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What’s your sign?
When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Archeologist, hairdresser, magician; it changed daily.
How did that transpose into a working with makeup?
As a fine artist, I began exhibiting in the ‘90s. I explored body and environment using material aesthetics of makeup and prosthetics in my practice, much like Mathew Barney or Cindy Sherman. I was asked by a fashion designer to collaborate on dance and movement piece and make body structures, and I used prosthetics, medical splints and paint. As the show was viewed in the fashion context, and the work I had done was on the body, people at the show asked who had done the makeup. So, the more I collaborated in a fashion sphere, the more my artwork /body architecture was called makeup.
You have worked in the worlds of beauty, fashion and art — what do you find the most connection to?
I see all the disciplines as the same and maybe it’s me that’s different in my approach. I set out with the same frequency and longing to create something with resonance, integrity and intrigue, whether it’s a personal work or client brief. As an artist, I look for the narrative and human connection of surface and storytelling. I hope in my career I have brought the worlds of fashion, art, and the beauty world together to create an immersive, and new narrative that recontextualizes the body.
What about working with makeup as a medium was first appealing to you? Has what appeals to you about working with makeup changed over the years?
At the beginning, I used makeup as a medium, as it has an instant connection to the observer; it’s recognizable, trusted, and has a human and emotional resonance. Textural connections and why we are drawn to image/art /sculpture are subliminal and subconscious, layered with the synergy between the surface and texture. When I used makeup in my art, it crossed a barrier and connected more directly and humanly with the viewer than when I used paint.
Rather than being the point of your work, it seems that makeup is more a means to an end — a tool used to create a concept or idea. Would you agree?
Absolutely. I’m totally texturally driven and often play with an object I’ve found until a narrative and concept presents itself. The conduit is the face and body, and characters and worlds appear as I play. Concepts unfold as if they always existed, and I just have to catchup and make them.
Makeups textural language inspired me to use it as a medium, and the exploration of the body and its architecture naturally required substances that were harmonious with it. I learnt the hard way that I couldn’t use my acrylics and oil paints on the face! Yet that hasn’t stopped me attaching anything I’m drawn to in a hardware store or I find on a natural trail to the face and body, all be it now with a skin-friendly glue.
One of the things that is most fascinating about your work is the many unique process you use in your artistry. Drawing over prints, using makeup as sculptural elements and sculptural elements as makeup. Where does the line between makeup and art come for you or is there one?
Hopefully I’ve eroded that line or at least helped defined a new space for telling visual stories. Cross pollination of materials, mediums and disciplines has always excited me and drives my fascination with interpreting the body. I work with people who are dedicated to pioneering new visual languages and are curious to experiment. I think it’s really important to blur lines, new thought, curiosity and conversation around old definitions are vital for progression.
You have spoken of a concept you call Emotional Makeup; can you share what that means to you?
With emotional makeup, I’m saying you can feel without seeing. Emotional makeup is reestablishing the narrative and conversation around makeup. Talking more about creating an ambience to the face, a mood that was felt and not seen. So much of makeup is a range of historical motifs, or trends, or corrections. I wanted to challenge this to create a new language around how makeup can be, and how it can be applied holistically. I explored this idea with detail within 7 years at Issey Miyake and Veronique Leroy.
Looking more anthropologically into natural phenomena on the skin’s surface, change in texture and temperature and hue, where veins pulse, or skin sweats, or ears glow with warmth, and mimicking those tiny collections of auras in makeup. At Issey, I was creating cold, optimistic, clear sky skin bathed in light, emotions and aura felt.
Emotional makeup is reestablishing a new narrative about what it actually is to convey a feeling or emotion, an ambient holistic landscape.
You have recently been working in ways that combine digital and physical work —a visual language you call Phygital. Where did this come about and how much of the work is makeup application versus digital manipulation?
