Welcome to a very special edition of Makeup as Muse! On this day 45 years ago1, artist Claes Oldenburg's Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks was re-installed at Yale University. This sculpture has always fascinated me and I wanted to find out more about it. There's a ton to unpack here so away we go!
There is quite a long history behind this piece. Oldenburg had previously used lipstick as a central element in a work he created during his first visit to London in 1966. According to the Tate, Oldenburg had designed a single oversized lipstick for Piccadilly Circus intended to rise and fall with the tide. He also made a collage of a postcard of Piccadilly Circus and a cut-out of magazine advertisement for lipsticks. The lipstick "monuments" in both pieces were designed to replace the statue of Eros. "To replace the Victorian statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus with lipsticks lifted from an advertisement was, therefore, to update one vision of sexuality with another." Oldenburg remarked at the time, "For me, London inspired phallic imagery which went up and down with the tide - like mini-skirts and knees and the part of the leg you can see between the skirt and the boot, like the up-and-down motion of a lipstick, like the cigarette butt..." I'll discuss the "phallic" nature of Oldenburg's lipstick later but for now let me just say that I find it very off-putting when men presume lipsticks are somehow reminiscent of male anatomy. Can't a lipstick just be a lipstick?
(image from tate.org.uk)
As soon as I read that Oldenburg had cut the lipsticks out of an ad I went on the prowl to see if I track it down. Alas, I did not succeed in identifying what lipsticks were used. The bullet shapes and cases look close to those of Max Factor, Yardley, Avon (I don't even know if Avon was available in the UK) and Clairol lipsticks that were sold at the time, but weren't an exact match. Coty's lipsticks seemed to be the most similar.2
Anyway, Oldenburg continued expanding on the idea of a large lipstick sculpture intended to be a monument of some kind. By 1969, the basic design for his sculpture at Yale was sketched in a drawing and shared later in a magazine published by Yale architecture students to celebrate the gift of the sculpture to the university. I find it interesting that Oldenburg changed the lipstick bullet to a beveled shape rather than the conical ones he used for the collage of Piccadilly Circus. Oldenburg also notes that while the lipstick had become part of his visual language3, the concept for the sculpture was partially influenced by Vladimir Tatlin's Monument to the Third International tower. "It became very strong in my mind at the end of the sixties. It led more or less directly to Lipstick."4
(image from tate.org)
In early 1969 the artist mobilized a group of faculty and students at his alma mater, who called themselves the Colossal Keepsake Corporation, to assist in the creation of a mixed media monument that would serve as a form of protest against the Vietnam War as well as a platform/gathering area for public speaking and student demonstrations. The group, lead by architectural student Stuart Wrede, raised roughly $5,000 to build Lipstick and kept the plans hidden from Yale officials. The lipstick bullet was constructed of inflatable vinyl and required a mechanical pump to extend it to its full height, while the tank portion at the bottom was made out of painted plywood. The tube itself was meant to unfold telescopically. The end result, weighing 3,500 pounds and rising 24 feet, was unveiled in front of Yale's Beinecke Library on the first day of final exams: May 15, 1969.
(image from mitpressjournals.org)
In the selected location, the sculpture overlooked not only a World War I memorial but also the university's President's office. Talk about sticking it to the man!
(image from yale.edu)
Within just a week of installation, the vinyl tip was punctured and replaced with heavy-duty aluminum.
(image from lippincottsculpture.com)
So what did the sculpture mean for both the Yale community and the public at large? There are many interpretations and I will do my best to summarize them as succinctly as possible. First and foremost, Lipstick is considered Oldenburg's way of playing with traditional gender iconography. In his 1969 "Notes", the artist remarks that Lipstick is a "bisexual object". The lipstick is a symbol of femininity as well as consumerism, while the tank, through its connotations with war and the military, is a stand-in for masculinity. By combining these stereotypes into a singular entity, one could argue it's a symbol of gender equality. But the way the elements are juxtaposed indicates additional meanings. The fact that the lipstick is sitting on top of the tank, in a sense dominating it, was occasionally construed as a feminist stance, especially given that Yale had announced plans to accept women students starting that fall.
On the other hand, as noted in his previous lipstick collage, some perceived the lipstick bullet as a phallic object. Bridging these interpretations was the underlying subtext of the Vietnam War. "[The] large lipstick tube is phallic and bullet-like, making the benign beauty product seem masculine or even violent. The juxtaposition implied that the U.S. obsession with beauty and consumption both fueled and distracted from the ongoing violence in Vietnam." However, given that in its original form the lipstick bullet was often deflated, perhaps it was Oldenburg's tongue-in-cheek way of dismantling the gender binary. The flaccid lipstick bullet no longer wields the same masculine power it did when, um, fully upright. "The wonderful thing about it is that it will never stay up," he said in a recent interview with the New York Times.
(image from nytimes.com)
However you interpret Lipstick in terms of gender, it's undeniable that it simultaneously represented a sort of a joke as well as a place to protest. The student group that organized the sculpture's acquisition maintained that Lipstick was intended as nothing more than a silly monument. According to Bust magazine, "Members of the Colossal Keepsake Corporation vehemently denied the sculpture was either peaceful or militant, saying that they’d simply wanted to thwart the administration by creating something ridiculous to rally around. An event in and of itself." The protests that took place on campus throughout 1969 attest to the fact that while humorous, Lipstick was also meant to be a site of political action for a variety of important causes - of course protesting the war in Vietnam, but also feminist rallies, student strikes and Black Panther gatherings.
Oldenburg himself confirms the dual meanings. "There’s an element of humor in whatever I do...but it also can be turned into something pretty serious." This goes back to his 1961 manifesto in which he claimed, "I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum...I am for an art that imitates the human, that is comic, if necessary, or violent, or whatever is necessary." In a 1996 interview with The Guardian, he cites Lipstick as being one of his more political pieces. "That one did have a political purpose to it; I think it was a lot to do with the fact that it was commissioned by the students...I would do works for various causes, and in that sense I've always been political."
(image from stuartwrede.com)
The story of this remarkable piece doesn't end in 1969. Lipstick was removed by Oldenburg in March the following year and sent to the New Haven-based Lippincott metal foundry for repairs, which was the company that had fabricated the few metal components of the original sculpture. Obviously, the other materials were not the sturdiest and couldn't withstand the elements or the frequent usage by students. The wood of the base had become warped and rotted, covered in graffiti and posters, and the metal had started to rust. In 1971 a new plan was hatched by Yale art history faculty as well as the art gallery director to restore and bring the sculpture back to campus. "The original members of the Colossal Keepsake Corporation voted to donate the work to the Yale Art Gallery. With the gallery making a permanent loan of the work to Morse, the lipstick was restructured by Lippincott, at a reported cost of $14,000. (Mr. Oldenburg himself donated a lithograph edition of the Lipstick, with the proceeds of its sale to provide a permanent fund for maintenance.)"
On October 17, 1974, another version of Lipstick was installed at Morse College. This one maintained the dimensions of the original sculpture but was constructed of hardier Cor-Ten steel.
The installation was quite a celebration, and it solidified Lipstick as a bona fide piece of artwork. Here's a fun little excerpt from an account of the evening's festivities by the New York Times.
"To music, speeches and some exuberant student shenanigans, a peripatetic monument made a comeback on the campus of Yale University last night. Kingman Brewster, Yale's president, who reportedly is not captivated by the lipstick's esthetic appeal, was not on hand for the ceremony. 'It's a great event. The first time, we didn't have music,' said Mr. Oldenburg, who, with rousing accompaniment by the Yale University Band, addressed the crowd in his stocking feet from a perch on the lipstick's base. “I'm taking off my shoes to demonstrate that the piece should be treated with some respect since, among other things, you'll find it useful as a speaking platform. And hope you'll take your shoes off when you do.' Though its sponsors denied that their intention was political, it was seen at the time by many students as an anti‐war monument and also a refreshing dig at Yale's stuffiness, both architectural and social...Mr. Scully, an art and architectural historian, took a long, admiring look at it. 'You notice how that orange color brings down the blue of the sky?' he said. 'And how the form makes you read the verticals of the Morse tower?' Later Mr. Oldenburg, surrounded by students, said he was glad the work was 'now a qualified art object.' 'Lots of people got so involved in the content they didn't see the piece as a form,' he said. 'I also like the fact that it now embodies a history, like the obelisk in Central Park.' And, gazing fondly up at the rocketlike structure, he added, 'I think it will be very uplifting.'" Indeed!
(images from yale.artgallery.edu)
While there has been a recent effort to move the sculpture back to its original, more prominent location on campus, Oldenburg is content with Lipstick's current site, where it continues to inspire students today.
Naturally I feel the need to share my thoughts on Lipstick. I concur that it's two things at once: a vehicle intended to help affect serious social change as well as a sort of gag artwork. While I haven't seen it in person, I imagine Lipstick looks quite majestic and powerful rising above the plaza. At the same time I bet I would snicker walking by it - the inherent silliness of oversized objects never fails to make me giggle. However, I'm not really on board with the outdated, gendered meanings associated with Lipstick. If we accept the lipstick/tank to read as stand-ins for women/men, it does seem as though the tube is stomping all over traditional masculinity, and thus could be interpreted as a feminist statement or the rise of women's rights. But I feel that lipstick shouldn't, in 2019, still be a marker of femininity or women, as I believe makeup is for everyone regardless of gender. Plus dominating or defeating men isn't what feminism is about anyway - it's not an "us vs. them" mentality, we just want to be equal. I'd also like to take the notion of the lipstick as phallic symbol completely out of the conversation. I understand there is a vast history behind this concept and that it's still being used to sell lipstick. But once again, I don't think lipstick should be a gendered or hyper-sexualized object in this day and age. To acknowledge that a lipstick's design can be sexy is one thing; to interpret it as a substitute for a phallus is something else. Perhaps 50 years ago it made more sense.
Overall, I think Oldenburg's Lipstick is an important artwork that captures the turbulent political atmosphere of the '60s while also serving as a reminder not to take art, or even ourselves, too seriously. What do you think about this sculpture?
1 This post was supposed to be published way back on May 15 to mark the 50th anniversary of the original installation, but of course nothing is going according to plan this year so I had to post it on a different anniversary of the sculpture...and even that was late so I had to massively back-date it. Sigh.
2 While I couldn't discern what lipsticks were used in the collage for the earlier Lipstick collage, the finished sculpture drew a comparison to a specific brand: the 1974 New York Times article mentions Lipstick's "Tangee-like tip of glowing orange". Still, none of the bullets I could find in Tangee ads seemed to have Lipstick's beveled shape.
3 I couldn't find an installation date, but apparently Oldenburg created another gigantic lipstick sculpture for the opera in Frankfurt, Germany. It's interesting to compare this one, the Lipstick at Yale, and the earlier collage to see how they interact with each other and how they can be perceived as a cohesive body of work. In short, Oldenburg's lipsticks don't exist in individual vacuums. The Tate explains it better than I can:
"A sculptor who moves between performance and graphic art, Oldenburg treats his work as a totality in which key themes and motifs interweave in a variety of media. Taken as a whole, his graphic works represent a number of themes that have structured his practice throughout his career (see, for example, System of Iconography – Plug, Mouse, Good Humor, Lipstick, Switches 1970–1, Tate P07096). These motifs range across media, from performance and sculpture to the graphic arts, and include a shifting sense of scale, size and location, as well as exchanging hard for soft and organic for machine-made materials. Oldenburg sees this activity not as a series of discrete and isolated pursuits, but as a totality through which he engages with and represents the reality that he encounters every day. As the historian Martin Friedman explained in 1975:
Oldenburg’s art is a totality. The themes, each manifested in different media, are intimately related. Detailed drawings of objects, hastily scrawled notes, fragments of poetry, cardboard models, muslin and vinyl soft sculptures, and the recent large industrially fabricated steel pieces are elements of a total view. His ‘performance pieces’ that continued into the mid-1960s and combined people, objects and environments are essential to this view.
(Friedman in Oldenburg: Six Themes, exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 1975, p.9.)
Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks – and the larger body of graphic works of which it is an example – represents one piece within a constantly evolving oeuvre; a ‘total’ work that responds, in multiple media, to the variety and ephemerality of the everyday, material world."
4 The Guardian, May 24, 1996. Accessed at newspapers.com.
5 You can see more of the installation in this video around the 35-second mark.
If you haven't already checked out Beauty and the Cat's blog, I highly recommend it - not only is this duo chock full of useful information on beauty, they're hilarious to boot. A few months ago they posted some very interesting makeup drawings on their IG stories and naturally I had to find out more about them. After Beauty and the Cat assured me they weren't going to write about them and gave me their blessing to do so (I don't want to steal other bloggers' potential content!) I decided to forge ahead with a post on the illustrated makeup guides of Alexander Bogardy (1901-1992). The self-taught Bogardy has been classified as both an outsider artist and a folk artist, which is evident in his simplistic style.
