Makeup as Muse

Makeup as Muse: Gina Beavers

Gina Beavers monograph

Despite my art history background and general love of art, I am less than eloquent when writing about it.  Nevertheless I will continue soldiering forward with the Museum's Makeup as Muse series, the latest installment of which focuses on the work of Gina Beavers in honor of her recent show at Marianne Boesky Gallery. Beavers' practice encompasses a variety of themes, but it's her paintings of makeup tutorials that I'll be exploring.  Since I'm both tired and lazy this will be more of a summary of her work rather than offering any fresh insight and I'll be quoting the artist extensively along with some writers who have covered her art, so most of this will not be my own words.

Born in Athens and raised in Europe, Beavers is fascinated by the excess and consumerism of both American culture and social media. "I don't know how to talk about this existence without talking about consumption, and so I think that's the element in consuming other people's images. That's where that's embedded. We have to start with consumption if we're going to talk about who we are. That's the bedrock—especially as an American," she saysThe purchase of a smart phone in 2010 is when Beavers' work began focusing on social media.  "[Pre-smart phone] I would see things in the world and paint them! Post-smartphone my attention and observation seemed to go into my phone, into looking at and participating in social media apps, and all of the things that would arise there...Historically, painters have drawn inspiration from their world, for me it's just that a lot of my world is virtual [now]." 


But why makeup, and specifically, makeup tutorials?  There seem to be two main themes running through the artist's focus on these online instructions, the first being the relationship between painting and makeup.  Beavers explains:  "When I started with these paintings I was really thinking that this painting is looking at you while it is painting itself. It’s drawing and painting: it has pencils, it has brushes, and it’s trying to make itself appealing to the viewer. It’s about that parallel between a painting and what you expect from it as well as desire and attraction. It’s also interesting because the terms that makeup artists use on social media are painting terms. The way they talk about brushes or pigments sounds like painters talking shop."  Makeup application as traditional painting is a theme that goes back centuries, but Beavers's work represents a fresh take on it.  As Ellen Blumenstein wrote in an essay for Wall Street International: "Elements such as brushes, lipsticks or fingers, which are intended to reassure the viewers of the videos of the imitability of the make-up procedures, here allude to the active role of the painting – which does not just stare or make eyes at the viewer, but rather seems to paint itself with the accessories depicted – literally building a bridge extending out from the image...Beavers divests [the image] of its natural quality and uses painting as an analytical tool. The viewer is no longer looking at photographic tableaus composed of freeze-frames taken from make-up tutorials, but rather paintings about make-up tutorials, which present the aesthetic and formal parameters of this particular class of images, which exist exclusively on the net."  The conflation of makeup and painting can also be perceived as a rumination on authorship and original sources.  Beavers is remaking tutorials, but the tutorials themselves originated with individual bloggers and YouTubers.  And given the viral, democratic nature of the Internet, it's nearly impossible to tell who did a particular tutorial first and whether tutorials covering the same material - say, lip art depicting Van Gogh's "Starry Night"  - are direct copies of one artist's work or merely the phenomenon of many people having the same idea and sharing it online.  Sometimes the online audience cannot distinguish between authentic content and advertising; Beavers's "Burger Eye" (2015), for example, is actually not recreated from a tutorial at all but an Instagram ad for Burger King (and the makeup artist who was hired to create it remains, as far as I know, uncredited).

Gina Beavers, Smoky Eye Tutorial, 2014

Another theme is fashioning one's self through makeup, and how that self is projected online in multiple ways.  Beavers explains: "I am interested in the ways existing online is performative, and the tremendous lengths people go to in constructing their online selves. Meme-makers, face-painters, people who make their hair into sculptures, are really a frontier of a new creative world...It’s interesting, as make-up has gotten bigger and bigger, I’ve realized what an important role it plays in helping people construct a self, particularly in trans and drag communities. I don’t normally wear a lot of make-up myself, but I like the idea of the process of applying make-up standing in for the process of self-determination, the idea of ‘making yourself’."

Gina Beavers, Pink Ombre Lip, 2019

As for the artist's process, it's a laborious one. Beavers regularly combs Instagram, YouTube and other online sources and saves thousands of images on her phone. She then narrows down to a few based on both composition and the story they're trying to tell. "I'm arrested by images that have interesting formal qualities, color, composition but also a compelling narrative. I really like when an image is saying something that leaves me unsure of how it will translate to painting, like whether the meaning will change in the context of the history of painting," she says.  "I always felt drawn to photos that had an interesting composition, whether for its color or depth or organization. But in order for me to want to paint it, it also had to have interesting content, like the image was communicating some reality beyond its composition that I related to in my life or that I thought spoke in some interesting way about culture."  The act of painting for Beavers is physically demanding as well: she needs to start several series at the same time and go back and forth between paintings to allow the layers to dry.  They have to lay flat to dry so she often ends up painting on the floor, and her recent switch to an even heavier acrylic caused a bout of carpal tunnel syndrome. 

The artist at work, April 2020

But it's precisely the thick quality of the paint that return some of the tactile nature of makeup application.  This is not accidental; Beavers intentionally uses this technique as way to remind us of makeup's various textures and to ensure her paintings resemble paintings rather than a photorealistic recreation of the digital screen. "The depth of certain elements in the background of images has taught me a lot about seeing. I think I have learned that I enjoy setting up problems to solve, that it isn't enough for me to simply render a photo realistically, that I have to build up the acrylic deeply in order to interfere with the rendering of something too realistically," she explains.  Sharon Mizota, writing for the LA Times, says it best:  "Skin, lashes and lips are textured with rough, caked-on brushstrokes that mimic and exaggerate wrinkles and gloppy mascara. This treatment gives the subjects back some of the clunky physicality that the camera and the digital screen strip away. Beavers’ paintings, in some measure, undo the gloss of the photographic image."

