed.  Maybe it has been, as I haven't witnessed any other complaints regarding the Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette...then again, perhaps any negative feedback has been wiped clean from social media.

Anyway, as you can imagine, I was conflicted for weeks about what to write or even to write anything at all, plus I was annoyed with myself for not doing proper background research on an unknown-to-me brand before purchasing the palette. Ultimately I decided to post because while Tooth and Nail may not be reliable or, at least, wasn't reliable in the past, I felt it was important to highlight Megan's work.  After all, focusing on the makeup design rather than the makeup itself is kind of what I do, right?  Oh, and in the snowball's chance in hell that any makeup companies are reading this post, I'd like to let you know that Megan is available for design/illustrative services, but you must pay her up front!

Thoughts?

UPDATE, 8/2:  Megan emailed me to let me know she followed up with Hannah a few more times and eventually received the agreed-upon items!  So hopefully this begins a new, more responsible phase for Tooth and Nail. 

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Off to Umbria with Fresh

As with Fresh's collaborations with Jo Ratcliffe and R. Nichols, this was quite a nice little surprise.  The company teamed up with renowned Italian ceramic house Rometti to create limited-edition packaging for their Umbrian Clay Mask.  I can't think of a more appropriate company to produce the design, as Rometti is not only based in Umbria near where the clay for Fresh is sourced, but obviously pottery-inspired limited edition packaging for a clay-based mask is perfect.

Fresh Clay Mask Rometti

Why the clay mask to get the artistic treatment?  Fresh co-founder Alina Roytberg explains, “The Umbrian Clay Purifying Mask is one of our most iconic products. The mask is truly amazing, because it can be used on all skin types without drying out the complexion. When the product first came out, we didn’t launch it in a big way, and we’re very excited to do that now and be able to share the rich history behind the ingredient.”  The Umbrian Clay line was first launched in 2000 after Roytberg witnessed the amazingly clear complexion of a Rome-based friend who previously struggled with acne - the clay she found in a local store had done the trick.  Roytberg tracked down the source of the clay, which is a small town in Perugia called Nocera Umbra, and from there the Umbrian Clay line was born.  The clay has been used literally for centuries to treat various skin concerns and is a renewable resource that's mined ethically by Fresh. (You can read more about the production process here.)

Fresh Clay Mask Rometti

Fresh clay mask Rometti

Fresh clay mask Rometti

Fresh clay mask Rometti

Fresh clay mask Rometti

As for the design, Rometti Artistic Director Jean Christophe Clair says that he was inspired by all of Umbria, from its natural elements ("rivers", "hills" and "sunsets" were his key words) and architecture to its status, as he puts it, "the center of the history of Italy." The soft colors Clair used reflect the region's blue skies and earthy terracotta hues of the clay.



Rometti is a 90-year old company that's known for being the first Italian ceramic house to put a more avant-garde style on their wares as opposed to traditional Italian Renaissance and Art Nouveau designs.  Most of the early pieces were produced in conjunction with artists Corrado Cagli and Dante Baldelli.  I wasn't familiar with either of those two names, but apparently Baldelli was a nephew of Settimio Rometti, one of the company's founders.  He attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome where he met Cagli.  Along with a host of other artists, including Futurist Giacomo Balla (love the Futurists!), they "were given complete freedom to experiment their artistry."  The Fresh collab maintains this tradition of artistic freedom today, as the company gave Rometti "free reign".  The design process came about easily, which is not surprising given that the mask is a product that comes directly from Rometti's everyday environment.  Says Roytberg, “It was one of those incredible things where you communicate without over-communicating because the response, for [the Rometti owners], it’s natural—they live in this world, they work with clay under the sky—so it’s one of those transcendental things that just happens."

 

 

 

While Clair created a unique new design for Fresh, it's clear he was continuing in the footsteps of Cagli and Baldelli, which you can see below in some examples of their work.  What's notable about these is the modern style given to traditional decorative themes, e.g. mythological scenes, farming, fishing, etc. - they're a far cry from, say, ancient Greek vases or majolica.  I'm including just a few pieces here but if you're finding yourself head over heels in love with Rometti's work, here's a whole book to drool over.

Corrado Cagli for Rometti, Marcia su Roma (March on Rome), 1930

Corrado Cagli for Rometti, Il lavoro dei campi, 1930


Dante Baldelli for Rometti, Pescatore, 1932-34

I spy mermaids!

