Urban Decay

Fierce or farce? Patrick Nagel for Urban Decay

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

Patrick Nagel for Urban Decay

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

Patrick Nagel for Urban Decay - Rio palette

Patrick Nagel

Patrick Nagel for Urban Decay - Rio palette

Patrick Nagel for Urban Decay - Sunglasses palette

Patrick Nagel

Patrick Nagel for Urban Decay - Sunglasses palette

Patrick Nagel for Urban Decay - Untitled palette

Patrick Nagel

Patrick Nagel for Urban Decay - Untitled palette

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

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


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

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

Patrick Nagel


Patrick Nagel

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

Patrick Nagel
(images from pinterest)

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

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

Patrick Nagel

Patrick Nagel

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

Patrick Nagel

Patrick Nagel

Patrick Nagel(images from patricknagel.com)

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

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

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

What do you think? 


1 Other salient points to consider: 

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

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

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

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

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

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





Not more of the SAMO: Basquiat x Urban Decay

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.

Urban Decay x Basquiat vault

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. 

Urban Decay x Basquiat vault

The inner lid of the vault box shows Gold Griot (1984), which is used for one of the eye shadow palettes.

Urban Decay x Basquiat vault

Urban Decay x Basquiat Gold Griot palette

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.

 Urban Decay x Basquiat Gold Griot palette

The blush palette depicts Untitled (Crown) from 1982.

Urban Decay x Basquiat Gallery blush palette

Urban Decay x Basquiat Gallery blush palette

Urban Decay x Basquiat Gallery blush palette

The other eye shadow palette in the collection features Untitled (Tenant) from 1982.

Urban Decay x Basquiat Tenant palette

Urban Decay x Basquiat Tenant palette

Finally, we have the lipsticks.

Urban Decay x Basquiat 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."

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Danny Rosen, 1983
(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.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Return of the Central Figure), 1983

The original was a collage of 28 drawings mounted on canvas.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982-83(images from theartstack.com and the Brooklyn Museum)

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).

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gold Griot, 1984(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."

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Crown), 1982(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 [1981], 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.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Tenant), 1982

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.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982

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.

Urban Decay x Basquiat detail

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.

Quick post: Celebrating (sort of) National Lipstick Day with Urban Decay

In honor of National Lipstick Day I thought I'd take a quick peek at how Urban Decay's lipstick tubes have essentially come full circle with their new Vice collection.  When the brand launched in 1996, the gritty, decidedly un-pretty feel of both the packaging and color names were fairly groundbreaking.  The design of the Vice lipsticks, which debuted earlier this summer, is a nod to the shotgun shell-shaped cases in which the lipsticks were originally housed. For your viewing pleasure I took some comparison photos (and skipped directly over the now-discontinued Revolution lipsticks.)

I kind of wish they kept the brown cardboard boxes and punk-inspired font.

Urban Decay lipsticks, '90s vs. 2016

The Vice packaging is definitely more sleek and modern, plus the company's name is engraved on the case, which makes it a little more luxurious than the somewhat plain-looking former case.  The only drawback to having a shiny metal case vs. a brushed metal finish is that the former gets very fingerprint-y very quickly.

Urban Decay lipsticks, '90s vs. 2016

Urban Decay lipsticks, '90s vs. 2016

Urban Decay lipsticks, '90s vs. 2016

Urban Decay lipsticks, '90s vs. 2016

Urban Decay lipsticks, '90s vs. 2016

Nostalgia is a powerful thing.  I remember thinking how edgy the whole Urban Decay line was and how badass the shotgun shell packaging looked - whipping one of these out made me feel like a rebel and even a little dangerous, which I enjoyed.  In hindsight, however, I think this design should be left firmly in the '90s.  I don't want to write a whole big long whiny essay because, you know, it's a special day for us makeup junkies, plus it's Friday and I wanted to keep this post light, but I must point out that I'm not sure Urban Decay should have referenced their original packaging at all, as much as I liked it back then.  Given all the gun violence we have now (and it was a problem in the '90s too, to be sure, but I was young and dumb and not as "woke" as I am now) any beauty product that evokes mass shootings shouldn't exist.  I understand you can't avoid it completely - we commonly refer to lipstick shapes themselves as bullets - but no matter how cool Urban Decay's packaging seemed in 1996 and its importance in cosmetics history, I just don't think it's appropriate now.*  I'm not the only one who shares this sentiment either.  Says Tynan Sinks at XO Jane, "In 2016, perhaps we could model our lipstick packaging after anything but bullets," while the author of A Life With Frills remarks, "I don't agree with the fact that Urban Decay are marketing these lipsticks as looking like shotgun shells. I understand that Urban Decay are a brand that like to push boundaries (and I love them for that) but given the way guns are used in the world now and the impact they have, it's not appropriate to trivialise them like this."  I think Jane at British Beauty Blogger says it the best:  "I get it that the roots of Urban Decay are all about the badass and the edgy and going against the grain – who needs make up to look pretty? It should speak to our rebellious side or our sexy side – but not, er, our inner killer."  I fully appreciate that Urban Decay wants us to remember that they were among the first companies to run completely contrary to many outdated notions of what's attractive and why we wear makeup, but I think in this instance they should have gone in a different direction.  Having said all this, I won't stop buying the Vice lipsticks anytime soon (I own 3 and have my eye on several more) but I felt the need to at least mention my issue with the packaging.  So, um, happy National Lipstick Day, I guess.  Leave it up to me to put a bit of a damper on it.  :P  At the very least, the tubes make an interesting case study in how the brand has evolved in the past 20 years. 