Beavers also uses foam to further build up certain sections so that they bulge out towards the viewer, representing the desire to connect to others online.  "Much of what people do online is to try to create connection, to reach out and meet people or talk to people. That is what the surfaces of my painting do in a really literal way, they are reaching off the linen into the viewer’s space," she says.  This sculptural quality also points to the reality of the online world - it's not quite "real life" but it's not imaginary either, occupying a space in between.  Beavers expands on her painting style representing the online space: "It’s interesting because flatness often comes up with screens, and I think historically the screen might have been read like that, reflecting a more passive relationship. That has changed with the advent of engagement and social media. What’s behind our screen is a whole living, breathing world, one that gives as much as it takes. I mean it is certainly as 'real' as anything else. I see the dimension as a way to reflect that world and the ways that world is reaching out to make a connection. Another aspect is that once these works are finished, they end up circulating back in the same online world and now have this heightened dimensionality – they cast their own shadow. They’re not a real person, or burger, or whatever, but they’re not a photo of it either, they’re something in between."

Gina Beavers, Trying to Paint Laura Owens Untitled 1997 On My LIps, 2020

Let's dig a little more into what all this means in terms of makeup, the beauty industry and social media.  Beavers' work can be viewed as a simultaneous critique and celebration of all three.  Sharon Mizota again: "[The tutorial paintings] also pointedly mimic the act of putting on makeup, reminding us that it is something like sedimentation, built up layer by layer. There is no effortless glamour here, only sticky accretion.  That quality itself feels like an indictment — of the beauty industry, of restrictive gender roles. But an element of playfulness and admiration lives in Beavers’ work.  They speak of makeup as a site of creativity and self-transformation, and Instagram and other social media sites as democratizing forces in the spread of culture. To be sure, social media may be the spur for increasingly outré acts, which are often a form of bragging, but why shouldn’t a hamburger eye be as popular as a smoky eye? In translating these photographs into something more physical, Beavers asks us to consider these questions and exposes the duality of the makeup industry: The same business that strives to make us insecure also enables us to reinvent ourselves, not just in the image of the beautiful as it’s already defined, but in images of our own devising."

Gina Beavers, Cleopatra Eye, 2015

This ambiguity is particularly apparent in Beavers's 2015 exhibition, entitled Ambitchous, which incorporated beauty Instagrammers and YouTubers' makeup renditions of Disney villains alongside "good" characters.  Blumenstein explains: "So it isn’t protagonists with positive connotations which are favoured by the artist, but unmistakably ambivalent characters who could undoubtedly lay claim to the neologism ambitchous, which is the name given to the exhibition. Like the original image material, this portmanteau of ‘ambitious’ and ‘bitchy’ is taken from social media and its creative vernacular, and is used, depending on the context, either in a derogatory fashion – for example for women who will do absolutely anything to get what they want – or positively re-interpreted as an expression of female self-affirmation.  Beavers also applies this playful and strategic complication of seemingly unambiguous contexts of meaning to the statements contained in her paintings. It remains utterly impossible to determine whether they are critically exaggerating the conformist and consumerist beauty ideals of neo-capitalism, or ascribing emancipatory potential to the conscious and confident use of make-up."

Gina Beavers, Cruella Eye, 2017

Gina Beavers, Beetlejuice Eye and Lip, 2017

More recently, Beavers has been using her own face as a canvas and making her own photos of them her source material, furthering her exploration of the self. "Staring at yourself or your lips for hours is pretty jarring. But I like it, because it creates this whole other level of self,” she says.

Gina Beavers, Painting Pollock, Kelly and Kline On My Lips, 2020

This shift also points to another dichotomy in Beavers's work: in recreating famous works of art on her face, she is both critiquing art history's traditional canon and appreciating it, referring to them as a sort of fan art.  "I think a lot of the works that I have made that reference art history—like whether it's Van Gogh or whoever it is—have a duality where I really respect the artist and I'm influenced by them, and at the same time I'm making it my own and poking a little fun. And so, a lot of these pieces originated with the idea of fan art. You'll find all sorts of Starry Night images online that people have painted or sculpted or painted on their body. It comes out of that. And I just started to reach a point where I was searching things like 'Franz Kline body art,' and I wasn’t finding that, so I had to make my own. Then it started to get a little bit geekier. I have a piece in the show where I am painting a Lee Bontecou on my cheek, that's a kind of art world geeky thing—you have to really love art to get it."

Gina Beavers, The Artist's Lips with Mondrian, Kelly and Rothko, 2020

Ultimately, Beavers perceives the intersection of makeup and social media as a force for good.  While the specter of misinformation is always lurking, YouTube tutorials and the like allow anyone with internet access to learn how to do a smoky eye or a flawlessly lined lip.  "I think for a lot of people social media is kind of like the weather. We don't have a lot of control of it, it just is. It gives and it takes away. There's no doubt that it has connected people in ways that are great and productive, allowing people to find communities and organize activism, it can also be a huge distraction...I approach looking at images there pretty distantly, more as a neutral documentarian, and I come down on the side of seeing social media as an incredibly useful, democratic tool in a lot of ways," she concludes.