Dante Baldelli for Rometti, Le Sirene, 1934

 I love this jellyfish-topped vase.

Dante Baldelli for Rometti ceramics, Medusa, 1936

I think Clair may have been looking at this 1936 piece when coming up with one of the designs that appeared on the Fresh packaging.

Dante Baldelli and Corrado Cagli for Rometti, Allegoria, 1930-32

And perhaps borrowed from one of his own more recent works for the face that appears on the lid.

Jean Christophe Clair for Rometti, Bacchanti, 2017

Some more recent Rometti collaborations that caught my eye were with surrealist artist Jean Cocteau (been eyeing this vintage compact with his work on it for over a year now but can't pull the trigger - so expensive!) and lingerie designer Chantal Thomass, both of which were overseen by Clair.

Cocteau for Rometti

Chantal Thomass for Rometti

 

Chantal Thomass for Rometti
(images from rometti.it , veniceclayartists.com and chantalthomass.com)

Final thoughts: I can appreciate Rometti's craftsmanship but the artwork in the Baldelli/Cagli vein just isn't my speed, so the Fresh packaging isn't my favorite.   However, the design was definitely the most representative of Rometti's aesthetic and it is a historic company.  And as I said earlier, if Fresh was going to choose any company to partner with to create a limited edition Umbrian Clay Mask, Rometti is absolutely perfect.  It shows that some thought went into the collaboration rather than blindly choosing a random artist who probably couldn't capture the essence of Umbria, not to mention clay, as well as Rometti can.

What do you think? 

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Friday with Frida: more Kahlo-inspired makeup

Happy Cinco de Mayo!  In honor of this festive day I thought I'd do a quick follow-up to Republic Nail's Frida Kahlo-themed polishes.  Turns out, another beauty brand beat them to the punch in early 2016 with a line of lipsticks featuring packaging inspired by the artist.  You might remember how enamored I was of Mexican company Pai Pai back in 2015, when I was positively drooling over their concept of collaborating with a different Mexican artist each season to create limited edition packaging.  Anyway, I spotted their summer 2017 collection on Instagram and was once again smitten, so I decided to catch up and see what else they had been up to since I posted about them.  That's when I found these lipsticks.

Paipai - Talia Cu

The fashion illustrator/journalist behind these, Talia Cu (Castellanos)1 had a less literal interpretation of Kahlo's work than Republic Nail.  Cu was interested in expressing the essence of Kahlo herself rather than reproducing her work, wanting to explore Kahlo's personality and fashion sense more than her art.  To accomplish this, Cu looked to both Kahlo's general surroundings and the pictures of her personal belongings photographed by Ishiuchi Miyako.  As I noted in the Republic Nail post, Kahlo's clothing, accessories and other items weren't discovered in her home until 50 years after her death.  In 2011 Miyako embarked on a breathtaking series that captured Kahlo's spirit through her personal effects (over 300 were photographed!).  It was these photos, along with other meaningful items from Kahlo's day-to-day life, that Cu used as a jumping off point for her designs.  I tried translating Cu's explanation as best I could (my Spanish is incredibly rusty) from this Vogue Mexico article.2  "I wanted to give a unique perspective and not necessarily focus on her art.  Mainly, I took inspiration from the photographs Ishiuchi Miyako took of Frida Kahlo's things, and I also wanted to revisit certain iconic motifs in her art (watermelon, monkeys, the phrase 'viva la vida') to create this small universe that built her personality."  If any illustrator is suited to take on this task, it's Cu - one look at her Instagram, which is chock full of vibrant street fashion sketches and animations, told me she could breathe new life into Kahlo's style as expressed through various items.

Paipai - Talia Cu
(images from paipai.mx)

Ishiuchi Miyako, "Frida by Ishiuchi #2" and "#11"

Ishiuchi Miyako, "Frida by Ishiuchi #50"
(images from michaelhoppengallery.com and itsnicethat.com)

Cu imagined what Kahlo would look like wearing those cat-eye sunglasses, borrowing (I suspect, given the shape of the flowers atop her head) a portrait by Nickolas Muray.  The green and white polka dot print on the lipstick may also have been a nod to the green floral background from one of Kahlo's most famous photos.

Paipai - Talia Cu

Frida Kahlo
(image from nickolasmuray.com)

As noted previously, Kahlo kept several monkeys, along with a host of other animals, as surrogate children. (One thing I didn't know before was that monkeys were also a symbol of lust in traditional Mexican folklore.)  Cu created a charming monkey print to represent Kahlo's attachment to these animals.

