Art That’s Not Just on the Face
By Bee-Shyuan Chang
On a recent Friday, the artist Kenny Scharf was in his studio on the outskirts of Bushwick, Brooklyn: a two-level space filled with paints, canvases, supersize potted plants and a trapeze on top and a phantasmagoric collection of fluorescent objects and a D.J. booth below, which he calls Cosmic Cavern A-Go-Go.
He was hanging out with Chris Salgardo, the president of Kiehl’s, the New York-based skin care company. “I’m very moisturized,” Mr. Scharf joked, breathless after a turn on the trapeze.
Nearby was a glossy red teaching skeleton, called Mr. Bones, that he created for a Kiehl’s charity initiative in May, and a box of labels for Creme de Corps, one of the company’s most popular products, waiting for his autograph. The labels bore reproductions of a Scharf artwork, “Globomundo.”
“This is like Kenny’s funhouse,” said Mr. Salgardo, clad in a plaid shirt, ripped jeans, black logger boots and clinking chain wallet. “His work is very uplifting, which makes sense for kids.” The bottles of lotion, along with a $50 toy called Squirt (a miniature version of Mr. Bones’s head) will go on sale Monday; profits will benefit RxArt, a nonprofit organization that installs art exhibitions in health care institutions.
Fine art may be out of most people’s price range, but increasingly, artists like Mr. Scharf are collaborating with cosmetics companies on so-called collectible packaging and products of various affordability. In 2010 and 2011, Jeff Koons also teamed with Kiehl’s on a series of Creme de Corps labels, and the brand financed art by Mr. Koons for a CAT-scan machine at a children’s hospital in Chicago. Cindy Sherman, Marilyn Minter and Richard Phillips have all designed items in the $20 range for M.A.C.
Dior’s artist edition of the bottle for its J’adore L’absolu scent, made of Murano glass and designed by Jean-Michel Othoniel with a fine-art price tag to match ($3,500) will arrive at select Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman counters in November.
And on Dec. 26, Davis Factor, a great-grandson of Max Factor and a founder with his brother Dean of the cosmetics company Smashbox, based in Los Angeles, will introduce a collection of eye shadows, lipsticks and gloss, blush and a “paint pen” eyeliner named “Love Me,” after the street artist Curtis Kulig’s signature work.
“I have never seen so much creativity in cosmetics all the way around,” Mr. Factor said. “I’m seeing cosmetics companies who are more conservative and normally wouldn’t take chances doing very creative things.”
For makeup companies, the collaborations are a way to make their products stand out on an increasingly crowded bathroom shelf. For artists, they can be an extra source of income. Guillaume Jesel, senior vice president for M.A.C. Global Marketing, said: “M.A.C. stands for Makeup Art Cosmetics and has deep ties backstage with fashion, music and the arts. We actualize these relationships through authentic product collaborations that follow a short-term licensing model to reveal them to the public.”
Other than the extra exposure of his work and name, Mr. Scharf said he wasn’t being compensated by Kiehl’s. “I like to do fun projects,” he said. “I embrace the mass market. I came across resistance to mass in the ‘80s and I was surprised, because I thought then that Warhol had already gotten through it in the ‘60s. Again it seems to be finally accepted.”
Indeed, the spirit of Warhol, already bottled via perfume in the past, is alive in the world of color cosmetics. Throughout the fall, NARS is introducing an extensive makeup collection created with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, including the artist’s self-portrait recreated in an eye shadow palette ($55, available Nov. 1). “There’s an incredibly strong connection between art and makeup,” said François Nars, the NARS founder. “Painters paint on canvas or sculpt, but we paint on millions of faces. I think the face can be a piece of art in a way.”
Mr. Nars pointed to Warhol’s saturated portraits. “Andy was really a makeup-obsessed person,” he said, and with lipstick or shadow, “you can translate on your face your emotions, your sense of color, your sense of fashion. Cindy Sherman is an incredible example for that.”
Indeed, the body might be the ultimate canvas for some artists integrating themselves into their work. But Mr. Nars said he is also inspired by traditional forms, like portrait photography. “I would be totally lost if I could not photograph,” he said. “I would be a waste.”
He cited several painters as providing inspiration for his colors, including Picasso and Matisse. He created the matte Outremer eye shadow ($24) based on the famous Yves Klein blue, and the Okinawa eye shadow trio ($45) was a tribute to Mark Rothko. “I have a few Rothko books and I always look at the combinations that are done in his paintings,” Mr. Nars said. “They almost look like makeup palettes.”
In the age of Instagram and Pinterest, which has empowered average Janes to create and trade elaborate images at an extraordinary pace, it makes sense, perhaps, that the lines between fine art and makeup artistry are getting smudged.
Consumers should harbor no illusions, though, that makeup with an artist’s imprimatur is worth saving. “There isn’t an intrinsic idea that these things will be as valuable in the future as an actual piece of artwork,” said Susan Brundage, director of the appraisals department at the Art Dealers Association of America. “It’s in the interest of the makeup companies themselves. There’s such competition, it’s just another way to separate yourself from other brands. For collectors, it’s more for the fun of it. It’s a conversation piece. If it’s a makeup case that is Warhol-designed, it makes you hip and in the in-crowd, and you’re not having to spend as much money as someone who buys a Warhol flower painting for a million dollars.”
Mr. Factor, who said he was strongly influenced by Warhol, said he thinks the marriage of makeup and art can be attributed to a generation that came of age during the Pop era. “It’s because you have all these top cosmetics guys who are in their 50s like me,” he said. “We were all just old enough to get into Studio 54, but just barely. We were too young to be truly part of the Warhol movement, but it left this vivid, lasting impression.”
Large corporations are also getting into the act. Sephora has been commissioning art for select stores, like E. V. Day’s “Flamenco Tornado” sculpture in its meatpacking district location. “The consumer is very inspired by art and driven by a Katy Perry or Lady Gaga or Grimes, who is the new kid on the block,” said Lina Kutsovskaya, vice president and executive creative director of the retailer. “With their hair, makeup, the way they dress, they’re the rule breakers — we like shocking — and technology has given the underdog these huge platforms. Art has become an everyday thing.”
The company has introduced a collection with the French illustrator Izak Zenou and produced a traveling solo show, “New American Beauty,” for the tattoo artist Kat Von D, beginning at Art Basel Miami last December.
“Because I got famous for the tattoo show, people think that’s all I do,” said Ms. Von D, who was on the reality show “L.A. Ink” and has partnered with Sephora on a makeup line since 2008. “It’s just one of my mediums. My grandma was an oil painter. I’ve been drawing and painting since I was a kid.”
Ms. Von D pointed out that fine art, commerce and self-adornment have long been intermingled in culture. “If you look at Salvador Dali, he made lipstick and furniture and hair accessories and furniture design,” she said. “I used to be self-conscious because I got so much hate from tattoo artists, who said I was a sellout. All I’m doing is trying to create.”
Mr. Scharf, who has two daughters in their 20s and sees “crazy nail art going on” in their world, has no fear of selling out. “I think I would be a good makeup artist because when I paint portraits, I think about shadows and shading and color,” he said.
But in his art?
“Sure, I use makeup in my performances,” he said. “Like I was just in Rio for an art fair and my character was a caveman and I did these black teeth. And I had these gorgeous Cariocas and made them all ugly cavemen. They were all naked and they were sliding around in Jell-O.”
He paused and added, “Well, my idea of beauty is probably not your conventional.”