On the other side of social media, Beavers is interested on how content creators help disseminate the idea of makeup as representing something larger and more meaningful than traditional notions of beauty. "I was super fascinated with makeup and all of the kinds of costume makeup and things you can find online that go away from a traditional beauty makeup and go towards something really wild and cool...I also had certain paintings in [a 2016] show that were much more about costume makeup, that were going away from beauty. That’s the thing that gives me hope. When I go through makeup hashtags on Instagram, there will be ten or twenty beauty eye makeup images and then one that’s painted with horror makeup. There are women out there doing completely weird things, right next to alluring ones." In the pandemic age, as people's relationships with makeup are changing, "weird" makeup is actually becoming less strange. Beavers' emphasis on experimental makeup is more timely than ever.  I also think she's documenting the gradual way makeup is breaking free of the gender binary.  She says: "I mean with makeup, and the whole conversation around femininity and makeup—I think for a long time when I was making makeup images, there were people that just thought, 'Oh, that's not for me,' because it's about makeup, it's feminine. But it’s interesting, the culture is shifting. I just saw the other day that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did a whole Instagram live where she was putting on her makeup and talking about how empowering makeup is for trans communities...some people see make-up as restrictive or frivolous, but drag performers show how it can be liberating and life-saving."  Another point to consider in terms of gender is the close-up aspect of Beavers's paintings.  With individual features (eyes, lips, nails) separated from the rest of the face and body and removed from their original context, they're neither masculine nor feminine, thereby reiterating that makeup is for any (or no) gender.

Gina Beavers, Painting the DeKooning, 2020
(images from Gina Beavers's website and Instagram)

All I can say is, I love these paintings.  Stylistically, they're right up my alley - big, colorful and mimicking makeup's tactile nature so much that I have a similar reaction to them as I do when seeing makeup testers in a store: I just want to dip my hands in them and smear them everywhere! I also enjoy the multiple themes and levels in her work. Beavers isn't commenting just on makeup in the digital age, but also self-representation online, shifting attitudes towards makeup's meaning, the relationship between painting and makeup, and Western art history.

What do you think of Beavers's paintings?  If you like it I would highly recommend the monograph, which is lovely and fairly affordable at $40. 

Makeup as Muse: Claes Oldenburg

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!

Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, Claes Oldenburg

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? 

Claes Oldenburg - Lipsticks in Piccadilly Circus, London(image from

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

Coty lipstick ad, 1960s

Coty lipstick ad, 1960s
(images from and pinterest)

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

Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks drawing, Claes Oldenburg(image from

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.

installation photo of Oldenburg's Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, May 1969
(image from

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!

Oldenburg with Lipstick (Ascending) Caterpillar Tracks, 1969
(image from

Within just a week of installation, the vinyl tip was punctured and replaced with heavy-duty aluminum.

installation photo of Oldenburg's Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, May 1969(image from

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. 

Claes Oldenburg, Lipstick (Ascending) Caterpillar Tracks

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

model - Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks(image from

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."

Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, Claes Oldenburg(image from

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. 

Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, Claes Oldenburg

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!

Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, Claes Oldenburg
(images from

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

5 You can see more of the installation in this video around the 35-second mark.

Tiny Makeup as Muse: lipstick sculptures, continued

I'm roughly three years overdue with this installment of Makeup as Muse, but it's a summer Friday so I'm throwing caution to the wind and posting about these amazing micro sculptures by British artist Hedley Wiggan.  Unlike fellow lipstick sculptors May Sum and Theresa Nakhoul, Wiggan isn't really involved in the cosmetics industry, but can carve basically any material that's thrown at him. In 2015 he was commissioned by Heathrow Airport to replicate five iconic buildings from the world's major cities to celebrate Heathrow's first lipstick trend report.  According to HuffPo: "Thanks to its in-terminal retail shops, London Heathrow Airport boasts the largest range of beauty lines in Europe under one roof. The airport released a “Lipstick Colours Of The Year” report, using global sales data to determine the preferred shade of cities all over the world, like New York (classic red), Dubai (rose pink), and more. The report also provides tips to master the perfect lip and a brief history of lipstick."  Wiggan reproduced Dubai's Burj Khalifa, London's Big Ben, NYC's Statue of Liberty, Paris's Eiffel Tower, and Shanghai's Tower. 

Hedley Wiggan lipstick sculptures

I'm astonished at the detail on these.  Carving anything this size is obviously challenging, but lipstick is a totally different animal from other materials given their softer texture.  Says Wiggan, "[The process] was really difficult.  Lipstick is a different material altogether. I had to stick them in the fridge and had 10 minutes sculpting time.  I got some cheaper ones to practise on and I could tell the difference between cheap and expensive lipsticks."  Another reason to treat yourself to high-end lipstick!  I wonder how Pat McGrath's or Chanel's lipsticks would perform as sculptures.  :)

Hedley Wiggan - Burj Khalifa lipstick
(images from

Here's a pic to give you a better sense of the scale:

Model with Hedley Wiggan lipstick sculpture(image from

I also loved how the sculptures were displayed.  I think Heathrow did a nice job showing them in individual cases and putting photos of the actual buildings below.

Hedley Wiggan lipstick sculpture installation(image from themoodieblog)

The display also featured a much larger (2-story high!) lipstick sculpture of the Statue of Liberty.

Lipstick sculpture(image from

I'm so glad there's a video showing how he works.  It's amazing to watch.

