When Frida Kahlo died, her husband, Diego Rivera, locked her things up in a room in their Mexico City home, with the provision that they would not be disturbed for 15 years. They stayed hidden for much longer than that—'til 2004, when an exhibition of the artist’s belongings opened at Museo Frida Kahlo. Japanese photographer Ishiuchi Miyako was invited to shoot the well-worn dresses and objects, and the resulting photos are currently on display at the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London. In addition to amazing hand-painted body casts and cat-eye sunglasses, two half-used bottles of Revlon nail polish make an appearance. Orchids To You was Frida's preferred shade, and I get a little thrill imagining her making this selection—did she pick it for the name? Did she, like me, take forever to choose a new color? In any case, it’s personal details that make legends more real to us, and this seems especially true when looking at the cosmetics of a visual artist like Frida, a woman who dedicated her life to aesthetics—whether painted, worn, or lacquered on nail-by-nail.
In light of this Frida-Revlon revelation, I was curious to look at a few other artists and their relationships with makeup.
In 1936, O’Keeffe was commissioned by Elizabeth Arden to paint a mural in her New York spa (the painting, “ Jimson Weed ,” was done in the facility’s gym because Arden thought the unfurling forms would persuade clients to stretch). The two became friendly, and Arden eventually coerced the naturally beautiful O’Keeffe to sit for a makeover. The results horrified the painter, who washed her face immediately and likely high-tailed it back to the desert sans samples.
The Iranian artist and filmmaker famously dons thick streaks of kohl beneath her eyes; there’s hardly a magazine profile about her work that doesn’t mention it. It’s a look that appears as much in Neshat’s portraiture as it does in her everyday life. In March, she told Harper’s Bazaar, “I never go out in public without it. I go to walk my dog, and I make sure I have my eye makeup on. It gives me a sense of security.”
Minter’s work often references current trends in fashion and beauty, making her 2009 photo series for MAC’s glitter pigments a no-brainer commission for the beauty brand. A little brand-loyalty doesn’t hurt either; Minter’s preferred shade of lipstick? MAC’s Dubonnet.
The chameleonic photographer also collaborated with MAC; in her case, the result was an ad campaign for MAC’s 2011 Fall Colour Collection (the very one that launched the brand’s ineffable Ruby Woo). Sherman assumed the guise of a curly-haired, over-blushed gamine and a brightly painted, slightly bored-looking clown to promote the line.
The abstract expressionist painter found cosmetics useful to have on hand during fits of creative inspiration. Her 1956 drawing “Hotel du Quai Voltaire' was completed in a Paris hotel room on brown liner paper she’d pulled from a dresser drawer, using nail polish and lipstick from her own makeup case.
Images 1 and 3-5 via Getty. Image 2 by Ishiuchi Miyako, courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery. Read Stacey Nishimoto's mini-series, Art Now, featuring Mae Elvis and Jessica Dean Harrison.