In the Intimacy issue of Varoom Alix-Rose Cowie meets Athena Paginton, a makeup artist living and working in London, who is broadening the definition of illustration with her makeup brush.
What’s perhaps most appealing about Paginton’s work is that it seems free-spirited in a medium that’s often reserved for very rigid constraints of what is beautiful. Makeup is most often used to conceal so-called ‘flaws’ and to enhance physical attractiveness, whereas she paints loud flames to call attention to a planet in crisis.
When Paginton has more freedom than commercial commissions sometimes allow, her work bursts with colour and joy, proving makeup to be a powerful medium of expression. “I’d definitely consider it art,” she says. But her work is about more than her own individual creative pursuits; it’s rooted in activism and she uses her compelling visuals to strike up a conversation on climate change, mental health or animal rights. “I approach face painting the same as I do illustration and allow my ideas to stem from an emotion, or a topical issue that I want to bring awareness to,” she says.
When Paginton paints with bold colour she notices a huge shift in energy in the room. “It allows a moment of freedom for the person who’s being painted, it’s like watching them become a kid again,” she says. “It’s extremely wholesome, as though it’s the only time they feel they can run around covered in paint. It’s very pure.”
Casting plays a pivotal part in Paginton’s work. The model, essentially a canvas, has to pull off the look. “The energy and connection I have with the person I’m painting holds a huge impact on the work that is created,” she says. In order to generate rapport she has to make them feel safe before literally getting in their face.
Though Paginton’s message may be temporary on the skin, it lives on in photographs. In fact, she relishes wiping it off at the end of a shoot. “There is something so invigorating about makeup being a disposable piece of art.”