So who is Hedley Wiggan and how did he get into art?  His initial experience is somewhat heartbreaking:  "At age 8 he entered an art competition, hand drawing a Tyrannosaurus Rex with just a graphite pencil, poster paper and a small stamp of the dinosaur to use as a model. A box of chocolate was the prize. The motivation for Hedley was to present the chocolate to a girl in his class for whom he had a deep affection. Hedley dreamed of winning her heart.  His confidence was quickly shattered when his teacher, who was the judge of the competition, immediately disqualified him in disbelief. He said, “You must have cheated and traced this entry.” If only the judge had known that Hedley had been drawing assignments for his friends in class.  Disheartened by this undeserved outcome, Hedley did not pick up a paintbrush and draw again until age 40 when he broke a pencil and noticed it looked like a hand."  In 2012 Wiggan attempted his first carving of an Olympic torch in honor of the London games, which required working around the clock for a full month while also managing his day job as a hospital technician.  His professional medical background came in handy:  "I tried at first with a scalpel but it was too big for the lead so I started using pins and needles and basically anything small enough that I could get my hands on," he says.  (He now uses his own hand-made tools to achieve the necessary precision, as well as a microscope.)  

Hedley Wiggan - Olympic torch

Wiggan wasn't met with much success at first.  "When I tell people what I do, they don't take me seriously, they look at me and think I am talking rubbish," Wiggan noted.  But with the tutelage of his older brother, who also creates micro sculptures, as well as his own hard work and determination, a mere 3 years later he had landed the Heathrow commission and received global attention after making a sculpture of One Direction's Harry Styles.  That same year he also had his own exhibition in Paris.

Hedley Wiggan - Harry Styles lipstick sculpture
(image from

While Wiggan doesn't consider himself strictly a "micro sculptor" - he also paints - his miniature sculptures are probably what he's best known for.  In addition to lipstick, pencil tips and tiny glass jars serve as the foundation for these mini masterpieces. Wiggan cites Dali, Manet and Da Vinci as his favorite artists and draws on a variety of subject matter, from celebrities and fictional superheroes to historical figures and mythical beings. 

Hedley Wiggan superheroes pencil sculptures

Hedley Wiggan - Prince guitar

Hedley Wiggan - Shakespeare and Dickens


Hedley Wiggan - fairy sculpture(images from

I adore the lipstick sculptures, but my inner mermaid is enamored of Wiggan's shark teeth sculptures that were commissioned by London's Sea Life Aquarium in 2015.  The display was meant to attract visitors and increase awarness for ocean conservation.   Says Wiggan, "I was very excited […] at the chance to work on such a great project as it was for a great cause, and I also love all marine creatures.  I hope that the sculptures will educate visitors to the Sea Life center and teach them the real beauty that surrounds us all.  We [must] treat all creatures with the respect they so rightly deserve.”

Hedley Wiggan - shark tooth sculpture

Hedley Wiggan - shark tooth sculpture

Hedley Wiggan - shark tooth sculpture(images from

However painstaking these are to make, Wiggan finds that the enormous amount of concentration required is akin to meditation; he genuinely enjoys creating his art and is pleased that people are enjoying it in turn, even though he's not sure exactly what they find so appealing about it. "I feel like art chose me. I find it so relaxing and it makes you more aware of things. You just take so much in...I feel really blessed that people like my work.  I think my art has tapped in to something — I am not sure what that is, but it is going well."  I just wish he'd get back to lipsticks...I wonder how much it would cost to have a mermaid lipstick sculpture!

What do you think?  Which of these is your favorite?


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

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

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

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

Michelle Murphy, Purple Rain Palette Maze

Michelle Murphy, Bronzer Sunscape

Michelle Murphy, 100 lipstick gradient 1 lipstick color

Michelle Murphy, Eyeshadow: out n back again

Michelle Murphy, Split Shadow Chevron

Michelle Murphy, Viscosity Test

Michelle Murphy, Amorphous

Michelle Murphy, Turbulence

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

Michelle Murphy, OP Lipstick (after Bridget Riley)

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

Michelle Murphy, Nature Modification

Michelle Murphy, Pinecone Brow

Michelle Murphy, Slate Manicure

Michelle Murphy

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

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

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

What do you think?





Makeup as Muse: the mother of makeup art

Baltimore's City Paper is shutting down, but before they go I was delighted to see this article on a local artist who paints with makeup.  Gloria Garrett calls herself the "mother of makeup art", which I think makes her the ultimate Makeup as Muse.  By complete coincidence, she also happens to live roughly a mile away from me on the same street!  Smalltimore indeed.

Garrett, a 57-year-old artist and mother of three daughters, is entirely self-taught and creates, as she says, "folk art for the folks."  Garrett worked for the National Security Agency for most of her life, but was always drawing on the side - primarily black and white drawings made with pen.  It wasn't until 2005, following the tragic murder of her 18-year-old nephew, that she started painting in color.  From the City Paper profile:  "'I said, 'God, please let me have color in my life,' she says. And then she dreamed that God said she was going to be a painter, but she's allergic to paint. Then her mother gave her some makeup, and a light went off in her head."  Garrett began showcasing her work at farmer's markets for donations.  She would allow people to take her pictures and pay whatever they thought was fair.  Later she turned to YouTube to not only help promote her work but also highlight the work of other area artists and provide tips on marketing.  She also shares videos of her travels and her experiences within the Baltimore art scene.  I love this one, which shows her painting on the steps of the American Visionary Art Museum (a must-see if you're ever in town).  I also love that her photographer husband shoots all of her videos.  Hooray for supportive spouses!

Thematically, Garrett's works range from family life and religious scenes to still lifes and depictions of Africa. 