Paipai - Talia Cu

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Monkeys, 1943(image from fridakahlo.org)

Frida Kahlo, 1943(image from nydailynews.com)

I thought a cactus print was kind of strange since I don't remember these plants appearing in any Kahlo paintings, until I did a little more digging - I spotted many cacti in the garden as well as a cactus wall surrounding Kahlo's beloved home, La Casa Azul (it's now a museum and I want to go!), so I'm assuming that's where it came from.

Paipai - Talia Cu

Frida Kahlo - Casa Azul(image from latinflyer.com)

Watermelons were a popular motif in Kahlo's still-life paintings.  Once again Cu gives them a fun, playful twist - they seem much less heavy than the fruits that appear in Kahlo's work.   Knowing that Kahlo added the inscription on Viva La Vida, Sandias just a few days before her death, for example, is rather bleak.  Cu's color choice of bright blue and peach, as well as the exuberant, lightweight lines of the fruit, transforms the phrase into an upbeat slogan of sorts.  (Oddly enough, you can actually buy a ceramic watermelon with the inscription from La Casa Azul's gift shop.)

Paipai - Talia Cu

Frida Kahlo, Viva La Vida, 1954

Frida Kahlo, Still Life with Watermelons, 1953

Frida Kahlo, The Bride Frightened at Seeing Life Opened, 1943

Frida Kahlo, Coconuts, 1951(images from fridakahlo.org)

By the way, if you're wondering why I'm using stock photos of the lipsticks instead of my own, there's a simple reason:  Pai Pai's shipping cost was completely prohibitive.  I was finally ready to pull the trigger on some items from this collection as well as the summer 2017 collection, but when I saw the shipping cost my heart dropped.  I thought the prices were mistakenly listed in Mexican pesos, but no, they were clearly U.S. dollars.  I was going to do a screenshot of the cost, but in prepping the photos for this post it seems PaiPai's check out isn't working (I keep getting an "internal server error" message) so I can't show you.  I do remember the cost though: I had 3 lipsticks in my cart for $66 and shipping was $184.  I have no idea why shipping to the U.S. from Mexico is so steep.  I order from sellers all over the world and have never seen anything like this!  But I simply can't justify more than double the price of the lipsticks themselves.  It's not the total amount that's an issue - I've spent $200-$300 in one go before - but it's a waste to pay that much for shipping alone.  It's very sad for me and a little for the company, as they could have gained quite a loyal customer.  If shipping wasn't ridiculous I'd probably snatch up every collection in full.  As a last-ditch effort, I repeatedly called the one salon in the U.S. that carries Pai Pai and never had anyone pick up, and also DM'ed them on Instagram with no reply.  Hmmph.  Unless Pai Pai comes to their senses and reduces their shipping to a reasonably affordable price, or starts carrying the line in more locations within the U.S., I'm afraid I won't be acquiring any for the Museum.  :(

I don't want to leave on a negative note, as it's both Friday and Cinco de Mayo, so I will say that I think Cu's interpretation of Kahlo is both more inspired and uplifting than Republic Nails.  The illustrations are lighter and speak to the less tortured side of the artist - the objects chosen by Cu were ones that I imagine brought Kahlo happiness, fleeting though it was.  The idea of telling her story through her personal items and other things that had meaning for her, especially when combined with the emphasis on her fashion sense, is a unique way to represent Kahlo.  By consciously choosing not to focus solely on Kahlo's art, Cu gives us a fuller impression of her personality with these illustrations.

What do you think?  And are you doing anything for Cinco de Mayo?

 

1Normally with these sorts of collabs I'd show more of the artist's work but I think these lipsticks really encapsulate Cu's style...plus I had no idea how to work it in with all of the Kahlo stuff!

2The full quote is as follows: “Por mi antecedente en el campo de la moda, me interesé en Frida Kahlo no solo por su trabajo como artista, sino por la personalidad que lograba capturar en su vestuario, y su estilo icónico...Quería darle una perspectiva distinta y no necesariamente enfocarme en su arte. Principalmente, tomé inspiración de las fotografías que Ishiuchi Miyako tomó de los objetos de Frida Kahlo, y a la par retomé también ciertas figuras icónicas en su obra (la sandía, los monos, la frase "viva la vida") todo para crear este pequeño universo que la construye como personaje. Los colores por supuesto, tenían que representar esa alegría en su vestuario.”

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