Bogardy was born in Hungary, most likely in 1901*. His family came to the U.S. when he was a small child and settled, of all places, right here in Baltimore. He was a man of many talents, studying violin at the Peabody Conservatory (which is a block away from Museum headquarters!) in the 1920s, and in the '30s he had switched to boxing, becoming a prize fighter known as "The Baltimore Kid". By the '40s he had moved to DC to study mechanical engineering at George Washington University and worked as a machinist in the U.S. Naval Gun Factory. Unfortunately, crippling arthritis forced him into early retirement in 1952. It was during this time that Bogardy began taking painting and cosmetology classes, as he was encouraged by his doctors to continue doing some light activity with his hands to stave off further deterioration from the arthritis. While it's not certain if he actually worked at a salon, he certainly cut and colored the hair of his close friends and family, and often gave away his paintings to them. A lifelong devout Catholic - he attended mass every single day - most of his work depicted Biblical stories and religious figures. Personally, I'm an atheist who never had any interest in religious imagery (despite having somehow attended two Jesuit universities - go figure), but I'm struck by the female figures in Bogardy's paintings. The women are usually shown sporting full-on makeup, brightly painted fingernails and perfectly coiffed hair, reflecting his fascination with beauty rituals.
In 1962 Bogardy completed a booklet on hair styles and general hair care entitled "The Hair and its Social Importance". It served as both a hair care guide and an outline of his cosmetology accomplishments, including his diploma from Warflynn Beauty College in DC and a letter from the Clairol Institute regarding a hair coloring competition he had entered a decade earlier. He didn't win, but just the fact that he had received any type of correspondence following up on the competition made him believe he was an award-winning hair color expert, and only served to intensify his joy of sharing his cosmetology expertise with others. As historians Margaret Parsons and Marsha Orgeron note in this article in Raw Vision magazine, "It is certainly a feature of the art of Bogardy’s self-styling that he perceived recognition in so many guises, and that he derived so much apparent pleasure and pride from sharing with others an appreciation of his work in the applied crafts of cosmetology." They also speculate that part of Bogardy's interest in cosmetics came from his Hungarian heritage. "Born in 1902, he was about the same age as two American beauty tycoons of Hungarian origin, Erno Laszlo and Estée Lauder. The distinctive successes of these two, who were both from working-class immigrant families, would have appealed to Bogardy’s sense of ethnic pride and upward mobility."
After some 20-odd years of painting and illustrating, sometime in the 1970s, Bogardy abandoned his artistic pursuits to take up flamenco dancing. It makes sense given how diverse his interests were, and the fact that he comes across as fairly eccentric. Speaking of which, let's get to the makeup illustrations, shall we? According to the Smithsonian, where I was able to gather all the images, these illustrations were completed sometime between 1960 and 1970 and consisted of pencil drawings on 11" x 14" paper. They were divided into five sections showing five basic face shapes, and were further broken down into makeup categories - brows, mascara, eyeshadow and liner, foundation, powder, lip color, and blush, highlighter and contour placement - and provided detailed instructions for each facial type. At the top of each face type illustration Bogardy writes a short thought on female beauty, and at the bottom explains how to identify a particular face shape. While the face shapes differ, the eyebrow advice on each side is the same: "To find where the brows are to start, hold a straight line up from the nose on either side and remove stragglers in the middle. Pluck brows from below. The termination of the brow toward the temple must not reach past the line of observation drawn from the tip of the nose to the outer corner of the eye and continue upward beyond the end of the brow. This point of intersection where the line of observation crosses the eyebrow is therefore the length of the brow." Interestingly, this advice is more or less still prescribed today - you can find where your brows should start and end by lining up a pencil on the side of your nose.
Here's the "circular type face":
The "rhythmic diamond type face":
The "symphonic rectangular type face":
The "melodious square type face":
And finally, the "Romantic Inverted Triangle type face":
The drawings are a pleasure to behold, with the technicality and precision of their lines demonstrating Bogardy's previous experience in engineering. This is a bit of a contrast to the messy, sometimes confusing prose surrounding them. Though it's neatly rendered, as well as being historically useful in that it might shed some additional light onto beauty schools' curricula during the '50s, overall the text reads like a beauty- and religion-inspired word salad. Spiritual or mystical references are scattered throughout basic beauty tips. As Parsons and Orgeron put it, "Delicate disembodied hands hold small brushes and apply make-up to mannequins. Around the edges are animated and often incoherent lessons on female beauty, godliness and the finer points of cosmetic application." I'm glad I'm not the only one who couldn't quite grasp what he was trying to say! Bogardy began each section of the beauty notebook with drawings entitled "propitious and serene countenance of providential. sequel". I honestly have no idea what he what that means - perhaps it was an opening prayer for a book of makeup psalms. The rest of the text on these pages addresses the features and makeup that will be discussed in the coming sections.
"Eyelashes: the prancing the dancing and gliding admonition of youth, the manifestation of joyful and hilarious entity convey forth envious intensity of astonishment in its blaze of enthusiastical beauty."
"Eyebrows: A vivacious design of nobleness in the accentuation and the grandeur of the eye in quest of endearment in the field of esthetic faculty."
"Eyeshadow: the gracious and dignified ornamentation heads symbolism of external evidence of confiding in the ostentation of perspicuous beauty."
"Eyeliner: heighlights [sic] and dramatizes the eye in a grotesque illusion of flight the youthful significance of tender years to glow in the evening and glitter throughout the night."
"Lips: Relaxed lips reflect a picture on which to meditate a medly [sic] of vibrant colors, the stimulating emotion formulate a decisive allure in encouragement to feminity and the furtherance in lineation of lip beauty."
"Facial contour: in the summarization of the countenance of milady correlate to achieve the distinctiveness of portrayal to emulate your imported perfection in the beautiful design of the face."
"The assemblage of vigoration, even though by modification yet it is the doctrine of enlightenment to augment or diminish the augur passion for a tenacious existance [sic] in the world of the beautiful."
For your reading pleasure I have also transcribed most of the lengthy text for the makeup categories - thank goodness the Smithsonian offers a zoom feature so I could get up close. This was not nearly as painstaking as I imagine it was for Bogardy to write out the same text for each and every drawing. At first I thought he had traced it somehow, but upon further inspection it looks like he wrote out the same text for each individual illustration, changing only a few sentences related to face shape.
Let's start at the top of the face with the brows and work our way down the face. The text at the top for each one reads: "Eyebrows the arch of beauty, the setting character of the face, its revealing charm add untold and neverending joy to the make-up, in the presentation of beautiful facial lines. Since its great importance creates determination in your expression it must indeed add to the characteristic in the beautification of the face and further add sublimity to the countenance; beautifully arched eyebrows accentuate to the lovliness [sic] of your forehead, the revelation of your personality the irresistable [sic] magnetism the captivating power to eliviate [sic] and achieve beauty in facial transformation far removed from your fondest dream. One look at your artistically shaped brows will invite another and most certainly a delightfully furtive look and lo, the deliverance of a beauty into the arms of beau monde."
"Feminine allure means make-up in its entirety a beautiful figure together with make-up, so artistically blended as to modulate a peerless extravaganza, therefore, the eyebrow make-up, eyebrows should start at a point and above and even with the eye duct and the eyebrows terminate at the line of observation, drawn from the flare of the nose to the outside corner of the eye and upward to the temple. To be in unison with the above paragraph you must have natural brow line for it is the eyebrows which give that authentic and picturesque expression to the face. Use dark brown brow pencil on dark, red and naturally black brows, use light brown on blond brows. Sharpen your brow pencil with a razor blade, trace brows with a short sketchy hairlike stroke, to assume brow lashes; after penciling, brush your brows gently with an eyelash brush to soften the brow line and should follow your natural line."
The text on the right side provides brow instructions for that particular face shape, while the left side drawing indicates the measurements for the brow arch. I adore how scientific and precise the diagram is.
Next up is eyeliner. Top and left side text: "The serenade for our beautiful women is something magical in transforming an already pretty face to a re-dedicated beautiful countenance of perfection through the glorious enchantment of colors in make-up. It is indeed a resplendent presentation to dedicate this asignment [sic] to the lining of the eye or eyeliner, it is so called for it has a tendency to increase or decrease the space of the eyes to afford accent and to become a mark of distinction and indeed to enhance the eye and to further add brilliancy and beauty for daytime and evening wear. The dramatic touch of colors for the eyeliner may be blue black; brown or charcoal, green or match the color of the mascara."
"Eyeliner is a mark of beauty which gives prominence to the eye, it accentuates eyelashes and outlines the eyes in such a manner as to give it everlasting spark, fire and warmth, the governor of the inner feeling and indeed visible traces of charm. The eyeliner brings forth by means of this beautiful eye marking artistically applied to the upper eyelid at the very base of the lashes; this eyeline addition is so pronounced as to accomplish the objective in alterations in facial lines through illusion. The action movement you may observe above in the application of color to the eyelid to form the eyelining, and also showing the eyelid being held taut to allow for a clean and fine eyelining. Note: the termination of the eyeliner is upward and reflects extra eyelashes and concludes a photographic medium."
"Since memory serves beauty correctly with beatitude and the elevation of thought to dignified outlook of a new and astute personality through the noble art of eyelining which places great significance upon the eye as a whole and certainly the face exhibits magnificence and since an eyeliner emphasizes your eye in such a magnitude as to accentuate the lashes and outline the eyes care must be taken as to how this beautiful addition of eyelining must be placed so as to bring forth the richness the softness and brilliance of the eyes. In the classification of type faces the eyeliner plays an influential nobleness in the eye make-up, therefore this great mark of beauty significantly outlined in the scope of this phrase, the study and application of the eyeliner, the distinguished mark of embellishment."
This time the individualized instructions are on the left side of the drawing.
Moving onto eyeshadow, here's the text at the top: "Glamor an artifice of glorification, mistified [sic] by the magic touch of color nourished by imagination and placed high upon the scale of beauty, through the medium of optical illusion, thereby improving upon the gift of nature. She alters her face with paints and powder, lighting her face and a pinkish touch she adds and behold she darkens her brows and brightens her lids; therefore the ladylike look is certainly high fashion, for it depends on flawless grooming for that smooth, young and luminous look effervescence of the eyeshadow which creates the illusion of depth and expresses your mood. We cannot stress the point to [sic] strongly and to enumerate an eyeshadow to enhance the color of the eyes to compliment the eyelashes and to make your eyes what you want them to be, an illusion of beauty of charm and of course the window of endearment and beau ideal for naturally yet flattering look of a modern girl."
"Do not extend eyeshadow beyond line of observation, draw from the outer corner of the eyes to end of eyebrow covering entire eyelid. Apply eyeshadow 1/8 inch away from the inner corner of eye duct along the top of eyelashes with an upward motion and blend sidewise useing [sic] a small brush if you prefer one which indeed is a good practice."
"The chick [sic] face technique of applying eyeshadow. Apply eyeshadow with your little finger then sponge pat over the shadowed area to achieve that subtlety accent that is shadow gives eyes more depth, emphasis and color. To elaborate therefore; with your little finger place a thin layer along the lashes as shown. Now spread upward and outward just to the tip of the eyebrows graduating the shade from dark tone upward to a lighter tone; immediately the eyes become colorful, larger and radiant. Experiment: it is good experience and excellence in grooming."
For daytime wear Bogardy recommended green, grey, violet, blue and brown depending on eye color ("used sparingly"), and advised adding a hint of metallic glam for nighttime: a "silver tint" for green or blue eyes and gold for brown or hazel.
"A delicate issue is at hand when applying brown eyeshadow for its application is intricate; to distribute a heavy layer of eyeshadow a hurried or unskilled method will most certainly age the face, therefore; in a skillfull [sic] manner apply a delicate tint of brown from the upper from the upper half of the eyelid to the eyebrows; then use a green or blue as indicated above on the chart and spread from the lashes and lower lid and blend with brown eyeshadow of the upper lid. A systematic arrangement of placing eyeshadow, is to smooth liquid foundation on eyelid first, then the shadow then dust on a little powder. This tones down the color and keeps eye lashes from smearing, assuring a firm and beautiful eyeshadow make-up."
Next up are the lashes. "There is nothing like knowing you look your loveliest to arouse in you a holiday spirit. Make-up can do a lot to make such feeling possible; therefore, the simple steps in mascara application create an extra dramatic and vibrant plea of suplication [sic]. To apply mascara, moisten a brush for mascaras finest hour of loveliness with water, remove excess and rub over a cake of mascara until the bristless [sic] are covered. Now brush the upper lashes from roots to tips, hold brush against lashes in an upward curve for a minute or so for setting it in position; for the final movement, use second clean and dry brush to even the color and to separate each hair."
The instructions for each face shape are provided in the lower left.
"The eyelashes will appear longer if you apply mascara as pictured. Use an ordinary tea spoon and bend at the base of the elliptical form; now place the edge between the upper and lower lash closeing eye. Wet brush and apply mascara from above lashes, forming the curvature to the lashes, open eyes, and retouch tips of eyelashes." Has anyone ever tried the spoon trick? I've always used a regular eyelash curler.
The right side text consists of some very wordy instructions for simple mascara application: "A great statement is held to an equally great esteem and great indeed are the uttered words of the blessed that a pretty face is the fortune of the girl possessing it, however skillful use and knowledge of make-up in the symmetrical arrangement will invariably achieve for you the desired resultant from careful application of color in the present asignment [sic] of mascara make-up. Therefore in useing [sic] cream mascara press the color from the tube on a clean dry brush, now brush on the upper lash from close to the roots up and out to encourage lashes to curl in that manner with just a touch on the lower lashes. A second film of mascara will give them added thickness. Seperate [sic] the lashes allowing a more natural appearance. Now remove excess mascara with a clean and dry brush."