Gloria Garrett, Parasol, 2007

Gloria Garrett, Three Sisters, 2014

Gloria Garrett, Calling All Angels, 2014

Gloria Garrett, African Market, 2013

I had my eye on one of these two paintings, as they are relatively affordable.  Alas, when I wrote to her to find out what kind of cosmetics she used (looks like mostly eye shadow, foundation and lipstick to me), my email bounced back.  I am so sad since I also offered to donate some very lightly used makeup and brushes I'm no longer using and asked for a mailing address where I could send a box of items.  I also wanted to see whether she'd be interested in doing a commissioned piece...I was thinking if I sent her a photo of my vanity, perhaps she could make a painting of it with makeup.

Gloria Garrett, Mother and Child in Park, 2013

Gloria Garrett, Friendship Flowers, 2014
(images from

Garrett has adopted a fairly loose application technique in that she often applies makeup straight from the package/tube and uses a variety of simple tools.  Everything from her hands to plastic forks is fair game.  In 2014 she discovered lip gloss, which she likes to add to her paintings on occasion to "give them a shine".  According to City Paper, "She uses rouge, base, eyeliner, crayons—even nail polish. When she paints, she starts putting materials together around 10 p.m. and gets going by midnight. 'And I'm usually not done 'til 10 the next morning!' she shouts, smiling. 'I put my makeup in front of me, my Wite-Out, my crayons, and God works through me.'  She spends hours on the backgrounds, she says, and moves to the faces last: 'I do the face. I put the Wite-Out over it, I say I don't like it, and I do it again. And again. And again!'"  This process of crossing things out and repetition sounds a bit like Basquiat, no?  However, the finished product, stylistically, reminds me a little of various early 20th century artists but with a folk art vibe.  The flowers look a little like some of Emil Nolde's floral paintings, while the figural ones resemble Chagall or Matisse.

To sum up, I'm thrilled that one of the first artists to ever create paintings with makeup is a Baltimore native.  I find Garrett's work to be absolutely charming and unique - her folk art style is very different from that of other artists we've seen who use beauty products as their medium.  And I'm so happy to see that she was able to turn to cosmetics to create the colorful art she wanted to make when faced with the challenge of being allergic to paint.  Makeup saves the day!  I'm just sad I can't get in touch to ask her more specific questions about her artistic process, as my emails keep bouncing back and I also can't find a mailing address to donate some items.  (Garrett is on Facebook but I am not, so that route is out, and there is a phone number listed on her website but my anxiety prohibits me from attempting a call - the phone is way more intimidating for me than email).

What do you think? 


Makeup as Muse: creative recycling

I had actually been working on a particular artist for the next Makeup as Muse for months - her work is pretty involved - but when the maker of this robot tweeted at me a few weeks ago I decided to hold off a little longer on my original installment and feature his creation instead. Meet Yslabelle (pronounced ees-la-bell), a functioning robot made entirely of repurposed YSL makeup packaging!


Standing roughly 6'6" tall (2 meters), Yslabelle was made from hundreds of boxes and her sword from the Shock mascara and Touche Eclat tubes.  Gathering the materials took 14 months.  I was in awe when I thought Yslabelle was simply a stationary robot statue, but as it turns out, her head is motorized so there's also some movement there.  This is particularly mind-blowing to me given that I can't figure out how to hook up the attachments to our vacuum cleaner.  Seriously though, I was never gifted at science/math/generally understanding how things work so I've never been all that interested in robots; however, my brother-in-law is a roboticist for Boston Dynamics, so that, combined with my own inability to comprehend anything mechanical, has made me appreciate the art of crafting robots a little more. 

IMG_1963-1(images from

Yslabelle was made by Cyberigs Robots, a collective founded in 2015 by Mark Swannell to develop a collection for Robotazia.  From what I can tell, Robotazia is a permanent exhibition of sci-fi themed robots somewhere in the U.K. that will be open to visitors sometime this year.  I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but I love the idea of all these different roboticists coming together to build cool new robots and repair old ones for the exhibition.  Apparently you'll even be able to grab a snack at the "robo-bistro." 

I have to say that this is a marvelous use of old makeup packaging, and it got me thinking about why more companies still don't offer recycling.  LUSH, Zoya and MAC are the only companies I can think of off the top of my head that have official recycling programs.  Yslabelle also makes me wonder what, if anything, we consumers can do about it besides writing letters and signing petitions encouraging companies to recycle (and as I've said previously, I don't think the entire burden should be on consumers).  As we've seen with other Makeup as Muse posts, beauty packaging can be quite wasteful and it's not always easy to properly dispose of or repurpose it.  I always put the outer paper boxes into our recycling bin, but this still doesn't help the bigger issue of the inner packaging like plastic/metal containers and tubes.  Then of course, there's some completely superfluous packaging like Pat McGrath's sequin-filled bags.  Now, I am a huge Pat McGrath fan and she can do no wrong in my eyes.  I'd be so sad buying a product from her without those lovely shiny sequins - it just wouldn't be the same!  I, along with lots of other beauty bloggers, reuse the sequins for photo props.  However, if her company won't have some way for customers who don't want the sequins to send them back to be reused, we have to get creative.  Enter Parisian fashion student Ana Ouri, who has been sewing the sequins onto her pieces.  Genius!

Ana Ouri - sequins

Ana Ouri - sequins(images from

I am nowhere near as imaginative as Cyberigs or this fashion student, but both projects inspire me to think of cool ways to recycle makeup packaging.  Of course, since I'm a collector I don't even want to think about disposing of my beloved collectibles, and my huge stash (i.e., the makeup I actually use) is so massive I can't imagine actually finishing a product except for samples, so it's mostly a moot point for me.

