Make-Up Art

A new generation of make-up artists are turning their craft into an art. Desislava Todorova reports

She moves like a haunted celebrity. Her hairline makes her appear bald, the immaculate skin of her forehead showing spectacular attention to detail – not a single wrinkle has been tolerated. She’s on her way back from an appointment with her plastic surgeon, hiding behind a pair of oversized shades.

No, this isn’t the stereotypical middle-aged New York socialite with “invisible” facials and a “no-make-up look” requiring the use of at least five products. The make-up is the work of Isamaya Ffrench, a leading name in the new wave of experimental make-up artists. Her aesthetics are a mix between Edward Scissor Hands in drag and sobered-up Lady Gaga.


Ffrench trained as a body painter and in Industrial Design at Central Saint Martins. She loves to create characters rather than simple flat images. Combining a multi-portfolio career with the role of beauty editor at i-D, she has gained prominence through editorial work for W magazine and Vogue, as well as for commercial campaigns for Tom Ford, Comme des Garçons and Junya Watanabe.

She is often compared to performance artist Cindy Sherman because of the way she uses her own face as a canvas – Ffrench sees transformation as a form of empowerment.

Equally inspirational is the work of Taiwanese artist John Yuyi who has collaborated with Gucci on their Spring/Summer 2016 campaign. Replicating social media outtakes as temporary tattoos, she transforms the idea of make-up as an extension of what she says with her work.

She creates make-up differently but doesn’t necessarily see it as an art expression. Her intention is not to do art. She wants to show people her vision of “transformation” through her own ideas.

Her tattoo art helps her connect to her subjects express herself despite the language barrier and beyond verbal expression.

Yuyi’s experimentation with social media started in 2015 when she and her friend were trying to find alternative and cost-effective ways to promote her swimsuit collection online. She thought it will be cool to put their selfies and posts on their faces and then post the shoot on social media. “It was like a social media cycle for me,” she told me.

For Yuyi, tattoos have more of a symbolic significance. She likes their texture as it reminds her of skin: the body is a screen showing the information, like a window you can open and look through. She likes to talk to the people she features in her work, asking them what they want to express with her tattoos.

Yuyi’s fascination with the power of social media and art marks the important role they both play in her daily life. She’s become a modern-day Instagram artist. A campaign she created and starred in became the most popular post on Gucci’s social media.

London’s Saatchi gallery has also highlighted body art by acquiring works by French artist Thomas Mailaender, who has been compared to “Bernd and Hilla Becher under the influence of pastis” (pastis is an aniseed liquor popular in the south of France).

Entitled “Illustrated People”, his collages represent sunburns of images and photos on people’s bodies. Seen as body art or temporary tattoos, this take on traditional printing is similar to Yuyi’s alternative ways of transformation on the body.

Almost frivolous, this attempt to grasp the moment and manipulate it makes make-up equally culturally subversive – more than just a reiteration of what it could do but a whole new means of expression itself.



On the fashion catwalk, make-up and art have been crossing paths for decades. From Vivienne Westwood’s flamboyant Red Label looks to John Galliano’s couture transformations for Dior, theatricality has long been admired.

In a literal interpretation of the arts-meets-makeup theme, an AW15 show from French beau garçon Jacquemus featured models with the sides of their faces painted to resemble a work by Picasso.

Make-up’s purpose has been diverted. While the focus used to be on the aesthetics of beauty, now it is used for free-ranging creative visions. Equally important as clothes and accessories, make-up has become a new tool for communicating all kinds of artistic visions.