How did this concept come about?
Being on lockdown during these crazy times makes it even more important to express ourselves creatively. It is therapy amidst the chaos. I thought, how could I paint a face without actually painting a face? So, my brilliant creative partner, Julia SH, and I dreamed up a project during quarantine along with a way to execute it safely.
Were there any challenges you faced during the creation of these images?
There were 4 of us involved, so getting everyone on the same page took good communication. The process was slowed down by the logistics of moving the Styrofoam mannequin heads to different locations during the Covid-19 lockdown. The heads had to be shipped to me to be painted, then carefully delivered to Julia to photograph. Then the shoot itself with our model, had to be done safely with social distancing. We also had to map out the poses and angles of the model’s head prior to shooting so I could paint the mannequin heads properly. Lastly, Glenn Sandoval sprinkled his talent with his gorgeous illustrations.
What products were used?
I mostly used Danessa Myricks Colorfix, which are pure pigments in a cream and happen to be one of my favorite makeup products ever! I also used Danessa Myricks Waterproof Cushion Colors, glitters, pigments, Viseart & Nars eye shadows, pearls, rhinestones, beaded appliques, fake flowers, false lashes from Modelrock, designed by my friend Roshar, wigs from my vast personal collection, various brushes from Smith, Cozzette, MUD, ESUM, paint brushes, and a hot glue gun.
What was the design process like?
In all honesty, I was in a low period for a while feeling completely overwhelmed with the state of the world. I sat on the project for about a month before starting. The design process involved logging out of social media, not watching the news, meditating, and being quiet until I was in a centered enough space to paint. I would put on music or a podcast and sit at my table with all the materials out. To get my super artistic shoots rolling with Julia, we bounce around ideas, inspirations, colors, poses, etc.
I paint by intuition, and am extremely inspired by art museums from my travels over the years. 20 years ago, during cancer treatment, I visited the Honolulu Museum of Art where I picked up a postcard of Tamara De Lempicka’s ‘Portrait of Suzy Solidor’. I kept it that long as I love its geometric shapes, lines, shadows, and femininity and used that to inspire the art deco look. I also love Cubism and was blessed to feast my eyes on the Picasso Museum in Barcelona last year. So out came a fun, vibrant punk rock Picasso. Then I thought of Elizabeth Taylor around 1960 looking so chic in a turban. First, I under painted her with a glittery flesh tone, then I spent 2 days giving her all the glamour with a face full of pearls and rhinestones. I had to do something close to my heart that is colorful, painterly, and a bit weird, so next came my Club Kid influenced look. Lastly, my homage to Frida Kahlo, one of the most inspiring female painters of the 20th century, whose life, art, and suffering I find compelling. Painting Frida was tough because I wanted to do her justice and skin is difficult to mimic on Styrofoam. I ended up using a stippling method in a Pointillist way to mimic texture and depth with various dots of color.
Each head took me about 4-5 hours to create along with the wig styling or constructing a headpiece that would stay on throughout transport and shooting, since I wasn’t able to touch up anything once I dropped them off to Julia. The pearl and rhinestone face took me 2 full days and many hot glue gun burns.
What were the challenges working on a fabricated material instead of skin?
Painting a Styrofoam wig head is very complicated! It is porous, certain products make it disintegrate, and others like spray color/glitter don’t show up or adhere. So, it was definitely a learning process that took me back to my younger Fine Art days. Knowing how well acrylic paints work on Styrofoam from previous attempts, I used the Danessa Myricks Colorfix which acted exactly as acrylics would.
Were the images mostly presented as shot, or was there much post production done to create the effects?
The wig heads were shot separately from the model. Then Julia melded the two together in Photoshop, swapping the model’s head for the wig heads. Before finalizing the model’s skin tone on her body, the images were then sent to Glenn who added his fashion illustrations. We worked together on how we thought the body should look and had to go back and forth in group messages about everything before it was finalized in post – a true collaboration.
How were the images shot to create such unique perspectives?
The actual photography part was possible largely due to our model Joanna Benecke having a modeling, acting and creature performer background. She and Julia discussed how the characters I created would manifest physically, and after photographing the heads, Joanna would try to find poses that conveyed the story we wanted to tell.
Words: Michael DeVellis