What do you think?  And did you own the original Urban Decay lipsticks?


*I'm particularly aghast that these lipsticks actually exist and are for sale.  Just...no.

Friday Fun: Feed your head

Urban Decay Through the Looking Glass

As a follow-up to their palette released as a tie-in to the 2010 Alice in Wonderland movie, Urban Decay has launched their Through the Looking Glass collection to go with this year's sequel, which will hit theaters May 27.  Like the previous palette, this one features a pop-up design and a vast array of colors. There are also 5 lipsticks sporting the same crazy kaleidoscope design as on the palette's outer case.

Urban Decay Through the Looking Glass

Love this quote on the inside.

Urban Decay Through the Looking Glass palette

As for the outer packaging, Urban Decay founder and Chief Creative Officer Wende Zomnir explains, “This was made to look like an acid trip. We took a different approach and decided, ‘Let’s make it really colorful and bright because the shades are like that'...even if you aren’t attached to the film, the butterfly tells the story of what the makeup is all about, which is transformation."

Urban Decay Through the Looking Glass palette

The quote on the side of the palette is also a nod to the transformation theme.

Urban Decay Through the Looking Glass palette

Urban Decay Through the Looking Glass palette

There are 20 colors total (4 more than the previous palette), and 4 are dedicated to each of the 5 main characters from the film:  Alice, Mad Hatter, Time, the White Queen and the Red Queen. “We loved the original construction and keeping it in the same vein, but we wanted to tell a different story with the shades and really bring a focus to the shades,” says Zomnir.

Urban Decay Through the Looking Glass palette

How fun are the lipstick caps?  (You might remember that I bought the Alice bag for my trip to Disney.)

Urban Decay Through the Looking Glass lipstick

Naturally I selected the two boldest colors from the lipstick lineup. The blue lipstick was not an accidental creation - it represents both Alice's coat and also shows that Urban Decay is paying attention to the mainstreaming of what used to be considered outlandish colors.  Says Zomnir, “My customer is a very independent thinker. She’s really into self-expression. She loves makeup. While Alice is a very plain character, she’s associated with the blue dress — in this case, it’s a coat — and we were able to pull in that interesting blue with her, and the makeup is rad for all the other characters...Six years ago, Anne Hathaway’s White Queen makeup was a little extreme, but now you see it on the street.” 

The little cup I put the lipsticks in here is a souvenir from my Disney trip.  :)

Urban Decay Mad Hatter lipstick

Urban Decay Mad Hatter lipstick

Objectively speaking I thought this collection was well done.  But personally, I'm a bigger fan of the first Alice in Wonderland book/movie so anything to do with that I'm going to like more than items related to Through the Looking Glass.  This palette is great but I so enjoyed seeing all the characters in the previous palette (my favorite, if you remember, was the caterpillar).

What do you think?  How does this collection compare to Urban Decay's previous Alice-themed palette, and for that matter, other Alice in Wonderland makeup?  (See here and here.)


Makeup illustration mysteries with Urban Decay and Laura Mercier

Today I'm playing detective to decipher who's behind the packaging of a couple recent releases.  First, I spotted these two Urban Decay palettes at Chic Profile over the summer.  They are exclusive to the French Sephora website and bear the tag of "Pboy", ostensibly the graffiti artist who created the designs.

Urban Decay France-exclusive Naked palettes
(images from sephora.fr)

I searched high and low but could find zero information on this artist.  (There is a group of graffiti artists collectively called Poster Boy, but given their anti-consumerist agenda and their collage style I highly doubt they lent their work to Urban Decay.)  I've emailed the company and if they provide any info I will update.