"The summer night dreams bring forth another melodious day, the symphonic color of the fields, the animating glow of the leaves the scent of the flowers and fragrance of beauty have no other desire but to fulfill itself whether it is shown proudly out in the chords of variation of tender application of mascara, its warmth apparently will infuse a feeling of self-confidence and optimism. Thunderstorms make us particularly restless and irritable. The spirits rise in summer and the outlook of our beautiful women show forth the creation of beauty to intrigue femininety [sic]. As autumn changes leaves to the colors of make-up so mascara bewails the fact that a not too luxuriant eyelashes may be compensated by the ornamentation of applied mascara." Okey dokey.
And now we're onto the face, starting with foundation. "The mastery of any art requires tecnique [sic] therefore tecnique [sic] is reached through practice in the use of the hands and color selection by the eyes as directed by the thoughtful mind. The face may be made to look larger or smaller through the use of proper make-up. The types of base which conforms and does justice to your face is here outlined. The cream base which requires great care in its application and since lanolin is immersed in its base it is beneficial for dry skin. Pan-cake having cream base is good for touching up the initial make-up and to cover large pores and blemishes; use a fine grained wet sponge which caters to oily skin and blends color uniformly. Liquid foundation usually good for all skin types exclude where oiliness is extreme. Before useing [sic] liquid foundations shake bottle well so that colors are fully mixed, then place a small portion on the forehead, cheeks, nose, chin and neck and blend, useing [sic] an upward stroke from deep neckline to the hairline. Liquid make-up produces an even tone in flattery a radiant finish and beautiful coverage of lines and blemishes."
Bogardy's foundation application tips (I was getting really tired of typing it all out so I just did screenshots of these).
Next, Bogardy advises on the application of face powder. Top text: "The Romantic, the Rhythmic, The Melodious delicacy is music in the making, which brings forth the gentle touch of femininity through the glorious touch of make-up as applied to the face and neck; therefore, to be in a holiday mood means looking your lovliest [sic], the following pages show exactly how through optical illusion, glory of placing together skillfully the combination of colors and the natural disposition of powder. Now observe, correct powder is essential; in its determination consider the patron's age, coloring and whether it is for daytime or evening wear. Powder weight depends on skin type, for dry skin use a light weight powder for normal skin use medium weight powder, for very oily skin use heavyweight powder. In its distribution to the face and neck be sure that the powder is visible throughout the face and neck area; this is called powdering movement, which is followed by the removal of the excess powder, which in turn is called the powdering off movement. Therefore, the charm of music, the elegence [sic] of Romance, the Gayety [sic] of Glamour is yours indeed, by the mere investment of but a precious few moments in the glorification of Highlight, Shadow, Rouge and of course the Majestic Revelation of Powder." That's certainly a spirited way of looking at face powder, yes?
The text on the right side includes useful application tips for, ahem, mature women - don't want that powder getting caught in all your wrinkles! "The choosing of powder may be obtained as follows: stand in a strong light and by applying powder to one side of your face you notice that it melts or blends into your skin as if it were your own color, it brings forth a cleaner and an exquisite fine look it gives a lift in your skin life, it tones down irregular red spots, the purpose of the powder therefore is to have the make-up firmly fixed and sheen removed. Powder is used in successive order as after highlights, shadow and rouge, use powder in abundance with a generous pad of cotton loosly [sic] sprinkled there on and pat in well leaving a finished look and blending well along the edges, with powder the same shade as the powder base do not rub the excess powder, but brush lightly and firmly with a soft brush made exclusively for this purpose. It is important that you brush in the direction of the hair growth on the face brushing gently until all sign of powder seems to have disappeared, care must be taken when brushing over wrinkles, to make certain that it is gliding smoothly over the surface and the cavity of the wrinkled area in which case you gently pull apart fine lines and powder to avoid creases at the eye region. Pull apart laugh lines gently at the mouth area and powder. At the neck area you do likewise gently pull apart fine lines and powder. Now with a cotton pad saturated with cold water gently press cotton pad to the area of the face and neck, this moistening movement will firmly establish your make-up. The finishing touch is executed by wetting sponge and you immediately squeeze dry. With this freshly squeezed sponge blot off excess moisture."
"The approach to beauty is a necessity rather than luxury. The woman's role in the home and business demand that she bring forth through the art of optical illusion her natural color as much as possible. The professional beauty of yesterday was the envy of young and old is forever gone as every smart girl accepts make-up as a daily routine. She certainly accepts the chores as a girl from Heaven, for modern makeup is sheer magic, as the finished makeup is the dream of youth, the charm of glamour and the exciting touch of a new look, as grace can be gained by thinking; therefore nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it that way; immaculate and perfectly put together. Now let us see, pleasure is a great beauty treatment in itself for fun places gleam in your eyes adds color to your cheeks, gives your face a lift in an appealing manner. Worry the opposite to pleasure, places not only wrinkles in your face and neck but strains two thirds of the muscles of your face; therefore sagging envelopes the face and neck area."
The next section is particularly interesting as it reveals the secrets of old-school contouring and highlighting through the use of lighter or darker foundation. Top text: "Like a musical score, make-up cannot be thought of in terms of words and no amount of words can convey beauty to the face unless by painstaking application of color hither and yon. Since our aim is to bring out all the good points of the face and to balance the features as in the Circular Type face as may be observed in the diagram, through the principles of optical illusion or the perfection in the placement of colors to such a high degree of satisfaction as to promote a great delight even to the most critical influential fashion critic. Therefore to bring out a feature and to make it seem more important use a light shade of foundation as it will create highlights. To minimize a certain feature of the face or by transforming the face to a lesser degree of importance use a dark shade of foundation as the darker tone illusions. Remember that if you are useing [sic] rouge over the foundation base, make sure that you blend out the tell tale edges thoroughly so that the formation of visible irregular lines disappear." The bottom text reads, "In short: the vision of an unreal image or in make-up, is is the most important essence, the essentials of optical illusion, which creates beauty; while unreal nevertheless, it is beautiful beyond the scope of imagination. Now let us observe; a wide and natural looking mouth will also by appearance seem to reduce the width of the chin. If you have hollow cheeks, place rouge above hollows and blend back towards to temples. The fact that you have used two shades of make-up foundation should never be evident. Blend the outer edge into the other until there is no sign of one shade blending into the other shade, only the beauty of the rainbow remains radiance of light and the intrigant [?} beauty of the shadow. A heavy jawline will look more feminine when you blot out the corners with a dark shade of base."
Again, I was getting too tired to type up all the text, but I've linked to each one so you can zoom in to see the advice for each face type.
I saved the lips for last. Again, Bogardy emphasizes the importance of lip color as another tool for balancing the rest of the facial features. Top text: "There are many things in Heaven and Earth to be showerd [sic] upon us, but behold the tantamount and beautiful coverage of the lips by color to lament to a fervent capricious feeling of glory through the symetrical [sic] and balancing movement of lip make-up. Therefore the very beautiful coloring or lip make-up will always show the way to a consoling way of our gracious desires which is indeed a divine interposition and an earthly admiration."
"Using a tube of lip rouge press a tiny bit on a smooth and hard surffaced [sic] object and work into the brush. Now star with your upper lip at the center and work out in both directions with an even and unbroken line. The lower lip may be outlined, but keep within the natural line of the lips to form a beautifully arched lip line from one corner to the other. If the shape of the mouth may not be defenite [sic] apply darker correction line with lip brush now dust a very thin film of powder over the lips then blot off excess with a wet cotton pad; the lips must be dry in order to fill in with a lighter color, now allow lip rouge to set a minute, then blot on tissue, you may dust a very light film of powder over the lips which allows the setting of lip color. A very effective and long lasting of rouge may result by the re-application of rouge. As you know the lip rouge comes in several different formulas select the type that will do the most good for your mouth. You may like the indelible type formula lip rouge as it is very pretty and long lasting."
Right side text: "In lip make-up, expand the corners of the lips as in a smile so that the corners of the mouth are taut, which allows brush to penetrate fine lines for thorough coverage and far enough inside the mouth and into the corners to be complete and even with lip brush for accuracy in outlining. Biting down carefully on a tissue blots much of the oils in the newly applied rouge and lasts and lasts without smearing."
Bottom text: "A cheerful aspect of those beautiful lips an expression of surprise a confirmation of melodious sincerity and true sympathetic appeal which may be summed up as the absolute unbreakable rule of successfull [sic] make-up as a simple harmony which rhymes into a balanced medium of lip make-up. As nature did not provide each and everyone with beautiful contoured lips or color which blend into warmth of beauty; therefore the final touch which completes the make-up is the application of a lip rouge and its various names as lip tint, lip coloring or lip shading; before applying lip tint be sure your lips are thoroughly cleansed, every trace of lip make-up must be removed and generous application of cold cream to your lips will clean to the best advantage and wipe with tissue."
As with the others, brief tips at the end of the left-side paragraph are included for each facial type. Here's an example for the rectangular type: "In lip design of a rectangular type face where a rather long face hold forth in prominence, to balance therefore the lips will have an asignment [sic] to harmonize the most important area of the face and to augment the beautiful colors to bring equilibrium to a face of symphonic poem, that is interest to that effect may be had by elevating of the highest point on the lip for an interesting show in prominence. The lower lip must be full to minimize the large area consisting of the chin and cleft, the lip rouge to form a tiny upward flare at the corners of the lower lip."
Bogardy's book had some skincare tips, which generally hold up fairly well in the 21st century. The text was the same for all so I did not include all the drawings of the different face shapes. "Beauty is a thing which gives pleasure to the senses; therefore, to achieve the objective, submit with great care to the following. Once a day if time permits several times a deep cleansing ritul [sic] must be done for all skin types wheather [sic] creaming the face or leathering [sic] it with soap; small circles about the size of a dime are worked with gentle but firm fingertips completely over entire area of the face and neck in an upward and outward direction; but do not pull or drag the skin. For the second time apply cold cream with a splash of lukewarm water on the face; lather up soap and again massage into the skin, now rinse with warm then finish with a cooler application of water which you pat dry. Apply witch hazel or skin refreshener to complete cleansing operation."
Left side text: "If you have dry skin use liquid creamy cleanser by day, at night useing [sic] only castile or olive oil soap for cleansing then apply a light film of night cream; tissue off all but a very thin film as the skin must breath [sic]. A protective film of vanishing cream must be used under cosmetics. If you have oily skin at intervals during the day cleanse with a very mild facial soap and water. Follow with estringent [sic] cleansing. Do not use night cream or cosmetics with a very oily base. Beneficial indeed the use of suphur [sic] and resorcinal ? soap as well as sulphur and resorcinal ointment to dry up the oiliness. Beauty is only an inner vitality forcing through the skin, it is well to follow the rules of health. Eat a hearty well balanced breakfast, drink plenty of water before, between and after meals. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Lose self in absolute relaxation at intervals during day and plenty of sleep at night. Do apply cream useing [sic] both hands. Do massage motion in soaping creaming upward and outward. Do make sure soiled cream is off face before creaming. Do use soap and water daily and rinse well. Do remember hit and miss treatment blotch the skin."
"The four essentials for a beautiful skin. Cleanliness in leaving face clean, free from dirt likewise hands must be clean before touching face. Lubrication: to make skin smooth by the use of a good lubricating cream and repair or beauty stick to cover fine lines and blemishes. Stimulation: washing off the mask results in a stimulated circulation which keeps skin flexible and invigorating, leaving face a glow and bring tinge of natural color to the cheeks. Protection: In the coverage used to shield the skin against variable changes in the weather use protecting film of vanishing cream at night will keep skin smooth and soft."
Bogardy concluded each section with drawings he titled "Precious moments on a theme of golden silence" showing each of the face types looking up and surrounded by rays of soft golden light. Given his religious bend, these women appear angelic (the light could be a halo) and the upward glance might be directed towards heaven. The idea of transforming oneself from mere mortal to angelic being via makeup is still strong today - I could probably write a book about the intersection of heaven, angels and makeup.
"Eyes close together will appear wider apart when you spread light foundation from the inner eyelid up the side of the nose. Too round face will seem to appear oval when darker shade of foundation shadow the periphery outside the oval outline. The sallow skin picks up a glow from a rose toned powder base or possibly a pink tinge for late evening hours."
"When glasses are worn the eyes are very carefully made up so that there should be enough accent to draw attention to eyes rather than glasses. If the eyes are widely spaced shadow to the tear duct to make them seem close together, blend the shadow so it is not noticeable of having the darker amount near the lashes."
"A long nose will seem shorter when you darken the tip with a darker shade of foundation. Having a double chin you must use regular foundation shade, then apply darker tone. This will tend to minimize the chin area. Application should be under the jawbone, blend from ear to ear along the jawline."
"To cover scars is indeed a laborious process but you will reap a rich harvest in the end. For indented scar or depression, apply a tight cream or white foundation with a no. 3 sable oil brush inside scar, blending into basic foundation by patting, if the scar be a strabeery [sic] form birth mark a heavy opaque foundation will block it out. Use your regular foundation according to skin type in the surrounding area. Experiment with different types and colors of foundation in the same family group: by continued application the colors will become permanently formed about the scar."