Have you ever tried to repurpose cosmetics packaging in a more artistic way?  


Makeup as Muse: Karen Shapiro's ceramic makeup

I thought I'd keep it light and breezy for today with these delightful ceramics by artist Karen Shapiro.  Shapiro found her true calling in ceramic sculpture after spending 30 years as a pastry chef.  As for subject matter, she is drawn to popular household brands; her objects are inspired by her fascination with the textures, colors and shapes of everyday items as well as the Pop Art tradition.  Shapiro tackles many common goods in ceramic form, but obviously what I want to focus on is her rendering of beauty products. 

Karen Shapiro, Clinique lipstick, 2013

Shapiro's preferred artistic method is based on a Japanese technique known as raku, which was historically used to create tea ceremony pottery and involves removing the pieces from the kiln while still red hot and allowing them to cool in open air.  Unlike the traditional raku, however, the Western/American raku that Shapiro uses maintains the removal of the pieces while still glowing, but rather than cooling in an open space, the pieces are then "subjected to post-firing reduction (or smoking) by placing in containers of combustible materials, which blackens raw clay and creates cracks in glaze."  The crackling has the effect of making the products seem older and/or more fragile than we might think of them otherwise, which provides an interesting contrast against these everyday, seemingly plain objects. Says one reviewer, "The crackle glaze does give Shapiro’s sculptures a very different vibe from that of 1960’s Pop Art. It tends to legitimize their claim as valuable objects deserving permanent counter space—as opposed to disposable packages."  Perhaps if makeup items are viewed through a ceramic lens, people might be more accepting of the idea of them belonging in a museum, yes?

Karen Shapiro - Clinique lotion and lipstick

Karen Shapiro - Clinique lipstick, 2014

Karen Shapiro - Great Lash, 2009

Most of the beauty products appear to be older versions from the '70s through the '90s.   Along with Clinique's lipsticks in the old green tubes, there are others like this L'Oreal nail polish bottle, which looks to be from the '80s or '90s to my eye.  (Speaking of nail polish and crackling, wouldn't it be cool if she made one of those crackle nail polishes that were all the rage circa 2011 or so?)

Karen Shapiro - L'oreal nail polish
(images from

Can you identify what time period this Cutex bottle is from?  I couldn't at first and thought for sure it had to be around the 1930s or so, given the Art Deco-esque font.  But I searched and searched and searched and everything I saw indicated that Cutex bottles simply weren't shaped like that back then.  Low and behold, the December 1995 issue of Sassy magazine (yes, I'm becoming a vintage magazine hoarder - that's a problem for another day) contained a photo of a nearly identical bottle!  Much to my embarrassment I never would have guessed this is from the '90s.  I like to think of myself an expert on the decade, especially on beauty and makeup, but this is one item I don't recall.

Karen Shapiro - Cutex nail polish(image from

Sassy magazine, December 1995

This Revlon Charlie Nail Gleamer dates to the late '70s/early '80s, based on a 1978 ad I found.

Karen Shapiro - Revlon Charlie nail polish

Revlon charlie nail gleamer ad, 1978(image from

But Shapiro goes all the way back to the '50s and even earlier for some truly vintage pieces.  I love this '50s era version of the Revlon polish.

Karen Shapiro - vintage Revlon nail polish

The Outdoor Girl powder dates to about 1931. 

Karen Shapiro - Outdoor Girl vintage face powder

Some other favorites:

Karen Shapiro - Bourjois Evening in Paris talc bottle

Karen Shapiro - Bourjois Evening in Paris talc bottle

Karen Shapiro - vintage Lyon's Cold Cream

Too bad I didn't know this talc box existed - it would have been perfect for the summer exhibition.  Oh well.  I couldn't find any for sale anyway.

Karen Shapiro - vintage Sweetheart talcum powder
(images from

Much like seeing actual vintage makeup items, all of these made me smile and ponder bygone eras.  Says gallery owner Chris Winfield, "I call them pop icons, except they have a little surface development and a patina that gives them a friendly, used quality...some pieces, many of which are from the '30s, '40s and '50s, are quite nostalgic. They have an historical element but are still around, which gives them popular appeal.  Collectors tend to buy two and three pieces and then put them on a kitchen counter or vanity, places where the actual items would go."  Whereas traditional Pop Art could be seen as a somewhat negative commentary on mass production and consumption, Shapiro's items exist without any sort of pointed critique directed at our current cultural climate; there's no sharp irony or parody here, just a sentimental quality that elicits pleasant feelings and memories.  While the items can evoke some powerful nostalgia, due to the fact that they're also imitations of everyday items, they lack the pretension of "high art" and seem right at, well, your home.  The artist herself summarizes her work nicely:  "My work is fun, it's whimsical...I feel lucky I can make a living at it. It's not conceptual; it's literal. People don't have to understand it; it's already understood."

What do you think?  I'd love to own one of these so I may have to reach out to one of the galleries for pricing.  There is a Noxema jar on 1stdibs but of course I'd prefer makeup to skincare.  ;)

Makeup as Muse: Nail edition

I'm excited to share some pretty innovative works of art that use nail products for this installment of Makeup as Muse.  First up we have South African artist Frances Goodman, who has been creating elaborate, organic-looking sculptures using fake nails since 2013.

