The term "looking good" is up for debate as a subculture of experimental artists redefine what is considered beautiful.
Beauty is not looking its normal self lately. Forked tongues, rotting lashes and digital disfigurements are creeping up across social media and beyond, as artists and influencers turn beauty convention on its head. Now, a wave of artists are hacking away at the human form, in search of a darker, provocative aesthetic.
“Beauty is not synonymous with looking good,” Bunny Kinney, editorial director at Dazed Media, tells JWT Intelligence. “People recognize beauty as a way of transformation—being scary or ugly is part of that.”
Dazed Beauty launched in September 2018, promising to “broaden people’s mind and awareness as to what is beautiful.” Coverage has since included body modifications, non-binary beauty and artists exploring the “grotesque.” The images presented on Dazed Beauty may make its audience wince or feel repulsed, but for some they are inspiring and even empowering. Whatever the emotional response, it’s clear that a new type of beauty is evolving.
“There’s an anti-beauty movement going on that’s looking at more extreme manners of transformation,” explains Kinney. Such transformation explored by Dazed Beauty includes people surgically splitting their tongue as a way to express individuality and artists digitally experimenting with morphing bodies together. “Beauty is not a fixed concept,” says Kinney. “There’s an artistry to what they’re doing too.”
In line with Dazed Beauty’s thinking is Moscow-based makeup artist Sam Schavlev, who uses a combination of makeup, prosthetics and digital enhancement to mutate faces. “I want people to feel uncomfortable when they see my art,” Schavlev says. “The more you look, the more all the things you thought to be right about it start to feel wrong, and all that should be wrong start to feel right.”
From niche to mainstream, luxury Italian brand Gucci also taps into the darker side of beauty by exploring a trans-human aesthetic. For its Fall 2018 Ready-to Wear collection, models walked the runway holding replicas of their own heads and sporting horns and third eyes. More recently, Gucci opted for a gothic theme for its Cruise 2019 collection where makeup was used to distort the lips and eyes of the featured models. “We are the Dr. Frankenstein of our lives,” Alessandro Michele, creative director of Gucci, explains. “Inventing, assembling, experimenting.”
Experimentation in beauty is also making waves in the digital realm, going beyond simple filters. Makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench collaborated with digital artist Rick Farin for an editorial piece featured in fashion publication 032c’s winter edition. The imagery created shows conjoined bodies slathered in white gooey liquid and eroding faces.
Ffrench, who is also creative director for Dazed Beauty, created a series of 10 imaginative 3D characters based on existing influencers including Kate Moss, artist Alejandro Ghersi (aka “Arca”) and fashion model Slick Woods. The animated heads are part of Dazed Beauty’s exploration into digital makeup and the future of beauty. For the launch of Dazed Beauty, Ffrench said in a statement, “I’m excited to explore new territories in beauty with a distinctly digital angle. This is beauty for the social media age. Our aim is to redefine beauty itself — for everyone.”
The rise of CGI-artists playing in the space of beauty, art and culture are using Instagram as the outlet to showcase their work. 22-year-old Hatti Rees creates online alter egos featuring elongated necks and three eyes and Australian 3D artist Jason Ebeyer designs extra-terrestrial digital figures inspired by “internet subculture, fashion, erotica and technology.”
“Men and women are starting to step totally outside the prescribed ideal aesthetic into something much more about self-expression,” Alexia Inge, cofounder of online beauty store Cult Beauty, tells JWT Intelligence. “They’ve been through three years of digital makeup education, from the basics to layering and detail, and now they’re starting to experiment.”
The age of Instagram has given rise to a generation broadening the beauty palette and paving way for bold new forms of self-expression that is looking daring, unusual, grotesque—and beautiful.
Main image: Left, Slick Woods by artist Rick Farin. Right, Princess Gollum by artist Pastelae