(images from the Smithsonian)
Stylistically, I'm surprised at how modern these look. If we ignore the ostensibly '60s era head wraps, the illustrations resemble toned-down versions of MAC face charts and others readily available today. As for the instructions, despite the lack of diversity (the face types shown are presumably white women, with no mention of varying skin tones or eye shapes), the basic principle of balancing one's features remain somewhat relevant today. Overall though, even after sifting through the roughly 60 illustrations made available by the Smithsonian, I was still not entirely sure what Bogardy's motivation was in producing these. "The Hair and its Social Importance" was a self-published booklet to be distributed among his circle and hopefully more widely to the public; it's not clear who these makeup drawings were intended for. Then it dawned on me: they were probably meant to be a makeup counterpart to the hair booklet, given that it was considered a "hair bible" and my earlier theory that the beginnings of each section comprised introductions for a sort of prayer book. Parsons and Orgeron confirmed my hunch. "[Our] research during the summer and fall of 2001 turned up approximately one hundred extant paintings and colored-pencil drawings - sketches Bogardy had apparently rendered for a handbook on female beauty and the proper application of cosmetics. This manual, if he had been able to publish it, would most likely have served as a companion volume 'The Hair and its Social Importance'". So it was really a matter of him not getting to publish it for whatever reason. In any case, Bogardy enjoyed making art for others and sharing his cosmetic expertise, but his admiration of women and their presentation of feminine beauty, his dedication to Catholicism and the appeal of daily rituals were really the impetus for the drawings. "His sense of ritual permeated his personal life, and he was passionate about helping women look beautiful--both for themselves and for God," note Parsons and Orgeron, adding, "Clearly, this is the art of makeup application raised to the level of religious ceremony."
Thus, the beauty book was simply a matter of combining the areas he was most passionate about during the '50s and '60s: cosmetology, art, and devotion to God. I believe Bogardy presents a unique take on conventional beauty wisdom of the time. I'm not wild about the idea of women looking their best for anyone but themselves - I don't think we have a duty to look pretty for fellow humans, let alone God, nor do I think women require makeup to feel beautiful - but his enthusiasm for the transformative nature of makeup application elevates one's beauty tasks from the mundane to the divine. As I noted earlier, I'm not the slightest bit religious or even spiritual, but I do feel like my makeup routine is a ritual of sorts, especially when I can take my time and fully enjoy the process. Bogardy's drawings express and celebrate the near-heavenly state makeup application can bring. In our current era of "self-care" and "wellness", they also serve as a reminder to carve a few moments in our busy schedules to do the things that make us feel valued and worthwhile. Taking pleasure in performing a beauty ritual, whatever it may be, is just as good for the mind as it is for appearance.
That was a lot to take in! What do you think of Bogardy's beauty illustrations? Would you use any of these techniques?
*The Smithsonian gives Bogardy's birth year as 1901, but some other sources say 1902. One of the articles referenced above lists his possible dates of birth as 1901, 1903, 1917 and 1924...although if the Peabody has records of him studying violin there during the '20s I doubt he could have been born in the 19 teens or '20s. Another article by the same authors states, "While there is conflicting evidence concerning the precise year in which Alexander Bogardy was born, most of the data supports a birth date of April 20, 1901 in Budapest, Hungary."
I'm embarrassed to say that Facing Beauty: Painted Women and Cosmetic Art has been in my possession for well over a year (along with many others). As usual, it's not due to lack of interest that I hadn't gotten around to reading and reviewing it but rather the relentless lack of time. I was more than excited to dive into Facing Beauty, as it's written by Aileen Ribeiro, a renowned fashion/art historian (ahem!) and I always welcome an examination of makeup through an art history lens.
Ribeiro's premise is the exploration of Western beauty ideals from the Renaissance through the early 20th century (roughly 1500-1940) as portrayed in painting and literature, and how cosmetics both helped create and achieve these ideals. Facing Beauty is not intended as a fairly straightforward history of makeup nor is it strictly art history with a dash of cosmetics; rather, the book seeks to trace the evolution of what the Western world considered beautiful in particular points in time using art from those eras, and along the way, identifies makeup's role the formation and realization of beauty standards.
Chapter 1 covers the Renaissance period and appropriately begins in Italy, as the country served as the primary locus for Europe's cultural rebirth. Ribeiro reminds us that it was a time of lively cultural debate, and the topic of what constituted beauty was fervently discussed. Renaissance thinkers pondered beauty in all its forms, including the ideal female face and body. By and large, the ideal Renaissance woman possessed pale, flawless skin, sparkling yet dark eyes (sometimes achieved with the essence of the deadly nightshade plant, a.k.a. belladonna), a long straight nose, and a small mouth. Tidbit: did you know that blonde hair was preferred throughout the Renaissance? I didn't, nor did I know of the ridiculous lengths women would go to in order to acquire it, such as using this crownless hat (known as a solana) combined with a thorough application of various dyeing potions (some made with dangerous ingredients such as alum, some with harmless ones such as lemon juice) via a small sponge (sponzetta), along with a hefty dose of sunshine.
In painting and literature, women were still viewed as mostly decorative objects, existing only to be admired. Women's attempts to adhere to the established beauty standards, including the use of makeup, were actually expected and encouraged: it was their duty to appear pleasant to look at. "It was important for a woman to be physically beautiful (or try to be so), as a courtesy to others, and thus cosmetics were allowable as long as they were used in moderation. These themes appear over and over again throughout the [16th] century, as the idea of dress and appearance being pleasing to others began (unevenly at times) to replace the traditional Biblical belief that such things were indicative of pride and vanity." (p. 71) But as the Renaissance spread to Northern Europe, in the early 1600s cosmetics were becoming increasingly criticized for allegedly inciting vanity among women. Indeed, the debate over whether women should or shouldn't wear "auxiliary beauty" reached a fever pitch by the middle of the 17th century. By the late 1600s, with flourishing trade leading to an increase in the number of beauty products available to the average woman, the pendulum had swung back towards a mostly positive view of makeup. This in turn set the stage for the fashion excess so emblematic of the 1700s, as well as the establishment of a woman's "toilette" (formal beauty routine).
This brings us to Chapter 2, an overview of beauty ideals during the Enlightenment, which spanned approximately from 1700 through the early 1800s. Ribeiro explores how the era's leading philosophers continued the Renaissance's debate on beauty. Theoretically it represented a departure from Renaissance thinking in that writers and artists of the time no longer believed that a woman's face and body had to be perfectly proportional or symmetrical in order to be beautiful. Beauty was now in the eye of (male) beholder and also took a woman's personality into consideration. However, Enlightenment thinkers still clung to the usual standards of fair, clear skin, a high forehead, straight nose, and rosy lips and cheeks. One of the highlights of this chapter was the author's discussion of excess in fashion and beauty, including the fabulously elaborate toilette. I mean, look at this set from around 1755. How opulent! Wouldn't you love to get ready with this on your vanity? It's currently housed in the Dallas Museum of Art, but obviously I think its rightful home is the Makeup Museum. :)
(image from the Dallas Museum of Art)
Another fun little nugget of information: I knew a bit about how beauty patches were all the rage during this era and that their placement symbolized certain things from Sarah Jane Downing's Beauty and Cosmetics: 1550-1950, but I did not know that each area of the face corresponded to a zodiac sign - put a patch on your chin to show you were a Capricorn, or one over the left eye to signify your Aquarius sign. I'm astonished that the notion of matching beauty products to your zodiac sign goes all the way back to the 1700s! Of course, the heavy makeup worn by royalty and other upper-class women was not without its critics, especially artists. Ribeiro thoughtfully points out another connection between makeup and art: The excess caused painters to question whether they could capture a woman's true likeness and what exactly they were painting - the sitter or her makeup. "How much face painting was there meant to be in the painting of a face?" (p. 184) It also moved the age-old question of how one could determine a woman's "real" beauty if she was wearing layers of makeup to the forefront once again. But as we know, the passion for over-the-top fashion and makeup quickly died out as heads rolled in the late 1700s. Thus Chapter 2 concludes with a discussion of the return to a more natural look, in keeping with the Neoclassical style that permeated every aspect of post-revolution French culture. Makeup was still used to achieve what was thought of as ancient Greek or Roman beauty (think LM Ladurée and Madame Recamier), but the days of wearing thick layers of white paint (the ever-deadly ceruse), heavily rouged cheeks and patches were over. Nevertheless the market for makeup and skincare products continued to grow despite the even more austere approach to makeup following the decline of the Neoclassical style during the 1820s.
The last chapter was my favorite, as it outlines the development of modern beauty ideals from the 1830s through the early 20th century as well as how the beauty industry both shaped and was shaped by these notions - a topic I'm endlessly fascinated by due to its complexity and the fact that it serves as the foundation (haha!) of the makeup styles and looks we've come to rely on in the new millennium. Ribeiro's take on the rapid developments during this time, which represented a sea change in beauty culture, is quite different from other modern beauty histories such as Kathy Peiss's Hope in a Jar and Madeleine Marsh's Compacts and Cosmetics. As I noted earlier, Facing Beauty isn't meant to be a fairly straightforward history of cosmetics, and the last chapter describes some parallels between art and makeup that, in my opinion, are even more insightful than those in the previous chapters.
Earlier in the 1800s, beauty was more prominently linked to health and hygiene than in previous eras, hence the rise of historic soap companies like Pears, and remained that way till the early 1900s. The middle of the century also witnessed the birth of the societal norm of less makeup on "proper" (i.e. upper and middle-class) women; a noticeably painted face became associated with prostitutes, or at least the lower classes. This is more or less a twist on the long-standing association between beauty and virtue. Ribeiro notes that improvements in sanitation and medicine had largely eradicated the need for heavy makeup anyway. Shops were now promoting mostly skincare, light face powder and blush, eyeliner and brow powder. The author also points out how beauty became synonymous with cosmetics, perhaps rendering traditional ideas of beauty obsolete. In 1904 Australian artist Rupert Bunny depicted a modern-day version of the Three Graces applying powder and lip color, which, according to the author, is most likely the first time in the Western world that ideal beauty is directly associated with makeup.
In the 1910s makeup became more visible, both on the women wearing it and its widespread commercial availability. Ribeiro identifies another interesting connection between art and makeup during this time: bolder, more colorful abstract art inspired vibrant makeup. As an example the author uses the painting Maquillage by Natalia Goncharova, which "shows the bright primary colors and abrupt angular lines that [Goncharova] saw in contemporary makeup, a startling contrast to the soft and tender, 'ultra-feminine' beauty of the turn of the century. Cosmetics as art were influenced by art - the vivid colors seen in the work of the Fauves and in the clashing and barbaric beauty of the designs for the Ballet Ruses." (p. 298).
(image from the Dallas Museum of Art)
At this point makeup was also seen as essential for a woman's professional success in addition to landing a husband. Nevertheless, the free-spirited flapper era might be the first instance of women wearing makeup solely for themselves, as a symbol of their independence. The 1930s, a decade in which movie stars captured the hearts of audiences across the globe, is when cosmetics became inextricably linked to glamour and the ultimate symbol of femininity. And by the end of the second World War, makeup "was no longer associated with deceit, with disguising the real woman, and it had largely (if not completely) become free from association with immorality and sexual temptation. Most of all, beauty was regarded as something achieved by cosmetics, by science, rather than inherited; it was a commodity, no longer elitist but democratised," Ribeiro concludes (p. 325). The epilogue summarizes the attempts made from the mid-20th century until roughly now to define beauty and where cosmetics fit into a discussion about modern-day beauty ideals. It was well-written, but obviously I think another entire book on that time frame would make an amazing sequel.
Overall, I'd say Facing Beauty is a more in-depth version of the aforementioned book by Sarah Jane Downing, as they cover the same time periods and draw on many of the same sources. While it was an excellent read, I remember my dismay regarding the brevity of Downing's book. Facing Beauty expands on Downing's work by offering a lengthier analysis of art and literature to help tell the story of makeup and beauty, as well more information on beauty recipes and ingredients. The latter reminds me a bit of Susan Stewart's wonderful Painted Faces. However, Facing Beauty does not delve much into the societal role of cosmetics, an aspect that makes Stewart's book stand out from other cosmetics history tomes. In any case, it's a thoroughly enjoyable and well-researched read, and a must-have for anyone who wants to learn more about the intersection of art and makeup. As compared to other books in the same vein, Facing Beauty provides the quintessential overview of Western beauty ideals as seen through an art historian's perspective and thoroughly covers how makeup corresponds to them.
Have you read this one? If not, are you interested in checking it out?
Over the past few years I've really been enjoying Clé de Peau's artist collaborations for their holiday collections. They select artists with very different styles but ones that somehow always do an amazing job representing the brand's vision and aesthetic. This year the company partnered with Italian surrealist illustrator Daria Petrilli, who, as you will see, is as mysterious as her dreamlike artwork.
According to this interview with the Shiseido team responsible for the collection, Clé de Peau's makeup director Lucia Pieroni selected an Alice in Wonderland theme, or a "winter fairyland" per the translation of the French "féeries d'hiver". Consisting of pale pinks and greys contrasting with bold berry and a dash of soft shimmer, the color scheme is meant to evoke a winter tea party in an English garden. It was packaging designer Kaori Nagata who suggested collaborating with Petrilli and who translated her beautiful illustrations to equally gorgeous boxes and palette cases. Simply put, the team was "mesmerized by [Petrilli's] talent." They were also searching for an artist who could elevate a theme usually intended for children and create a grown-up version of Wonderland to match the style (and price tag) of a high-end line. As Shiseido rep Saiko Kawahara notes, "Brands of low to mid price range create many products that are 'adorable,' but I think that is precisely why it is necessary to add some refinement, such as 'a grown-up joke' or 'spicy playfulness,' when a prestige brand attempts to create an 'adorable' product." Indeed, while Disney-fied versions of Alice worked well on mid-end brands like Beyond, Paul & Joe and Urban Decay, I don't think they'd be appropriate for Clé de Peau. And I don't mean that in a snooty way either - that style just wouldn't be a good fit for the brand.