Because I'm feeling lazy and also because I think this description captures her work well, here it is in a nutshell:  "In her nail sculptures Goodman uses one of fashion’s ultimate feminine accessories – the false nail, which she layers and overlaps to create form, movement, pattern, and structure. False nails, for Goodman, signify a culture of excess and transience. The artist is interested in false nails as an expendable extension of the body – and has counteracted this by using the nails not to extend the body, but through emphasising size and shape to create bodily forms. The artist states: 'Some of the sculptures are abstract and consider ideas of oozing, spreading, and writhing.  Others suggest snakes and scaled creatures.' These enigmatic works are threatening and foreboding--their shape and scale emulate predators, which smother and overwhelm, yet are simultaneously impotent. The layering and positioning of the nails insinuates movement, yet these works are ostensibly static and, on closer inspection, fragile."

I am still curious to know how she attaches the nails together, approximately how many are used for each sculpture, and whether she sketches them out first.  I know I could have a thousand loose fake nails piled in front of me and not have a clue how to mold them into sculptures like this - it's truly impressive.

Frances Goodman, Come Hither, 2013

Frances Goodman, Below the Belt, 2013

Frances Goodman, Medusa, 2013

Frances Goodman, Ophiaphilia, 2014

Frances Goodman, Lick-It, 2015

Frances Goodman, Lilith, 2015

Frances Goodman, Succubus, 2016

Frances Goodman, Violaceous, 2015

This dress was produced in 2014 and I can't help but wonder whether Anna Goswami, a fashion student in the UK who created evening dresses out of fake nails for her final project in 2015, was influenced in any way by it. (I mentioned these briefly last year.)

Frances Goodman, Melusina, 2014(images from

These nail sculptures are not the only beauty-related items in Goodman's oeuvre:  she also makes giant nails and eyelash drawings (both are exactly what they sound like).  Combined with the nail sculptures, they reflect a distinct feminist perspective.  Goodman says, “Women are often asked to make media-influenced choices about our bodies...fake nails and false eyelashes, though, go against that. You’re able to become expressive, to become someone else. You don’t become the idea of who a woman should be. You become the antithesis.”  Working with these materials to create some rather grotesque-looking pieces, Goodman turns the traditional idea of using beauty paraphernalia to look pretty completely upside down, especially in the case of the Medusa - a mythical creature so hideous she turned people to stone with one look.  And in the case of her gigantic, talon-like sculptures of single nails, they become downright menacing.  Naturally I'm drawn to these, as I love any beauty/fashion items that double as weapons. ;)

Next up, we have an update from Lithuanian artist Agne Kisonaite.  You might remember her Giant Lipstick sculpture from 2013, which, while I liked the general idea behind it, I disagreed with her notion that consumers bear most of the responsibility for making "green" beauty purchases.  In any case, Kisonaite is back with another beauty-related piece entitled Glass Blowing, this time using old nail polish bottles. 

Agne Kisonaite, Glass Blowing, 2016

The artist gathered over 5,000 (!) used bottles of nail polish and divided them into 21 color categories.  The finished piece was whittled down to a mere 1,969 bottles.

Agne Kisonaite, Glass Blowing, 2016

Kisonaite doesn't say where she got the old bottles, but I'm wondering if Avon was behind gathering them the way they were with Giant Lipstick.  Judging from the boxes in the photo below, it's very likely.  I also wonder what she did with the roughly 3,000 bottles that didn't make the cut.

Agne Kisonaite, Glass Blowing, 2016

Agne Kisonaite, Glass Blowing, 2016(images from

Once again, the goal was to bring attention to the problematic lack of recycling in the beauty world.  Kisonaite says,  "[M]akeup goods are often non-recyclable. This is why 'Glass Blowing' project seemed meaningful to me – these 1969 nail polish bottles didn’t end up as a waste: now they grace our home with their lively presence."  I was heartened to see that she wasn't preachy about it this time and putting the burden of recycling squarely on consumers.  I absolutely agree that the industry really needs to overhaul its packaging to make recycling more feasible, especially nail polish - with the exception of Zoya, most companies do not make it easy.  And given that nail polish is considered hazardous waste, it has to go to a dedicated facility.  So, overall I must conclude that it's good an artist is calling attention to the issue.

What do you think of both these artists?  As with nearly all Makeup as Muse artists, I would commission them in a heartbeat to create unique pieces for the Makeup Museum if it occupied a real space.  :)


Makeup as Muse: Jason Mecier's makeup portraits

These aren't exactly new, but they are way too cool not to share.  San Francisco-based, self-taught artist Jason Mecier creates celebrity portraits out of unconventional materials.  From Jerry Seinfeld rendered in cereal to Hugh Hefner made out of old Playboy magazines, Mecier seems to have something for everyone. Each portrait takes at least 50 hours, and much longer for larger, more detailed images. Mecier gathers materials from thrift stores and sometimes even from the celebrities themselves.  As for his background and using celebrities as his primary subject matter, Mecier explains, "Though I have no formal art training, I did have an excellent mentor in my grandmother, Anita Tollefson. When I was young, I remember being mesmerized by her paintings, weavings, mosaics, sculptures, collages, and stained glass work that filled my grandparents' house and yard. If Anita was working on an art project, she would set me up at a nearby table with a project of my own to work on. One of my earliest pieces, is a mosaic made from beans, noodles, rocks, and cut bamboo sticks glued on a piece of wood. My grandmother encouraged me to create masterpieces using materials readily available to me. She would rather paint on the back of her cigarette cartons than buy a canvas. I learned from her that I can make art out of anything I want to, and that there are no rules...As a kid I remember obsessively clipping and scrap-booking pictures from the TV Guide of my favorite shows. In high school I did pencil drawings of my favorite record covers like The Rolling Stones, Olivia Newton-John and Pat Benatar. Later I did a series of psychedelic collages using Charlie's Angels trading cards and picture of Florence Henderson from the Wesson Oil coupons and ads. Soon I was arranging beans and noodles into larger portraits of these icons. It just exploded from there!"

