How did you first develop an interest in makeup?
My interest in makeup came from my friends and nightlife
when I lived in LA. When I started going to clubs I wanted to
dress up and do looks but I didn’t know a thing about makeup so I developed a style comprised mostly of glued on elements to decorate my face. In the meantime, I slowly taught myself different techniques starting with eyeliner and blocking out brows. I didn’t pursue it much beyond what was needed to do simple graphic designs because I had no intention of becoming a makeup artist, it was all just for fun. I was more serious about photography which inspired me to do self portraits as a way of documenting my looks. It wasn’t until I moved to New York that I got more involved in makeup.
Do you have an art background other than makeup?
I do. I grew up in an artistic family and I majored in studio art in college. There wasn’t a specific program for photography at my school because it wasn’t an art school; I actually went to college for computer science but later changed my major. I learned about balance, form, rhythm, and color theory from studying art in a broader sense. If you understand the principles of art it allows you to develop as an artist in any medium you choose. Having a foundation in art rather than beauty made me into a different type of makeup artist, for sure.
There are so many facets to your work. What is the starting point for one of your makeup designs?
The starting point is almost always color. Once I’ve decided on a palette, I move to appliqué and determine what materials will be used. I then begin with the base and build from there — it’s an organic process and little is planned. Coming up with a look for me is sort of like a brainstorming process. I often have to change or adjust things as I’m working. I find that even if I have a particular idea that I want to use I sometimes have to leave it behind because it doesn’t make as much sense with what the look becomes.
What is the most challenging thing about being so innovate with, or reinventing your look, so regularly?
The most challenging thing is coming up with new ideas – but it’s also the most rewarding. Sometimes I lie awake at night and come up with a hundred ideas and sometimes I’m ready to do my makeup and I’m absolutely blank. Inspiration doesn’t always come at the right time. I don’t have a standard go-to look like most people in nightlife so for me the pressure is always to reinvent myself constantly — which, admittedly is a pressure I put on myself. Trying new things doesn’t always work either. Sometimes I will have an idea and it totally doesn’t translate the way I imagined so I have to find a way to work with the direction I’ve gone and turn it into something else. These situations have taught me to be a better artist — learning how to adapt is a necessary skill in makeup. You never know what is going to happen and it’s an invaluable skill to be able to work with what you have and still turn it into something amazing.
Aside from just makeup, what are some of your must-have products or tools to accomplish these intricate looks?
I live off of paint and appliqué so for me it’s all about cream colors and shadows. I also love using the water activated colors. A lot of my looks are very graphic and these are amazing for that as well as for a more painterly effect. Apart from makeup, I use different types of paper that I find at craft stores and appliqué which can be anything: buttons, earrings, lace, whatever. I glue these on with Duo, Pros-aide, spirit gum, and occasionally (and very carefully) nail glue.
Your work can be seen as part sculpture, part performance, part fashion. How and when does the makeup element come into play?
Even if I cover my face in paper or other objects I always have a full face on underneath. I think that transformation is an important part of the process even if you don’t see all of it in the end. I can also go out wearing something simple and black with no headpiece and give a wild look — it doesn’t matter if it’s built up or not, it’s always about the makeup and always about the face. My headpieces and outfits are usually an extension of what is going on with my makeup so the makeup is actually the centerpiece of any look and always the most important element for me.
What inspires you?
Nature, geometry, and music inspire me the most. I also get inspired by the occasion I’m dressing up for. I play off the theme or vibe of a party and translate that into a look that fits. Fashion inspires me to some degree but not in the obvious way. I very rarely play off of anything I’ve seen on a runway or magazine. I like being a character that is distinct and new so I don’t rely on the typical sources of inspiration like looking to other artists or fashion for ideas. Ideas in the art and makeup world are special and sacred and I would rather find my own inspiration than unintentionally pull from somebody else’s work.
What’s next for Ryan Burke
To be honest I am unsure. I am still shooting as a photographer, working as a makeup artist and involved in nightlife. These projects include installations and sculptural pieces and other things I never imagined myself involved in. I’m not one type of artist and I don’t intend to pursue one medium. I am open to almost anything so I will take the opportunities that come and I’m excited to see where life takes me.
Words Michael DeVellis
Makeup and Styling Ryan Burke
Photos Ryan Burke