The other designs I was curious about come from Laura Mercier.  Several recently released items - the Flawless Contour palette, the Candleglow palette and the Reflections of Hope mirror - all have the same illustration style.  The windows of Laura Mercier's boutique in Paris are also decorated with these sorts of designs.

Laura Mercier Flawless Contour palette

Laura Mercier Candleglow palette

Laura Mercier Reflections of Hope mirror
(images from lauramercier.com)

Laura Mercier illustration

Laura Mercier boutique in Paris
(images from instagram.com)

At first I thought the artist might be Izak Zenou, who, in addition to illustrating a Sephora collection, also did the illustrations for Laura Mercier's book.  But his signature was nowhere to be found on any of the designs for these more recent palettes.  Actually, there's no signature at all.  I decided to watch this video I found on the company's Facebook page to see if it could provide any clues. 


And it did!  Look at the lower right at the 1:30 mark, the word "Chesley" appears.  One quick Google search yielded the full name.  According to her website, NYC-based Chesley McLaren is obsessed with anything French, earning her the nickname of "the French illustrator in New York".  She has done illustrations for the likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Henri Bendel as well as a campaign for Bloomingdales called Vive La France.  So it's quite appropriate that she's been partnering with Laura Mercier.  I do wonder though why none of her work, save for the video above, bears her signature.  Anyway, I'm still debating whether to get any of these latest Laura Mercier items for the Museum.  They're cute but I don't know if they're a necessity.

Do you like figuring out packaging mysteries?  And if anyone knows anything about the graffiti artist for Urban Decay, do let me know!

Have a $5 shake in honor of Urban Decay's newest collection (plus a gift guide)

I thought I'd open this post with my absolute favorite Pulp Fiction scene (sorry it's in two parts - I couldn't find a video of the Jack Rabbit Slims scene in its entirety.)  So. Many. Great. Lines.



I could sit here and type out every single Pulp Fiction line from memory, but I'll spare you and focus on the glorious Urban Decay collection instead.  As you may know, Pulp Fiction is the Curator's all-time favorite movie so I was beyond excited to see this collection devoted to Mia Wallace, just in time for the film's 20-year (!) anniversary.  I picked up the palette, lipstick and nail polish.  There was also a glitter eye liner and dark red lip liner, but I passed on those, choosing to focus on the most Mia-esque products.


I squealed with delight when I noticed the band-aid on the bottom back of the packaging, an ode to the famous bandage Marcellus Wallace sported on the back of his head (which, incidentally, appeared simply because actor Ving Rhames had a scar there he wanted to cover up - there was no hidden meaning behind it). 


I also liked that quotes were included.




Since the collection is based specifically on Mia, I personally would have gone with the following on the back of the palette instead of Jules's speech:  "I do believe Marcellus, my husband, your boss, told you to take me out and do whatever I wanted.  Now I wanna dance, I wanna win, I want that trophy.  So dance good!"  And then put different ones on the insides of the lipstick and nail polish boxes, like "I can keep a secret if you can" or "Cooties I can handle."  Maybe Urban Decay couldn't get the rights to include any other quotes besides Ezekiel 25:17. 

Sadly one of the eye shadows crumbled in transit.


There was a cute little "get the look card" - now anyone can be Mrs. Mia Wallace!


The colors for the lipstick and nail polish are great, but I think it would been cool to have been a little more creative with the names.  Both are called Mrs. Mia Wallace...how about working in some quotes of hers?  The lipstick could be Two Shakes, as in "Go make yourself a drink and I'll be down in two shakes of a lamb's tail" (especially because there's a close-up of her lips as she's saying it.)  And maybe we could call the nail polish Fox Force Five.



Overall, I think the collection was nicely done, although I don't think the colors are exact dupes for the original shades.  It's common knowledge that Uma Thurman wore Chanel Vamp nail polish - but then again, why would you a create a collection that consists of essentially the same colors as existing ones?  I suppose Urban Decay had to forge their own path.

And now a little bonus that I couldn't resist including in this post:  my very spiffy, oh-so-official Pulp Fiction gift guide.  If they're not into makeup, you can get the Pulp Fiction addict in your life another little trinket so that they will have happy memories of the 20th anniversary of the movie. 