Now let's get to the goodies! I picked up the eye shadow quad, pressed powder, stick highlighter, and one of the lipsticks. I think the colors for the makeup itself are lovely, but what really blew me away is the mix of aqua, light pink and fuchsia with hints of coral and deep wine throughout the packaging.
The playing card embossing is a stroke of genius.
I adore all the packaging, but the white rabbit peeking out of the box for the powder highlighter and the woman's rosy cheeks and chic dark lips on the outer case are possibly my favorites out of the collection.
I'm also very fond of this flower lady, as she embodies the talking/singing flower garden Alice encounters. (That was my favorite scene when I was little!)
In addition to the key, checkerboard and playing card motifs, the names for each product were also carefully chosen to align with the Alice theme. This lipstick, for example, is called Paint Me (the other is Follow Me), an homage to both painting the queen's roses red and the "eat me/drink me" signs in Lewis Carroll's classic book. Meanwhile, the eyeshadow quad is named Tea Party, the pressed powder Pink Push Me, and the stick highlighter Light Me.
The company even came up with an ad featuring a poem for each item. The animations are looking a little Monty Python to me, but that's probably just because I've been re-watching it on Netflix the past few weeks. It's still pretty cute.
The moisturizer is the one piece I did not buy, as I couldn't justify the $535 (!) price tag for just the outer packaging. Even if the jar itself was decorated I still couldn't have bought it - too rich for my blood. Still, it's beautiful, and the keyhole cut out, along with the cut-outs on the other boxes, emphasize a connection to the entire Clé de Peau brand. Says Ayumi Nishimoto, another member of Shiseido's creative team, "Not only does this tie in with the holiday concept ('open the door to the extraordinary'), it is also brilliantly linked to Clé de Peau Beauté’s tagline, 'unlock the power of your radiance.'" Indeed, "clé" is French for key, so this detail creates complete cohesion across the holiday collection and Clé de Peau line. Now that's what I call synergy!
Apologies for the lackluster photo, it was the only one I could find of the cutout.
The keys were also used on the skincare sets, none of which I purchased but still covet.
Finally, there were some very nice gift boxes and bags featuring different images, which were offered with the purchase of any two items from the holiday collection at the Clé de Peau website. Since I eagerly bought the collection as soon as it became available at Neiman Marcus (so I could use my store card and also get 10% cash back via Ebates), I missed this as well. I might hunt for one on ebay.
(images from cledepeau-beaute.com)
As for the worldwide marketing of the collection, both online and in-store advertising were simply dazzling. The advertising and design team created a truly magical video where Petrilli's illustrations spring to life. Unlike the ad above, this one features much more sophisticated animations and cutting-edge 360 degree technology so that the viewer feels totally immersed in Wonderland. Nishimoto and fellow team member Satoko Tomizawa explain: "As global campaigns are launched in various countries around the world, it is necessary to create something that is highly versatile and universal. This time, we took on a new challenge of making not just a campaign video, but also a 360-degree video that anyone, anywhere, can experience through their smartphones. Viewers can enjoy more of the wonderland that we have created. While remaining respectful of Daria’s illustrations, we paid special attention to giving the campaign videos a sense of worldliness unique to 3D animation. We asked the production studio Shirogumi, Inc. to produce the CGI for the story of a rabbit jumping through keyholes and traveling through wonderland."
Additionally, I must say the set up at their Omotesando Hills location in Tokyo was spectacular, rivaling the decor used for Kathe Fraga's breathtaking collection last year. Tomizawa states that the collection theme allowed the company to show a more whimsical side of the brand and push the boundaries of not only packaging but also store design. "We created a spatial experience, where visitors could enter as the mysterious wonderland as if their bodies had shrunk small. Not only was the Clé de Peau Beauté Store in Omotesando Hills in holiday mode, but entire complex invited visitors to experience wonderland. Large banners hung from ceiling to the floor, blownup packaging made their appearances in the staircase, a mysterious tea party setting along with the 360-degree video was on display. It was the first time that the holiday collection was featured in such a large-scale event. Inspired by the packaging design, we were able to expand on many playful ideas for digital and spatial design. Through this wonderland we were able to show a more imaginative, playful side of the prestige brand." I would have loved to visit this magical setup!
(images from shiseidogroup.com)
Now that we've covered the collection, let's delve into the world of the highly secretive Daria Petrilli. Born in 1970 in Rome, she graduated with an MA in Communication and Design at the Università La Sapienza, then moved to London and completed a degree in Experimental Illustration at the London College of Communication, a school within the prestigious University of the Arts London. Petrilli has been commissioned for magazines (most recently, her work accompanied a rather depressing piece about suicide in Oprah Magazine), children's books and has had several solo exhibitions. Her illustrations also served as one of the inspirations for fashion label Delpozo's fall 2016 collection. However, it seems that Petrilli prefers to remain out of the spotlight. She has no website, Tumblr or Instagram. The only social media platform she uses is Pinterest, and she uses it to highlight "illustrations made for my personal joy, without bosses, and even publishers ...only for my pleasure." She has granted only two interviews and her work has been discussed in just two brief articles that I was able to find online, and they're either in Italian or badly translated, so I'm not sure how much of it I'll be able to use. As we know, relying on Google more often than not results in nonsensical translations, but I will try to decipher everything as best I can. It's a shame she's not as willing to put herself out there as much as some artists are, because I'm dying to know her thoughts on working with Clé de Peau and her own approach to makeup. The few photos I was able to find of Petrilli show her seemingly barefaced save for one.
Anyway, onto her work. I won't pretend that I can explain it or provide any real insight, but here's a brief description. Many of Petrilli's illustrations depict ethereal, brooding women occupying dreamlike landscapes and interiors, often with animals. As with other Surrealist imagery, the scenes are odd and even a little unsettling at times. Most of the women appear melancholy and isolated; they seem to be alone even when other figures are included. Perhaps one is meant to be the real self and other figures/animals are a projection of her innermost thoughts and feelings, or in true Surrealist style, a representation of the unconscious mind. These women contrast with those in the Clé de Peau collection, who seem to be peacefully relaxing within the magical realm of Wonderland.
While she started out painting, admiring the Renaissance frescoes of her native Rome and using the techniques of the Old Masters, Petrilli found that digital illustration best suited her interest in creating surreal images. She describes how her artistic journey and search for her personal style was shaped by her upbringing in Rome as well as the birth of her daughter: "Ever since I was a child I lost myself in the images of illustrated books and I was completely fascinated...Taking a course of classical studies and helped by the fact that I live in a city, Rome, immersed in antiquities and ancient splendor I have always had a passion for the history of art, with a predilection for certain representation and historical periods including one on all the surrealism...I was helped by the birth of my daughter, to keep up with her or put aside my commercial work, and I found myself spending a lot of time alone me and my computer. Prior to that I drew and painted especially with the classical techniques especially acrylic, oil, watercolor, pencils, and I used the digital as a compendium...I began to realize that I could convey in a fast and effective manner the ideas that came to me all the time. And I began to compose images like this for my simple pleasure of them without a purpose or aim at something...Digital manipulation was the element that allowed me to give it life, mixing, overlapping and painting my creations and have become increasingly personal." In looking at her work, it's hard to believe these images are created digitally. I could easily mistake them for paintings given how seamlessly the individual elements, strange though they might be, are combined. When I think of digital art my mind immediately jumps to collages. Not that there's anything wrong with that - I love me a good collage - but I imagine them to resemble cutouts jumbled together rather than the smoothness of paintings. In the illustration below, for example, I feel as though I can practically see brushstrokes on the fish, and the transparency of the women's fingers also appear to have been rendered in paint.
Petrilli is particularly enamored by birds because "their eyes fascinate me for that sense of primordial concern emanating", or translated another way, "To me they communicate a sense of primordial restlessness.” Whatever the meaning of that may be, here are some of my favorite avian-themed works by the artist.
Stylistically, I'm seeing many different artistic influences in Petrilli's work. Her appreciation for the Renaissance art she grew up with is exemplified in a variety of ways, such as the clothing her characters wear, use of perspective and generally muted background colors. This one in particular reminds me of two Renaissance paintings: da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine (both the woman's hairstyle and the position of her hands holding the bird look similar) and Piero della Francesca's Montefeltro Altarpiece, which has a pendant egg suspended in the background. (Obviously there are entire books on symbolism in Renaissance and Surrealist art so attempting to go into more detail on my humble little blog would be a fruitless effort, but you can start with these two if you're so inclined. There's also a veritable goldmine of books on women and surrealism, which are relevant given Petrilli's focus on portraying women.)
(images from pinterest)
(image from wikipedia.org)
(image from pinacotecabrera.org)
Other surrealist artists may have influenced Petrilli. In Hypnosis Double, the way the women are posed call to mind Frida Kahlo's Two Fridas. And while the deer seem unharmed, perhaps they're a nod to The Wounded Deer.
(image from fridakahlo.org)
I'm also seeing a resemblance between Petrilli's work and that of contemporary Surrealist Christian Schloe. As a matter of fact, doing an image search I thought some of his works were Petrilli's.
(images from facebook)
Despite these similarities, I'm not implying Petrilli's work is in any way derivative. Her content and style are unique and deeply personal; the way in which she weaves together a variety of art history styles and techniques breathes new life into digital illustration and reflects her own individual artistic upbringing and training. Another reason I think Clé de Peau made an excellent decision to commission her for an Alice in Wonderland inspired collection is that Petrilli has explored it before. Below is Alice's Dream, along with other works that have the same motifs as the Clé de Peau collection: flamingos, keys, butterflies, flower-women hybrids, and a checker-printed floor. Again, I'm sure there are hidden meanings in these but that's just way too much ground to cover here.
(images from pinterest)
In conclusion, I'm massively impressed with both Petrilli's work and the Clé de Peau collection. This year the company took a chance by exploring a more whimsical theme and succeeded thanks to Petrilli's imagery, which is a far more refined and elegant representation of Alice in Wonderland than any other makeup collection I've seen. As I mentioned earlier, I absolutely adore the cutesy treatment used by other brands since it reminds me of my childhood, but this was a nice change of pace and obviously suits a luxury brand like Clé de Peau much better. I just wish I could have heard a little more from Petrilli's perspective about working on the collection.
What do you think? What's your favorite illustration out of these?
I have no idea how I missed this adorable collection when it was released last fall, but I'm glad I managed to track it down. Since there are so many Disney collaborations I tend to be fairly selective as to which ones to purchase for the Museum, but I thought this Bambi collection from Korean brand Isa Knox was special enough to be worthy. :)
The outer packaging alone is lovely. The sides of the boxes have delightful floral prints and Bambi illustrations.
More pretty floral patterns abound on the compacts themselves, and Bambi's brown fur gets a vibrant, overlapping watercolor makeover.
I'm not much of a Disney buff, but I do follow a lot of art blogs, which is how I came across the story of artist Tyrus Wong (1910-2016). Wong went largely unrecognized for his groundbreaking work on Disney's Bambi until the early aughts, but I'm glad he finally got his due, since his style was instrumental in setting the film's tone and atmosphere and also created an entirely new direction for Disney. I thought it would be fun to look at the Isa collection within the context of the original Bambi art.
Wong was born in China and came to the U.S. when he was nine (Tyrus is an Americanized version of "Tai Yow" that a teacher assigned him in elementary school). His father, taking note of his son's interest in drawing, taught him calligraphy every night using a brush dipped in water and "painting" characters on newspapers, as they couldn't afford ink or drawing paper. A junior high teacher noticed Wong's artistic skill and arranged a scholarship for him to attend the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, where he studied both Western art and the landscape paintings of the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960-1279). Wong graduated in the early '30s and showed his work in exhibitions throughout the country. In 1938 he got a job at Disney as an “in-betweener" drawing the thousands of frames that occur in between the main animation sequences. I didn't know this, but "in-between" animation is incredibly dull and repetitive - it's basically assembly-line production. When Wong found out Disney would be adapting Felix Salten's 1923 book into a film, he jumped at the opportunity to showcase his work.
"I said, 'Gee, this is all outdoor scenery...I said, gee, I'm a landscape painter. This will be great!'" Wong recalled in a video used in a 2013 exhibition of his work at San Francisco's Walt Disney Family Museum. Using pastels and watercolors as well as inspiration from the Song dynasty landscape paintings, Wong sketched out a few samples with emphasis on the play between light and shadow rather than meticulously drawing each leaf and branch. As you can see, it's more of a pared-down, Impressionist approach that evokes the forest rather than being a literal representation. "I tried to keep it very, very simple and create the atmosphere, the feeling of the forest,” Wong said. Adds Michael Labrie, director of collections and exhibitions at the Disney Family Museum, "He visualized the forest as being ethereal...the sketches were more of an impression of the forest."
