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The Bizarre World of Makeup Artists, Where Ovals Are Perfection and Monsters Are Beautiful

Spots? Why not.
Spots? Why not.
Photo by Star Foreman

When the International

Makeup Artist Trade Show rolls into town, it brings with it a million

tiny pans of eye shadow -- and the utter conviction that the right shade

of lipstick can change your life. At the Pasadena Convention Center,

where the trade show took place earlier this summer, beauty is the main

concern. Conceptions of beauty, however, are as varied as the people in

attendance.

For professionals like Donna Mee, who is teaching the

Perfect Beauty/Advanced Artistry workshop, scientific principles hold

true. "The epitome of beauty is the oval. The epitome of beauty is not

to have cheekbones -- it is to have high prominent cheekbones."

Mee

specializes in corrective techniques. The list of undesirables that can

manifest on any given face are infinite -- large pores, oily skin,

wrinkles, crooked nose, weak chin. All of it, right down to a person's

bone structure, can be fixed by the strategic application of makeup.

The

methods are highly specific. Take brows, for instance. You could write a

dissertation on brows -- in fact, Mee is doing just that. Her book, Eyebrows for Dummies, is forthcoming.

You

know you've applied the right makeup, she notes, because it feels "like

looking at someone through a sheer, tinted veil of chiffon." She

summons a memory from a recent photo shoot. "This girl came in," Mee

says of the model. "I was like, 'Really? She looks like a troll. Oh God,

I thought, I gotta cover that shit up.' " Shit thusly covered, the

transformation was so magical that, afterwards, Mee reports, the girl

could not stop snapping pictures of herself.

The convention has

barely started and already one young woman, Phadra, a slight waitress of

24, has blown her budget on $100 worth of eye shadow. She seems

unperturbed by the amount of product now in her possession. "I have two

big boxes of eye shadow back at home," she says.

To her, ideal beauty is about the eyes. Today, her eyelids are aggressively shaded with purplish black and chartreuse.

Her

friend Amber's concept of beauty isn't tied to one facial feature. The

perfect face, she believes, is mainly about technique: "It can be goth

or whatever, as long as it's done correctly." Her eyebrows are

meticulously drawn, but in green -- like two fuzzy caterpillars perched

on her forehead. Clearly, to some women, the parameters of the beauty

ideal extend farther than oval-shaped faces.

Makeup, for that matter, is no longer even the exclusive provenance of women.

"Guys

can wear makeup, definitely," says makeup effects student Fredrick

Faith. "Ladies," he advises, "pop a bit of foundation in your man's

moisturizer and see how many compliments he gets."

Asked if he

wears makeup every day, Faith nods yes, then reconsiders: "Well, every

night." Sometimes he accents his cheeks with hot pink blush and cakes

his brows with concealer so they all but disappear. "When you open up

the forehead like that, it's incredible," he says.

To him, ideal beauty pushes a few buttons.

Other

guys prefer a natural look -- like themselves, only better. "Yes, I have

makeup on right now," says fitness model David Kimmerle. To the abiding

interest of a half-dozen girls with cellphone cameras, it is

practically the only thing he has on right now. Kimmerle, who is manning

the South Seas Skincare booth, is wearing South Seas Island Tan Matte

Bronzer, a pair of shorts and a serious expression.

"The ideal

beauty?" he says. "She would be worried as much about her inside as her

outside. She would not wear a lot of makeup." His pectoral muscles

twitch as he talks.

"This is not my natural color, by the way," he

adds. "This," he says, pulling down the waistband of his shorts, "is my

real color." The girls giggle.

Like any other scene,

the professional makeup world has its rock stars. One of them is the

artist known as Kabuki. In New York, he attended "the nightclub school"

of cosmetology. Each night, he'd turn himself into a blue-faced Hindu

goddess, say, or a gold Thai dancer. He'd encrust his friends' eyelids

in jewels, cover cheeks in lace and turn eyelashes into insect wings.

When

Kabuki walks into the auditorium -- pale, lanky, dressed in black -- a

hush descends. A model lies supine on a recliner onstage, her body

covered in a gold shroud. Kabuki kneels, his slender hands fluttering

over the girl's upturned face, painstakingly applying rhinestones with a

Q-tip.

"I had a really strange trajectory," he murmurs. "I used

to go around to agencies and drop my book off. They wanted to know what

famous photographers I was working with, but I wasn't working with any."

Then he did his first fashion shoot with Stephen Klein for Italian Vogue.

After Klein picked the craziest looks from Kabuki's portfolio, Madonna

called him. Soon, this guy who'd been wearing lipstick since he was 14

was doing makeup for Dolce & Gabbana couture runway shows plus Gwen

Stefani, Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga.

"I can do whatever I want

now," he says. "But as far as my favorite things, they tend to be

androgynous." Beauty, to him, is inextricably linked with strangeness.

Colors

are building up on the model's face now. Using the back of his hand as a

mixing palette, he brushes and dabs and blends and blots. It is like

watching paint dry. It is watching paint dry.

He stands

up. The model's eye socket is a moody swirl of color: mauve, violet,

indigo, yellow and crimson. "It's pretty," he says, examining the girl's

face critically. "It's like a sunset on Mars."

Barney's Burman's makeup for Star Trek
Barney's Burman's makeup for Star Trek

Odd and beautiful

are two sides of the same coin. "I find character beautiful," says

artist Barney Burman, who won an Oscar in 2010 for makeup in Star Trek. "Not something poured out of a mold. But take a beautiful face and put a scar on it."

Walking

the convention floor with his young son, Burman stops to observe a guy

painting a pair of prosthetic webbed hands at one of the special effects

booths.

"Like monsters?" suggests his son.

"Sure. Monsters

can be beautiful," Burman says. But not the webbed hands in front of

him: "Not that. That's chaos. That's a mess. It's uninspired." Anjelica

Huston's witch in Captain EO was beautiful, he says. Or H.R. Giger's alien, in Alien.

"Predator?" offers his son.

"There's a certain beauty and elegance to that one," Burman says.

"Many

of us makeup artists strive for elegance," he continues. "The original

Frankenstein was elegant ... the Hunchback of Notre Dame ... Bjork."

He

finds Bjork's off-kilter smile and asymmetrical face quite beautiful.

"Perfect symmetry does not exist," he says. If it did, he suspects, it

would look pretty damn weird.

Follow me on Twitter at @gendyalimurung, and for more arts news follow us at @LAWeeklyArts and like us on Facebook.

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