Pulp Fiction gift guide 2

  1. Funko dolls
  2. Vintage boxing kangaroo
  3. Bad Mother F*cker wallet
  4. Oh Man I Shot Marvin in the Face action figure ("Why the f*ck did you do that?"  "I didn't mean to do it, it was an accident!")
  5. Z keychain ("Zed's dead baby.  Zed's dead.")
  6. Garçon! Coffee! mug ("Garçon means boy.")
  7. Illustrated print

Finally, I must give a shout-out to my dear old dad, the movie buff who took me to see Pulp Fiction in the theater when I was a wee lass of 15.  Now, my dad didn't make a habit of taking his young daughter to see films filled with graphic violence, but he had seen it a few weeks prior and loved it, and somehow he just knew I would too.  His hunch was spot-on - I was instantly intrigued and to this day, no movie has quite spoken to me the way Pulp Fiction has.  And since we both love it so much, one of our many treasured bonds is quoting lines together, as silly as that sounds (and if the husband and I had gone through with the idea of dancing at our wedding, my dad and I were planning to break out the Jack Rabbit Slims moves as our father-daughter dance!)  I don't ever think about Pulp Fiction without thinking fondly of my dad, probably one of the other reasons it remains my favorite movie. 

So...what do you think of the Urban Decay collection?  And are you as rabid a Pulp Fiction fan as I am?

Quick post: movie night

The Oscars are over, but that's not going to stop me from taking another look at movie tie-in beauty products.  I first covered these in 2010 so it's high time for a refresher.


1. Stila "And the winner is" palette (there is another one called Name in lights)

2.  Urban Decay Glinda palette, for the film Oz:  The Great and Powerful (see also the Theodora palette)

3.  OPI Oz collection

4.  Pur Minerals "Beautiful Creatures" set

5.  Lancôme BAFTA palette

Which is your fave?  I'm always partial to Stila, but I do love the envelope design on the Lancôme palette - very simple and elegant.

Urban Decay goes to the Big Apple

Urban Decay released its third Book of Shadows, this time devoted to New York City.  Like the Alice in Wonderland palette, it's a pop-up, but it also lights up.






Here are the shadows:


 With flash:


Overall I think the artwork and lights captured the hustle and bustle, not to mention the hipness and sophistication of the Big Apple, but I wish the company released more details as to who made the illustrations, and why they decided to do a palette dedicated to NYC now. 

Friday fun: go ask Alice

"'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
did gyre and gimbel in the wabe;
all mimsy were the borogroves
and the momeraths outgrabe."

Oh boy am I excited for the new Alice in Wonderland movie.  But you know what I'm even more excited about?  The awesome cosmetic tie-ins.  Urban Decay released this beauty last week.


To my knowledge, this is the first pop-up palette ever.  I thought it was extremely clever to use this technique for an Alice in Wonderland-themed palette - what better way to celebrate a children's book (well, I think Alice in Wonderland is meant for all ages) than with whimsical pop-up illustrations?  

Excuse my hand, the palette didn't seem to want to stay open!

Whole palette

Here's little Alice, looking up at the caterpillar:


Cute "drink me" bottle:

Drink me

And my favorite detail on this palette:  the caterpillar.  His face seems to convey a hint of grouchiness and superiority, which is exactly how he is in the book and animated Disney movie. 

Whoooo are yoooou?


While the idea of actually using the palette horrifies the Curator, I understand that most of you are normal and are going to be using it for its intended purpose.  So here are the colors in natural light.  I love the little white rabbits sprinkled throughout.

Natural light

And with flash:

Inside flash

I think we're off to an excellent start with the Alice madness.  More Wonderland-based goodies to come.  ;)

Urban Decay Show Pony palette

L.A.-based painter/illustrator/clothing designer Kime Buzzelli collaborated with Urban Decay to create this limited-edition palette.   Named for an art and fashion installation space/boutique/gallery in Echo Park (now closed, unfortunately) the palette features Buzzelli's unique watercolor depictions of women.  

Ud show pony
 (images from sephora and urbandecay.com)

So who are these women?  Buzzelli says her work represents "Female desire.  Girls trying to solve the puzzle of love.  Floating ghosts in search of happiness.  Obsession and disaster, Magic moments fueled by fantasy, stains and the evidence of mischief."  Here are some of her pieces:




(images from dreamzzzzzzzzz.blogspot.com)

Much like Natalie Lété for Bourjois, in looking at Buzzelli's work I can't fathom a better artist to do a collection for Urban Decay.  Her women are edgy, brash and seem fearless, while Urban Decay brands itself as "beauty with an edge".   And they wear plenty of makeup!  One final thought - is it a coincidence that Buzzelli says her art is partially about the representation of "female desire" and that there's an exclusive shade in the palette named Snatch?!  Perhaps, perhaps not.