Wong was definitely in the right place at the right time: Disney realized that the ornate style used for the forest scenes in their 1937 feature Snow White, despite the success of the film, could not be carried over to Bambi. The highly detailed leaves and trees were overwhelming, basically camouflaging Bambi and the other animals. Wong's approach not only was perfect for the film's subject matter, but also presented a strikingly different direction for animated films. “Walt Disney went crazy over them,” notes John Canemaker, who wrote about Wong in his 1996 book. “He said, ‘I love this indefinite quality, the mysterious quality of the forest.’” Adds chief creative officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios John Lasseter, "This sophistication of expression was a gigantic leap forward for the medium."
Here's short video with a few more paintings and commentary both from Wong himself and other people who worked on the film. (There's another video here but I couldn't figure out how to embed it into this post. Sigh.)
After his time at Disney, Wong produced illustrations for live-action movies at Warner Brothers. In his later years he continued painting and also branched out into kite-making. His story is very inspirational, as he was a poor immigrant who worked incredibly hard to overcome not only poverty, but also endured the rampant racism against Chinese people to become an acclaimed artist.
Getting back to the Isa collection, I still think it's a solid addition to the Museum (and will look excellent in the fall 2017 exhibition so keep your eyes peeled!), but now a part of me wishes they had used Wong's paintings for the packaging. As a matter of fact, I'd love to see more companies use original sketches rather than the finished Disney designs. The only time we've seen the preliminary artwork for a Disney collaboration, at least to my knowledge, is with MAC's Venemous Villains.
Anyway, what do you think?
My thoughts on Urban Decay's collaboration with Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960 - 1988) were very tough to gather for many reasons, which is why I'm just getting a post up well over a month after the collection's original release. It's always difficult to approach beauty collections featuring monumental artists such as Basquiat due to the enormous amount of resources, and while I feel the need to be thorough in exploring the artist's work, I don't wish to embarrass myself by pretending I'm an expert on their oeuvre (art history degree non-withstanding). This post was made harder to write by the fact that I had already touched a bit on Basquiat's work for Addiction's 2013 collection, so I really didn't have any idea on how to properly approach Urban Decay's collection as I didn't want to repeat myself but still felt I needed to provide some information. Finally, there was the issue of whether it was even appropriate to be using Basquiat's work for makeup packaging and to collaborate with the Urban Decay brand in particular. In the end, after a few very frustrating weeks of searching for journal articles at the library and consulting no fewer than 6 books on the artist (3 of which I purchased), I threw up my hands and decided to simply identify which specific paintings appeared on the makeup, giving a little background on them where I could. I'll go over the makeup first and briefly review the artworks that are on each item, then attempt to wrap my head around the mammoth controversy surrounding the collection. Get ready for a lot of quotes - I think only around 100 of the nearly 4,000 words here are my own, since my writing and analysis just weren't up to par with those of real art historians and I figured it was best to leave the heavy lifting to the experts.
I was so glad to nab the highly coveted vault, which included the entire collection save for the makeup bags. I really wanted this bag since it had another artwork that wasn't featured on any of the vault items, but it sold out within minutes and I'm sure not paying $99 for it on ebay.
The outer packaging is adorned with the 1983 work Danny Rosen, while the inside features a reproduction of Untitled (The Return of the Central Figure) (1983). These same two works also appear on the lipsticks.
The inner lid of the vault box shows Gold Griot (1984), which is used for one of the eye shadow palettes.
Interestingly, the painting on the interior of the Gold Griot palette is a completely different work. Basquiat painted several pieces entitled Per Capita, and the one that appears on the inside of the palette is from 1982. Unfortunately I was unable to find a decent photo of it online or in any books - only this tiny picture here. Hmmph.
I love how the individual shade names refer to the titles of some of Basquiat's other pieces.
The blush palette depicts Untitled (Crown) from 1982.
The other eye shadow palette in the collection features Untitled (Tenant) from 1982.
Finally, we have the lipsticks.
Now here are the original artworks. But first, in case you aren't familiar with Basquiat and don't feel like googling, I found this bio to be succinct yet accurate. The immediacy and freshness of his style are still striking nearly 30 years after his untimely death, and I don't think the themes in his work - racism, capitalist greed, the hypocrisy of the art world, among others - will ever be irrelevant. Just a few weeks ago one of his pieces shattered auction records, selling for a cool $110.5 million - more than any American artist.
Let's start with Danny Rosen, titled after one of Basquiat's friends. Here's an excerpt from an excellent essay on this piece, which I encourage you to read in full: "On a monumentally scaled vertical canvas, Basquiat plays out his own excited narrative using a visual language all his own. Colorful, mask-like faces, cryptic symbols, words and cyphers mix with various anatomical details, vegetation and ethnographical heads jostle with more cartoon-like renditions of the human face. Words appear--and are crossed out for extra emphasis--and then placed innocuously next to objects to which they bear no relation. Basquiat's outpouring of imagery is held together by an exploratory train of green vegetation that winds up through the arrangement, acting as a compositional device and pulling all the various elements together into one harmonious whole...Simultaneously both figurative and abstract, Basquiat's imagery and brushwork formulate a painting that interweaves the human form with a staccato rhythm of signs that convey a sense of the mental hurly-burly of modern urban living. The untamed energy of Danny Rosen provides a window onto the frenetic pulse of Basquiat's life and links his past as a graffitist with his new status as an established artist, presenting us with a raw and vivid impression of the urban world he inhabited."
(image from christies.com)
Moving on to 1983's Untitled (Return of the Central Figure), I learned that this piece is actually a silkscreen print, part of a series of 12. The medium may have been Warhol's influence on Basquiat, who quickly saw the potential of silkscreen as it related to his depiction of various dichotomies. As Fred Hoffman writes in his essay for Basquiat (p. 130): "Having worked closely with the artist in the production of his editioned silkscreens as well as his first unique paintings utilizing silkscreen-generated imagery, I became acutely aware of the extent of Basquiat’s concern for incorporating the dichotomy between black and white into both the content and the strategies of his artistic production. A primary example is the artist’s fraught self-transformation from black to white in the untitled silkscreen on canvas of 1983: in the original artwork, the artist depicted a black head set on top of a ground of texts and images; but the silkscreen reverses the positive imagery and texts, turning everything originally depicted in black into white, and everything white into black. Basquiat throughout his career focused on other suggestive dichotomies, including wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience."
This work, I think, also is an excellent representation of how Basquiat essentially painted hip-hop. One of the best discussions I found on this was Franklin Sirmans' essay "In the Cypher: Basquiat and Hip-Hop Culture". "Basquiat's art - like the best hip-hop - takes apart and reassembles the work that came before it. That is to say, it dismantles its historical precedents by showing mastery over their techniques and styles, and put them to new uses, in which the new becomes the final product layered over the past...Basquiat's trademark lists of words spat in paint, visually stuttered, repeated and often crossed out, to be read as incantations with a pause for thought and breath: in other words, beats that control the flow of the composition." (p. 92-93) I'm normally drawn to more colorful art, but after reading that analysis I have to say my mind is blown looking at this.
The original was a collage of 28 drawings mounted on canvas.
Gold Griot is also notable for its medium (wooden planks instead of canvas) as well as the subject matter. Eric Fretz explains in Jean-Michel Basquiat: A Biography (p.118-119): "The 'griot' is a West African storyteller: not just an entertainer but an important and respected figure who keeps a family's history and a community's traditions alive through storytelling...sports figures and jazz musicians had served as metaphors for the position of a black artist in Basquiat's earlier work. He was now extending his references back to Africa and comparing his work to the griot tradition." However, I'm more inclined to agree with Marc Mayer's deeper analysis of the griot in Basquiat's work, which proposes that the artist was poking fun at the "primitive" tradition within Western art as well as the American perception of Africa. "But then there are his emaciated, scarified, and almost extraterrestrial griots - a term for West African bards. Chilling fetishes, they exploit an American fantasy of an unrecorded ur-Africa of fear and sorcery. Flexible (page 140), for example, which belongs to a series of similar pictures is a frightening scarecrow of a painting that, judging from the number of its variations, probably amused the artist to no end." (Basquiat, p. 45).
(image from wikiart.org)
Possibly the most recognized Basquiat motif is the crown. I discussed the meaning behind this in my previous post on the Addiction collection, but here's a succinct explanation, courtesy of Robert Farris Thompson in Jean-Michel Basquiat (p. 20): "This symbol comes straight out of the world of the graffiteros. When Mailer published 'The Faith of Graffiti' in 1974, the two most frequent names on the walls of New York City were 'King' and 'Cool.' Basquiat never lost that preoccupation with nobility. He wanted his stature properly appreciated as a kind of creative royalty. All of which runs parallel with other black Americans who in effect said, 'If you can't see the inherent nobility of our culture then, raising our assertion to a pitch, we will crown ourselves with an alternative hierarchy': thus Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lady Day, and Nat King Cole."
(image from the Brooklyn Museum)
Untitled (Tenant) was a tricky one to find. I didn't come across any decent photos of it online or in the books I looked through, so the best I could do was a screen shot taken from this 2011 documentary. Subject matter wise, I'm not exactly sure what it means, but my hunch is that it's one of the many figural "heroes" Basquiat was painting at the time. Dieter Buchhart explains in Basquiat: Now's the Time (p. 14-15): "Around , Basquiat began to differentiate his depictions, turning towards full-body portraits, primarily of African-American men. He represents these men as boxers, sufferers, saints, angels and fighters. Their halos seem to oscillate between glorioles, laurel wreaths and crowns of thorns, and their weapons stretch from fists, teeth, baseball bats, spears, arrows and swords to brooms, buckets of water and angels' wings...Basquiat's African American men are usually not only read to struggle but also intent on resistance." The raised hands appear frequently in Basquiat's work, simultaneously representing the more general struggle for equality and resistance to white dominance - his pictures of boxers for example, portray figures with conflicted, and as noted earlier, often dichotomous, meanings. Coupled with the title of this piece, I think it may show a black squatter in a vacant home caught off guard by (presumably) white police, especially after reading this analysis by scholar Nathan Brown in his spot-on essay "The Irony of Anatomy: Basquiat's Poetics of Black Positionality": "And indeed the ﬁgure is also powerfully consonant with contemporary struggles against anti-black racism, in which the gesture of raised hands, ‘Hands Up Don’t Shoot’, expresses a conversion of black positionality – the position of the putative criminal confronted by the cops – into black power: the assertive action of resistance against the persistence of white supremacy in civil society. This conversion of position into power expresses a scathing political irony directed against the physical imperatives of oppression, the bodily postures and submissive attitudes it demands thrown back with avenging anger." And while Untitled (Tenant) was painted a full year before graffiti artist Michael Stewart was beaten to death by NYC police, an event that shook Basquiat to his core, the figure's pose seems to suggest impending police brutality.
This last one, which appears on one of the lipsticks, was even harder to find. I didn't see any pictures of it online; fortunately one of the books I bought had it. Untitled (1982) consists of a disembodied head - another often-used motif for the artist - surrounded by various scribbles and shapes including the famous crown. Interestingly this one does not have any discernible text. Much has been written about Basquiat's heads, which in some cases like the one below, are partial skulls. This one particular though got my attention - why is this one wearing a bowtie? The row of buttons beneath perhaps suggest that he's wearing a tuxedo, which is also the title of a well-known work.
Hoffman's interpretation of 1982's Untitled (Head) can be applied to this work as well. "Close inspection reveals that this head, unlike a skull, is alive and responsive to external stimuli; as such, it seems alert to our world while simultaneously allowing us to penetrate its psycho-spiritual recesses...Untitled (Head) depicts the left upper and lower teeth, possibly accounting for the work’s misinterpretation as a skull by some. But Untitled (Head) clearly also depicts functioning facial features as well: the left ear, both eyes, and the nose...the artist also reveals less tangible aspects of the head, such as the subtle neural pathways connecting the sense organs to their internal processor. This concern for sensory and cognitive activity negates the interpretation of the head as an inanimate skull. What this work ultimately captures is the fluidity between external and internal—the complex, living processes connecting seeing, hearing, smelling, and knowing...Untitled (Head) indicates that, from the outset, Basquiat was fascinated by greater realities than meet the eye. This work introduces the unique X-ray-like vision he brought to his subjects. His work appears to break down the dichotomy between the external and the internal, intuiting and revealing the innermost aspects of psychic life. In so doing, the artist extends the concern for spiritual truths advanced most notably by the Abstract Expressionists four decades earlier." However, I also think given how crazily wide the eyes are and the bared, partially red (bloody?) teeth, there's a sense of madness and/or monstrosity here too. The description in an essay for yet a different head-themed work, Head of Madman, is relevant for this piece. "Joining the pantheon of mad, deranged and overtly expressive figures engraved throughout the pages of art history, and their commanding visual references within popular culture, Head of Madman maintains a fine balance between control, spontaneity, menace and wit...Embarking on the grand tradition of illustrating extreme states of consciousness through artistic expression, Head of Madman captures the same emotional tension articulated in the Grotesque Heads of Leonardo da Vinci, the Black Paintings of Goya, Otto Dix's war-torn realism, Egon Schiele's erotically charged portraiture, and Francis Bacon's screaming Popes. And yet here, the artist seems to take his figure one step further. Slowly peeling away the skin of his forebears, Basquiat reveals a certain skeletal rawness, derived from the barrage of inner demons and personal struggles the artist was forced to cope with during his relatively short life...Head of Madman at once evokes Frankenstein's monster, coupled with an amalgamation of super villain traits, and combined with a certain mishmash of boldly heroic comic colors...Not irreducible to a single source of inspiration, Head of Madman is a unique infusion of history, biography and mass media imagery."