If you haven’t heard the word Phygital yet, it’s coming. I can’t take credit for the word, Phygital is a current tech buzz word that truly fits what I’ve been making for a long time. Technology has always been key in my work as my life-long partner and collaborator is a digital pioneer. Over the years, I have applied a lot of tech research into developing new ways of mark making, and visually rethinking the body. Several of my processes have been accelerated by the pandemic and having to work remotely. I’ve arrived at an exciting process that allows me to direct physical surface data capture in different parts of the world remotely, and work on them digitally combining my photography, sculpture, and painting and digital drawing. All surfaces are digitally painted on the face and body using Photoshop and Illustrator. The only point real makeup is existing is if at the point of real-life data capture, the subject has makeup on of their own.
How do you meld art and commerce as a creative?
It’s always a fine balance and something to reinvent and update. Commerce needs to be strategized creatively. I’ve always loved making products and creating brand narrative and helping others conceptualize theirs. So, I brand consult in a wonderful arena from gaming to beauty, fashion, tech, social, and film hired for my vision and passion for new ways of storytelling. I’m currently exhibiting and selling my photography prints with the LA magazine /gallery /collective, The Laboratory Arts Collective, which is super exciting as it’s the first time I’ve exhibited my photography work. These passionate supportive platforms like King Kong Magazine where I’ve been beauty editor from the conception has been the most incredible free-spirited world in which to share my narrative vision and introduce incredible collaborators.
What was your first memorable work as an artist?
In 1994, I was at Chelsea Art college and created the first digital art pieces in my year, using Photoshop 3! I remember I had to go to a print store in Soho, one of the only ones with a sublimation printer to get it printed out. It was memorable because it was such a new process and the beginning of a love affair with tech as a medium.
What are the things about your work that makes it the most interesting to you?
Emotion. Whether it’s a cathartic deep pouring of pain or exhalations of overwhelming joy, I’m present, I’m in there; it’s a diary. It’s my escape and my savior at times. I think people connect with that emotion and that has brought me so much joy, reaching out and connecting people through artwork and storytelling.
What are the challenges you face working as an artist?
I think we live in a time of great communication and beauty, but filtered through appalling channels. Individuality and unique voices are stifled by algorithms designed to show you more of the same. Wanting to reach out and connect with people
through art, but disagreeing with the structure of social media and what its current unimaginitive incarnation has evolved, can be difficult. I talk to students a lot and fear for them to be heard in this sea of noise and fake expectation and value. It’s so hard for them to create when all they see is endless comparisons. We need to move into a time of alternative spaces to create without comparison and with expansion and freedom.
Was there ever a time when you thought you’d give up?
In the early days, yes over and over again. When I was younger, I was hard on myself about getting results fast. So, the exasperation for waiting to feel like something was happening was make or break. Now I’m older, I still feel these anxieties, but trust the process of time. I know now I am the art and it is me, so how do you give up on that without giving up on yourself?
What type of work do you find most satisfying?
Zone Alone meditative, intuitive work, alone drawing /sculpting /creating to music in my studio.
What makes you a good artist?
How do you continue to grow as an artist?
By staying playful, unlearning, breaking and remolding, pushing out your comfort zone, being with children.
Do you have a project that you’ve done that you are especially proud of?
I’m proud to say I have a few, but one that sticks out for its simplicity, but profundity is the ‘play date.’ I created a safe and playful space for kids to put makeup on adults with good quality makeup products, not kids’ face paints. The child would bring their adult sitter and conduct the whole event over two hours of makeup, paint and transformation. What happened was both moving and unforgettable. So many stories of love and liberation and connection. Personal stories of parents who hadn’t sat and let their children play/touch or be that concentrated on just one-on-one for that amount of time in years bonded closer than ever. Very simple, but powerful, and each time I’ve done one, it’s incredible and moving to see barriers you didn’t even know where there fall away.
What inspires you?
My son, my partner, nature, Buddhist teachings.
Whose work do you admire?
So many but if I have to choose — Pina Baush, Francis Bacon, Louise Bourgeois, Tom York, Brian Eno, Bill Viola, Ambrose Akinmusire.
What’s next for Alex Box?
There’s always a next. Next is what drives me. I’m on the edge of one of my most exciting developments to date, a pivotal tool for the industry; a culmination of a career-long dream. I just had to wait for the tech to catch up!
Words Michael DeVellis
Photos courtesy of Alex Box