Artist, Creative Director of Sorapol and Illamasqua fan discusses the inspiration behind his upcoming exhibition at SCAD FASH and his relationship with beauty
What was your thinking behind the title of the show –
‘Be Yourself; Everyone Else Is Already Taken’?
Oscar Wilde is one of my greatest inspirations. His wit and words blow my mind. All great quotes are meant to be stolen and I found that ‘Be Yourself; Everyone Else Is Already Taken’ was what I wanted people to think when they leave the exhibition (curated by Rafael Gomes at SCAD). I wanted them to walk out and consider that someone actually lives in this way and that it might inspire them to break out of their own comfort zone. On the other hand and equally amazingly, people will hopefully walk out and realise that underneath we are all not that different. Either way I want people to think.
Is there a particular period in history that most influenced the exhibition?
My exhibition has been influenced by my whole life, from real experiences spending time with the Masai or London’s club land. The exhibition is also inspired by ‘The Terracotta Army’ collection of sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang guarding their Emperor. The warriors represent me in my clothes, my armour. Then I apply my war paint very much like the member of a tribe.
I often think that you have to be your own army to protect and defend yourself. There’s one of me and a lot of others with prejudiced views. I believe my outfits afford me protection as in reality I am quite a reserved person, but when I put an outfit on I can face the world and everyone in it.
My outfits are my Terracotta Army and I’d like to think inside them I am the Emperor guiding the final result. Each look represents many facets of my character showing different moods inspired by my travels around the world and cultures explored on my journeys. There are nods to Marie Antoinette, Queen Elizabeth I and the painting ‘St Luke Drawing a Portrait of the Madonna 1435’. Also Geishas, Masai tribes-people and last but not least my own homage to London’s night club underworld.
You’ve referenced David Bowie as an influence, what was about his personal style that inspires you?
David was a boundary breaker. He set trends and opened so many doors for so many people. He made people think differently with his image and music and made it acceptable to experiment with gender and fashion. I was attracted to his individuality and adored the makeup he wore.
“…in reality I am quite a reserved person, but when I put an outfit on I can face the world and everyone in it.”
Where did the idea for having the mannequin’s faces painted come from?
My face has been a huge part of my identity, I often change it by using makeup to distort or decorate. I always wanted to create some kind of mask for my face so I didn’t need to put any effort into dressing up and going out.
I had a plaster cast of my face made into masks to go on the mannequins in the exhibit by SCAD’s Head of Sculpture. As the outfits are so loud I left my eyes closed to give the impression I am in a state of trance hopefully resembling the Terracotta Warriors standing in state to guard their Emperor. For the makeup, I had paint created to match my Illamasqua Lipstick and Skin Base Foundation, these were created as a homage to a brand that I love because of its individuality.
You’ve stated that for you – “when you put on your clothes, it’s like you’re going out to war in the world.” – do you see make-up as the finishing touch to your armour? In what ways does it contribute towards your final look?
I wear make up to enhance an outfit. When you wear make-up it is always to finish a look. But it also helps me achieve my goals. Sometimes I might attend a party where I know there will be people who won’t get me and my aesthetic so I make them uncomfortable and go for a full-on tribal look. Other times I go for a simple beautiful look.
Make-up forms a massive part of my work. I also don’t believe that it needs to be finished perfectly on me because I like the real touch mistakes and flaws give. Sometimes the mistakes turn into art and it’s nice to create something I don’t necessarily have a reference for.
I often put my makeup on before I get changed. Depending on what I am wearing I sometimes match the outfit with the makeup colours.
How has your relationship with make-up and the looks you create changed with it over time?
When I first discovered the underground club scene of London I was a bit scared to go so theatrical. Then my friend Levi Palmer started me on wearing glitter with a dark eye. I then wore masks for about a year until Lee Benjamin the creator of Leigh Bowery’s costumes told me I should show my face. That’s when I got more extreme with makeup.
My favourite look used to be changing the colour of my skin then covering it in glitter. Occasionally I experiment and add a drag feel to my look. I tend to do a cat flick on my eye and paint my beauty spot black with a light coloured foundation underneath. I love a red lip painted over and above the outlines of my lips. I can do it in five minutes and it always makes things look more elegant. I never spend more than fifteen to twenty minutes on my face these days.