Now that I've briefly looked at the artworks, let's explore the controversies surrounding this collection. First up, was a collaboration with a brand like Urban Decay appropriate? On the surface, it would seem like a perfect fit given the grittiness of some of Basquiat's work and Urban Decay's mantra of "beauty with an edge". Basquiat sought to change the art world and rebelled against the way it functioned, and one could argue that Urban Decay set out to shake up the beauty industry by trying to normalize non-traditional colors (remember the original "Does pink make you puke?" campaign from the '90s?) So it would seem that Basquiat and Urban Decay would be aligned in spirit. Says David Stark, president of the firm managing the licensing of Basquiat's work: "When we think about a program we try and figure out who the right fit would be and vehicles that would be a good platform for us to get our message out. Urban Decay is a company we’ve known for several years. It took us a little bit of time to craft the program we eventually developed with them, but we did feel that as a brand Urban Decay is edgy and had an element of artistry and felt like a good fit." But as ArtNet points out, "One of Urban Decay’s marketing taglines reads 'UD beauty junkies…Addiction has its perks,' a less than ideal message to set against the artist’s life and legacy considering that he died at age 27 from a heroin overdose." This is quite true, especially when looking at some of their product names like Freebase and Junkie (I admit I own the latter). Still, if Basquiat's work was going to appear on any makeup brand, Urban Decay is the natural choice by a mile. And perhaps the collab could even encourage Urban Decay to change some of their product names to non-offensive ones eventually.
The second questionable decision was the selection of model Ruby Rose to front the Urban Decay campaign. Some were dismayed that a white woman was being used to promote the collection, and I'm inclined to agree. Stark addressed the issue: "I’ve seen some of that criticism. It wasn’t that we chose her because she was white or black, she was already selected by Urban Decay to be the spokesperson for their brand. As far as looking at Jean-Michel as an individual, people would very often try to pigeonhole him and call him a black artist and Jean-Michel would say: 'I’m not a black artist, I’m an artist.' He would say a lot of the protagonists in his work are black figures, and he would say, 'I didn’t see a lot of black figures in paintings,' so he would have his own subversive angle towards these things. In terms of an agenda as a black person or a black artist, it’s hard to attribute that to him. Even though he grew up in a middle-class black family, his family was Caribbean. They didn’t have the African-American experience. His heritage was Haitian and Puerto Rican. He had a very multicultural background." Uhhhh...I'd argue Basquiat DID have the "African-American experience" - it's not like strangers looking at him could know where his family was from; all they saw was a black man. This is to say nothing of the incredibly prominent African-American cultural references and figures that comprise so much of Basquiat's work. Stark's comment makes me wonder if he ever actually looked at Basquiat's paintings. Also, I understand his point about Rose already being the brand's model, but in this day and age, where non-white models are still so underrepresented, it just makes more sense to have a woman of color for this collection. Writing for BET, Lainey Sidell says, "We get that Urban Decay didn't do anything outright 'wrong' with using its normal spokesmodel in this campaign, but it begs a wider, more comprehensive discussion. Are creatives really doing all they can to level the playing field for POC models? With this Basquiat campaign, the answer is looking like no. Our hope is, by continually bringing attention to such decisions, change will come." I understand using a model who was already under contract, but I think Urban Decay could have made an exception for the Basquiat collection - using a model of color wouldn't have hurt.
Finally, there's the continually difficult question that can never really have an answer: would Basquiat have approved of his work being used on makeup? Of course we'll never know, but I always like to explore the different sides. The artist's estate approached Urban Decay, not the other way around, so it's not like Urban Decay was chasing after them to make a buck. (I'm not sure how much that means, though, given what we've seen of Kahlo's estate, where it seems her niece is in fact after the sweet dinero.) Some say that Basquiat would be aghast at seeing his art slapped on makeup (or skateboards or dishes or watches) to make money, especially given the anti-consumerism, anti-commodification stance in his work and his own refusal to "sell out" as an artist. As writer Glenn O'Brien, who cast Basquiat in his 1981 film Downtown 81 remembers in Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now's The Time (p.178): "He wanted the big money, but that's because the big money was about respect. He wasn't in it for the money. He was in it for the audience." But O'Brien also points out that Basquiat was committed to making art accessible. "He didn't make work for collectors, dealers, curators or critics. He painted for the public. He didn't paint for those who would hold title to his pieces, but for all those who would see them." (p. 180, emphasis mine). What's better than the average person being able to hang a Basquiat on their wall at a price that's even lower than a print? Urban Decay made sure people could enjoy simply looking at the art in addition to the makeup by including cut-outs on the back of the palettes.
I'd also argue that Basquiat would be tickled at the wide appeal of his art and that it actually appeared on a makeup line that proved to be a quite lucrative deal. O'Brien once again: "I wish he could see his shows now - how they draw the crowds - and I know he'd like his prices. I remember him laughing at a painting he sold at the Fun Gallery show that he'd made in ten minutes. He had figured out his hourly rate was something like $15,000." To see millions of dollars being made off of his work appearing on makeup, I think, would have been greatly amusing to the artist.
At the end of the day, and this is probably my own bias since, you know, I've been running an online makeup museum featuring artist collabs for nearly 9 years, I'm all for makeup featuring artists because it helps spread their work to a wider audience. Even though I questioned Stark's other comments, I fully agree with his perspective on sharing art via makeup packaging: "We like the idea of introducing Basquiat to a new audience and a new generation. This is a way for us to get out in a very public way and engage people with his art and hopefully get them to do a little research and learn something about Basquiat. The other thing is, there are plenty of people, when it comes to beauty, who are not necessarily the museum-going audience. There may be a consumer from Urban Decay who never steps foot in a museum and this is a subversive way of getting Basquiat into different people’s eyeballs that they wouldn’t necessarily see otherwise. Basquiat was a great communicator and this is a way for that art to get out and communicate on a different plane." Again, I'm biased and obviously Stark is too, as the president of a company that makes money off of these types of collaborations, but I'm absolutely on board with this sentiment.
Okay, that was long! If you read my shallow ramblings this far, what are your thoughts? I don't think I did Basquiat justice, but I'm pleased I could at least identify all the works in the collection and aggregate some good analyses from people more adept than I am at writing about art.
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.
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.
(images from paipai.mx)
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.
(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.
(image from fridakahlo.org)
(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.
(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.)
(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!
I thought for sure Addiction's spring 2017 compacts featuring the work of Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) would be unattainable, as they were only available as a gift with purchase in Japan. Fortunately a seller I frequent was able to get both for me! I had heard of af Klint before and was intrigued by her work since I have a soft spot for colorful abstraction, but this collection made me admire it even more. I really have no idea how the collaboration came about as the description at Addiction's website is pretty vague: "We learned that a woman had painted these magnificent paintings at the beginning of the 20th century and wanted to know more about her." In any case I really enjoyed learning about af Klint and I hope you do too.
Much has been written about the artist, although that's a recent development due partially to the fact that af Klint stipulated that a group of her most significant paintings not be revealed to the public until 20 years after her death, fearing that they wouldn't be understood. In fact, it took even longer for her work to be recognized; it wasn't until a major exhibition in 1986 that her name was on the art history map, so to speak, and I'm guessing this was also due to the patriarchy at work. I don't want to spend much time reviewing her entire oeuvre, since I am not an expert and also because af Klint was a prolific artist, producing over 1,000 works (!) in her lifetime. I'll provide a brief bio and then focus on the paintings reproduced on the Addiction compacts. (Sources are linked throughout.)
Af Klint was born in 1862 and entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm in 1882. This was a rarity for the time, as the art schools in most European countries allowed only men. While producing the usual landscapes, botanical and animal drawings - af Klint was a vegetarian and animal-lover who worked as a draughtswoman at a local veterinary school - she had started experimenting with abstract designs before she graduated in 1887. Af Klint, along with her contemporary Edward Munch (who, incidentally, once had a show in a gallery in the same building as her studio) were inspired by recent scientific developments involving phenomena unable to be perceived with the naked eye. Hettie Judah at The Independent explains: "This was a period in which the 'unseen' world exerted a growing fascination – not only the emotional, experiential world of the human spirit explored by Munch, but the discovery of physical forces and elementary particles that formed the known world on a microscopic level. In the late 1880s Heinrich Hertz proved the existence of electromagnetic waves: in 1895 Wilhelm Roentgen discovered X-rays. A vision of the world pulsing with forces and transmissions invisible to the naked eye was emerging." Af Klint's interest in abstraction was also influenced by her spirituality - having attended seances since the age of 17, she was greatly intrigued by the spiritual realm, and the death of her 10-year-old sister in 1880 only intensified her interest in the occult. In 1896 she formed a group with 4 other like-minded women artists and together called themselves The Five. Roughly 30 years before the Surrealists, these women tried their hand at automatic drawing and writing. Talk about being ahead of the times! During one session in either 1904 1905 af Klint was "commissioned" by Amaliel, one of several spirits she claimed communicated with her, to create an extensive collection that would become known as The Paintings for the Temple. In af Klint's words, the spirit guided her to "execute paintings on the astral plane" to represent the "immortal aspects of man." Completed between 1906 and 1915, the collection of 193 large-scale paintings were divided into several thematic series that "convey[ed] the unity of all existence beyond the fractured duality of the modern world. Different series within The Paintings for the Temple relate to the creation, man’s progress through life, evolution, and the human soul as divided into masculine and feminine halves striving for unity." It was this collection that af Klint stipulated could not be shown until 20 years after her death, a decision influenced by the opinion of a prominent Swiss philosopher who visited af Klint in 1908 and speculated it would be at least another 50 years until people understood her art.
Anyway, The Ten Largest is the second series in the collection and was completed between August and December of 1907, quite a feat given their enormous size (10 feet tall) and af Klint's petite stature (5 feet). The Ten Largest traces the human life cycle in 4 stages - childhood, youth, adulthood, old age - and the two paintings chosen for the compacts are No. 1, Childhood, Group IV and No. 5, Adulthood, Group IV. Why Addiction selected these two in particular I don't know, but they do look lovely on the compacts.
Interestingly, af Klint noted that she wasn't all that aware of what she was painting, taking on the role of a receiver or medium. She explained, "The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings and with great force. I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict; nevertheless, I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brushstroke."
There's something so beautifully organic about these - they appear to be idealized representations of cells, flowers and other natural elements. I'll let the Royal Academy Magazine give a much better description: "Snail-shell spirals, concentric circles and zygote-like forms nestle amongst coiled fronds and splayed petals (she also produced intricate botanical drawings), all dancing against radiant tempera backgrounds from terracotta orange to faded lilac. Forms bulge, overlap, conjoin in what an eye informed by contemporary science might liken to celestial bodies or cell mitosis; they are extraordinary pictures, immense and ecstatic." The 26,000 pages (holy crap) of notebooks af Klint kept provide some clues as to the meaning of various colors and motifs. Blue and lilies symbolized femininity, yellow and roses stood for masculinity, and green was a universal color. The letter "U" designated the spiritual realm, while "W" denoted physical matter, and spirals symbolized evolution. This underscores that there was nothing passive about her process; in fact, she essentially studied her own work over the years, an example of which is a 1,200 page notebook that further analyzed the meaning of the images she had painted.
Here's the original so you can see how it's actually oriented - Addiction re-situated the paintings horizontally to better fit on the compacts.
(image from anothermag.com)
(image from arteidolia.com)
Here are some of the eyeshadows. I have 4 of them but couldn't bear to take the plastic off, so I hope you'll forgive me for the tiny stock photos. I can absolutely see how the colors are inspired by af Klint. I guess they couldn't use the real names of the paintings, so some of them, like Flower Evolution, are merely reminiscent of af Klint's themes.
(images from addiction-beauty.com)
I'm really glad Addiction is helping to bring af Klint to a wider audience because for so long she didn't get the recognition she deserved. Five years before Kandinsky declared to have painted the first abstract work, af Klint was completing Primordial Chaos, the first collection in her monumental series. Some art critics claim that af Klint's paintings were merely diagrams of the spiritual world or depictions of scientific concepts we can't see, not true abstraction (or at least, a different form of the genre). That sounds plausible, but given that in 1970 the then-Director of Sweden's Moderna Museet turned down the offer of af Klint's entire estate because of her relationship to spiritualism and a more recent incident at MoMA in which af Klint's work was left out of an exhibition on early abstraction per the argument that it wasn't actually art, I'd say there's definitely sexism at work here. When you consider that Kandinsky, Mondrian, Malevich, etc. all drew inspiration from spiritualism and are heralded as the pioneers of abstraction, leaving af Klint out of the conversation seems blatantly sexist. When male artists borrowed spiritualist principles they were geniuses but when a woman did she was written off as a kook - not a real artist, just some crazy lady who happened to draw and paint a lot. Perhaps there's also an unconscious bias over the fact that af Klint subscribed to theosophy, an area of spiritualist belief that was founded by a woman and is notable for being the first European religious organization that actively welcomed women and allowed them to have senior positions. Additionally, the lack of renown could be the result of societal conditioning; women simply weren't encouraged to be at the forefront of art. Af Klint was no exception - as noted earlier, she worked largely in isolation and didn't participate in the avant-garde discussions going on in the rest of Europe. As Jennifer Higgie writes in Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen (p.16): "[...It's] irrefutable that although women artists were tolerated, they were rarely, if ever, encouraged to express the kind of radical ideas that marked their male contemporaries as innovators...even though af Klint was one of the earliest Western artists to wholeheartedly engage with abstraction, the most visible discussions of it as a viable new artistic language were conducted by men, all of whom were proficient at self-promotion." (Kandinsky was particularly known for puffing himself up.) In any case, I think these issues make it all the more important to acknowledge her work. Even if they're not "truly" abstract, af Klint's paintings are still vital to understanding the evolution of modern Western art. And when you consider the fact that she was producing these pieces in an atmosphere not exactly hospitable to women artists, it makes her accomplishments even more mind-boggling. Adrian Searle at The Guardian agrees: "Too often for it to be an accident, Af Klint had an innate sense of how to make a painting, often with no artistic models to turn to. Her best paintings are airy, their forms and geometries delivered with an evident pleasure and openness...The scale and frontality and freshness of her work still stand up, in a way that many Kandinskys don't. Yet looking at photographic portraits of the artist, we see a stern woman who was far from cosmopolitan, and in whom there are few outward signs of emancipation. For a woman to be an artist at all in Sweden in the early 20th century was difficult enough. To be an artist who believed as she did must have made matters even more difficult."