Don't worry about Mecier's food-based portraits getting bug infestations or mold - he uses an acrylic sealant for edible materials.

Jason Mecier, Jerry Seinfeld

There was actually a short documentary on the construction of this portrait of Amy Sedaris.

Jason Mecier, Amy Sedaris, 2011

Jason Mecier, Hugh Hefner

Apparently there was $1500 worth of weed on the canvas for Snoop Dogg's portrait.

Jason Mecier, Snoop Dogg, 2011

Jason Mecier, Lady Gaga, 2010

All of these are awesome, but obviously my favorites are the portraits from his makeup series. It's one thing to create a portrait out of makeup products, but it's quite another to form a mosaic by incorporating the outer packaging in addition to the makeup itself.

Jason Mecier, Missy Elliott, 2011

Jason Mecier, Mariah Carey, 2011

Jason Mecier, Rosario Dawson, 2011

Jason Mecier, Ashanti, 2011
(images from

Mecier says that he "enjoy[s] trying to match the perfect items, colors, and themes with the essence of each unique subject."  To that end, might I suggest that he continue this series with some other modern iconic beauty looks?  I'd love to see Rihanna with her blue lipstick or Joan Smalls with violet lips.  He also takes commissions, so I'm seriously considering asking him to make me a portrait of Babo using various cookies.  ;)

What do you think of these?  And who would you like to see in makeup or other materials?

Makeup as Muse: Cosmetic "ink blot" tests

Be still my ink blot- and makeup-loving heart!  I came across these images at AnOther Magazine earlier this week and had to share.  I've always been fascinated by Rorschach tests and what people see in them, despite their serving no real scientific or diagnostic purpose.  As their value in terms of psychological evaluation has long been debunked since the height of their use in the 1960s, Rorschach-inspired prints are now mostly relegated to art and decor.  And I couldn't be happier about that - as of late I've been admiring everything ink blot, from rugs to tiles, plates and pillows.  So when AnOther married my love of ink blots and makeup for the magazine's dedicated beauty week I just about died.  The brains behind these wonderful creations are fashion photographer Agnes Lloyd-Pratt and set designer Victoria Spicer, who were partially inspired by Lloyd-Pratt's childhood experimentation with the process to make masks.

I think what I was most blown away by was the fact that they kindly included the exact products used to create the pictures, so beauty junkies may have fun seeing some of their favorite products in a totally new context.  Here we go!

NARS Nail Polish in Night Owl and MAC Nail Polish in Rain of Flowers:

AnOther Magazine - Rorschach tests made with makeup

Instant Glow Bronzing Rocks in Pink Bronze by Seventeen, MAC Nail Varnish in Mean and Green, Stay Pout Lip Colour in Infrared by Seventeen:

AnOther Magazine - Rorschach tests made with makeup

Maybelline Super Stay Gel Nail Color in Crystal Clear, Sleek Candy Tint Balm in Sherbet, Instant Glow Bronzing Rocks in Pink Bronze by Seventeen, Sleek Blush in Pink Lemonade

AnOther Magazine - Rorschach tests made with makeup

YSL Nail Polish in Jaune Babouche, NARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturiser in Seychelles:

AnOther Magazine - Rorschach tests made with makeup

MAC Nail Polish in Mean and Green, Clinique Superbalm Moisturizing Gloss in Rootbeer, Josie Maran Lip and Cheek Creamy Oil in Everlasting Honey, Fresh Gloss Lip Balm in Coral Glow Number 2 by Burberry:

AnOther Magazine - Rorschach tests made with makeup

Super Lash Mascara in Brown/Black by Seventeen, Sleek i-Lust Eyeshadow in The Gold Standard, Maybelline Super Stay Gel Nail Color in Crystal Clear:

AnOther Magazine - Rorschach tests made with makeup

MAC Lipmix in Cyan, Barry M Flawless Matte Finish Oil Free Foundation in Beige 532:

AnOther Magazine - Rorschach tests made with makeup

I'm seeing Hungry Hungry Hippos in this one, ha!  Butter London Nail Polishes in Tramp Stamp and Brown Sugar, Maybelline Dream Touch Blush in Berry, OCC Lip Tar in NSFW:

AnOther Magazine - Rorschach tests made with makeup

Same products as the one above:

AnOther Magazine - Rorschach tests made with makeup

Super Lash Mascara in Brown/Black by Seventeen, Sleek i-Lust Eyeshadow in The Gold Standard, Maybelline Super Stay Gel Nail Color in Crystal Clear:

AnOther Magazine - Rorschach tests made with makeup

These are wings, yes?  Instant Glow Bronzing Rocks in Pink Bronze by Seventeen, MAC Nail Varnish in Mean and Green, Stay Pout Lip Colour in Infrared by Seventeen:

AnOther Magazine - Rorschach tests made with makeup

 Same products as the one above:

AnOther Magazine - Rorschach tests made with makeup

NARS Nail Polish in Purple Rain, OCC Lip Tar in Digitalis, Lip Couture Liquid Lipstick in Lollipop, Stay Pout Lip Colour in Infrared by Seventeen:

AnOther Magazine - Rorschach tests made with makeup
(images from

Are any jumping out at you?  What do you see?