Anyway, I'm still trying to figure out how Addiction got the rights to use af Klint's work on the compacts. Having a collection inspired by an artist's work is one thing, but actual reproductions are trickier legally. There is a Hilma af Klint Foundation governed by her family members, so possibly they granted the rights to Addiction, but that would be a huge feat for the company to pull off since the guardians of af Klint's estate protect the use of her work rather fiercely. And of course there's the age-old question of whether a deceased artist would approve of their work being used this way. I really can't say in the case of Klint. On the one hand she seems like someone who wouldn't be interested in makeup - given that her life's work consisted of representing tremendously complex philosophical and spiritual ideas, she may have perceived cosmetics as frivolous. On the other hand, this may also mean she'd be okay with people enjoying her art in whatever format it appeared. Says Iris Müller-Westermann, Director of Moderna Museet Malmö, "This was really an artist who dared to think beyond her time, to step out of what was commonly accepted...she had visions about bigger contexts where it was not about making money or being very famous, but about doing something much more humble: trying to understand the world and who we are in it." Af Klint also seemed to believe that women should be equal, and part and parcel of equality is being able to express ourselves however we choose. I'm not able to paint on a canvas but I can get creative with makeup. I think af Klint would have appreciated that.
Overall I'm delighted with this collaboration. I am possibly the least spiritual person I know, but looking at af Klint's work I feel simultaneously curious about our place in the universe and incredibly at peace. I can only imagine how I'd react if I saw these in person; an anecdote from the blockbuster 2013 af Klint exhibition notes that many visitors cried when faced with af Klint's monumental works but couldn't explain why, something that's happened to me when standing in front of certain works of art. As for the Addiction collection, the colors and textures make me want to try to "paint the unseen" - just like af Klint but using my eyelids as a canvas!
What do you think? Had you heard of af Klint before now?
"At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can." - Frida Kahlo
I became obsessed with tracking down a collection of nail polishes and lipsticks featuring Frida Kahlo after Karen at Makeup and Beauty Blog posted about them back in December. After having no luck finding them in Baltimore, on December 23, 2016, while visiting my family in Pennsylvania, I was granted an early Christmas miracle and came across them at a CVS near my sister's house. Needless to say I was over the moon, since this collection is exactly the kind of thing the Museum was meant for. While I still haven't been able to get my hands on all of the designs, I'm happy with what I did find. :)
I've said before with other major artists that it's beyond the scope of my humble little blog to write a very long essay about the artist's work/biography, especially given the staggering amount of resources on Kahlo - everything from films to exhibitions on her fashion and personal possessions to her diary have been made available - but I at least want to give a brief summary for those not so familiar with her. Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) was a Mexican artist who is best known for her self-portraits, which expressed her tumultuous life and impassioned personality. "I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best," one of her most famous quotes explains. To say that she had not been dealt an easy hand in life would be an understatement. After surviving polio at the age of 6, at 18 she suffered a terrible bus accident that nearly killed her and left her in constant pain for the rest of her life despite over a dozen surgeries to help her heal. This is to say nothing of her turbulent marriage to (and subsequent divorce from and remarriage to) fellow artist Diego Rivera, or the fact that she badly desired children and ended up with 3 near-fatal miscarriages instead. While Kahlo's paintings are a direct reflection of the trauma she endured, I also believe she channeled her emotional and physical pain into her art rather than letting it consume her spirit. In looking at her paintings, you clearly see her pain but also fierce will and determination to keep going. She was a fighter who approached everything in life with a ferocious intensity, which is especially apparent in some personal details. For example, towards the end of her life she was bedridden from chronic pain but attended the opening of her first solo exhibition, arriving in an ambulance. And I love this photo of her in bed, still painting away.
In the year before her death, she also lost of most of her right leg to gangrene yet created a work of art from her prosthetic.
(image from collectorsweekly.com)
It's these incredible displays of strength, I think, that make Kahlo such a fascinating and enduring icon.
Now let's get to the beauty collection, shall we? I wasn't familiar with Republic Nail before now, but it looks like they released this collection sometime in the summer of 2016. I was only able to find 5 of the 12 designs, but I figured I'd discuss each one anyway and compare the designs to Kahlo's work and photos. First up are the ones that I was able to buy.
I'm fairly certain the image of Kahlo comes from this 1939 photo taken by fashion/commercial photographer Nickolas Muray, Kahlo's lover and close friend, who photographed over 40 portraits of the artist. "Viva La Vida" is a title of one of Kahlo's paintings.
(image from nickolasmuray.com)
This design also borrows a portrait of Kahlo by Muray but combines one of her best-known works.
(image from nickolasmuray.com)
Besides the above design, others in the Republic Nail collection feature images of hummingbirds, most likely inspired from this 1940 self-portrait. Hayden Herrera, one of the most prominent Kahlo scholars, explores the possible meanings behind the painting's hummingbird in her excellent book Frida Kahlo: The Paintings: "Hanging from the thorn necklace is a dead hummingbird, whose outstretched wings echo Frida's joined eyebrows. The bird must point to Frida's feeling of being cut down in flight or to her rejection by Diego: in Mexican folk tradition dead hummingbirds were used as charms to bring luck in love. In Aztec mythology the hummingbird symbolized reincarnation - the spirits of dead warriors returned in the form of hummingbirds. In Christian symbolism birds in general stand for the winged soul. Given the religious atmosphere of this painting, in which Frida looks as solemn as a Pantocrator, the bird might also refer to the Holy Ghost." (p. 142). Interesingly, other artists such as Ashley Longshore (whom I featured at the Museum for Clé de Peau's holiday 2016 collection), have also depicted Kahlo with hummingbirds.
This design is a copy of Kahlo's "Wounded Deer" from 1946.
There's a lot going on in this painting and I'm too lazy to rehash it all, so if you're curious you can check out a good explanation here.
More hummingbirds (I think).
As far as I know Kahlo never painted herself in Day of the Dead makeup; however, sugar skulls and skeletons figured prominently in her work. During her recovery from the bus accident in 1925, "she dressed papier-mache skeletons in her own clothes and hung them from her bed's canopy so that they jostled in the wind. One of her favorite possessions was a sugar skull of the type that children eat on the Day of the Dead. Frida ordered the skull to be made with her own name written in bold letters on its forehead." (Herrera, p. 36)
Physically Kahlo never fully recovered from the accident, and suffered numerous other ailments afterwards. Death never seemed far away, hence the frequent references to it in her work.
The sugar skull with her name on it makes an appearance in this very sad work from 1945.
While the sugar skull design on the polish refers to Kahlo's more macabre works, I liked the inclusion of the hand-shaped earrings. These were a gift to Kahlo from Picasso. She wore them frequently, even for two of her self-portraits. They appear in black on the Republic Nail items, but they look to be ivory or shell in Kahlo's versions. (There are tons of imitations available for sale too, if you're so inclined.)
(image from nickolasmuray.com)
Here's the other portrait with the earrings. I found this in another book I purchased for research for this post, Martha Zamora's highly acclaimed Frida Kahlo: The Brush of Anguish.
Now for the Republic Nail items I couldn't find. I'm only showing the nail polishes here but the same designs appeared on lipstick cases.
These four aren't quite so inspired, just more of the same motifs we've seen. I do appreciate the little monkey on the cap of the polish second from the left below. Kahlo liked monkeys, keeping them as surrogate children (along with a host of other animals) and incorporating them into her portraits.
Another animal she was fond of was the parrot. The one on the nail polish looks similar to one that appears in a 1951 still life.
The design on this one refers to a painting from 1944, one of the more devastating representations of Kahlo's physical trauma.
The Broken Column was painted during a 5-month period when Kahlo was encased in a steel corset to heal her back. She wrote to her doctor, "I got a little better with the corset but now I feel just as sick again, and I am now very desperate because I do not see anything that improves the condition of my spine." (Herrera, p. 182) Unable to move and in pain, she stares out at the viewer tearfully yet stoically. The painting also includes clear sexual overtones given that the artist depicts herself topless and penetrated by a rather phallic column.
The banner wrapped around the column on the nail polish bottle's design appeared in several works, such as this wedding portrait. The inscription on the banner reads, "Here you see us, me Frida Kahlo, with my beloved husband Diego Rivera. I painted these portraits in the beautiful city of San Francisco California for our friend Mr. Albert Bender, and it was in the month of April of the year 1931."
The banner also appeared in the 1940 self-portrait with the hand earrings shown above, along with this rather disturbing work.
Finally, we have a heart pierced with a sword. As with the previous depiction of Kahlo in Day of the Dead makeup, I don't think this specific motif ever appeared in her paintings, but there were a few featuring hearts.
Or perhaps it's a reference to Memory, the Heart:
Naturally I was curious to know how Republic Nail was able to use these images. I did a little digging and saw that the designs are licensed by a company called Ask Art Agency through the Frida Kahlo Corporation. I don't understand the exact legal ins and outs, but I guess once the corporation grants a company the rights to use Kahlo's works, they can design whatever they want. The same designs from the Republic Nail line were also used for a line of phone cases produced by Ask Art Agency, and Korean cosmetics company Missha has just debuted 4 cushion compacts with similar designs. Given that the tag line "Pasión Por La Vida" is featured on the cases and at Ask Art Agency's website section on their Kahlo license, I'm assuming they're also behind the Missha collection.
(images from vutydesign.com)
The Frida Kahlo Corporation, meanwhile, seems very eager to grant licenses to use Kahlo's likeness and paintings. Founded by Kahlo's niece, the corporation has issued licenses for the artist's work to appear on everything from sneakers to planners to an upcoming line of hotels. The company's Twitter feed, with the constant references to Frida Kahlo branded tequila and other items, makes me think it's a rather unscrupulous money grab forged by greedy relatives. Indeed, while many Frida fans were overjoyed to see her images used for a beauty collection, there were a handful of killjoys detractors on Twitter lamenting the "crass" nature of putting Kahlo's work on cosmetics, especially seeing as how Kahlo was a communist. Having said all this, my personal opinion, and this is obviously pure speculation, is that Kahlo would have been delighted to see her paintings and likeness on this particular beauty collection. For starters, Republic Nail is a Mexico-based company, which I think Kahlo would be pleased to support. As for the anti-capitalist sentiment, Republic Nail is an affordable drugstore line, which at least aligns better with Kahlo's communist politics than a high-end department store line. Finally, Kahlo herself enjoyed beauty products, as evidenced by these nail polishes that were revealed when her wardrobe was finally able to be opened to the public, along with a lipstick-kissed love note to Muray.
I'm not sure how she would have felt about her face appearing on things like mouse pads, or even the Missha collection, but I think she would have been supportive of the Republic Nail lineup. The only thing I could see Kahlo questioning would be the particular images used - I could see her being very opinionated on which photos of her and which paintings should be included, as well as the color selection itself. I also think she might be adamant that her actual work appears rather than the amalgams created by the licensing company. They seemed to be prettied-up versions with none of the visceral edge that we associate with Kahlo, and for that they lose some of their impact. But I guess the original works may have been too gruesome/depressing for commercial use? Powerful though Kahlo's paintings are, they are admittedly difficult to look at, and I'm not sure if I'd want to be confronted with her suffering as I'm painting my nails. Using some original pieces by an artist, like, say, Andy Warhol is entirely different. So perhaps watered-down designs for Kahlo's works are a good thing since they celebrate her art and spirit but aren't too heavy...as you can see, I'm a bit conflicted. On the one hand I think Kahlo would have liked to see her work being used on items that help women express themselves, and I'm happy to see a beauty collection pay homage to her. (This opens up the bigger issue of artists putting their work on everyday items, which I discussed in my Shu/Murakami post a while back - I'm firmly of the opinion that these collaborations are worthwhile overall since it allows one to have a little taste of the artist's work if you can't afford the real thing.) On the other hand, I probably would have liked the collection more if they used more sophisticated designs rather than the somewhat bland ones used by the licensing agency, which remind me of old school tattoos. I also would have liked it more if they were restricted to one cosmetics company rather than being used by another brand - it would be more special if it was just a one-off collection.
What do you think about all this?