The similarities between painting your face and painting a canvas are myriad, but no artist has made the connection quite so eloquently as Sylvie Fleury.
The Geneva-born painter and sculptor is a Pop artist in the great tradition of people like Andy Warhol, determined to shine a spotlight on otherwise overlooked objects, like shoes, shopping bags, and perfume bottles – items that also, uncoincidentally, have come to symbolize contemporary femininity. Her latest series “Eye Shadows” is currently on display at New York’s Salon 94, and features large-scale replicas of what’s pretty much your dream Sephora haul. In fact, beauty buffs will be able to spot the familiar shapes of eyeshadow palettes by Chanel, Tom Ford, and Armani from a mile away.
Fleury’s paintings, which are so true to their inspiration that if you visit them IRL, you may have a hard time not wanting to swipe a brush across them and highlight your brow bone, are inspired by her own enjoyment of beauty products. “One day, after having seen these compacts for all these years, suddenly I realized, in fact, they are really good abstract paintings,” she told Vogue. “My practice often takes me in the way of the ready-made, or there is often a temptation to do new things by reshowing what is already part of our world.”
While Fleury is hardly the first artist to transform the trappings of femininity into fine art, she does it in a unique way that’s simultaneously laudatory and thought-provoking. She’s clearly appreciative of the aesthetics of her subject matter, but it also feels like she’s asking us to truly consider it – why it exists, what it symbolizes, what role it plays in our lives. Makeup is a surprisingly loaded topic for a lot of women.
While we’re often told by men that we should “wear less” of it, studies, including one published in the October 2016 issue of the journal Perception, also show that women who wear makeup are seen by others as more “competent.” On the one hand, it’s pretty and can make us feel good to apply, but on the other, it’s hard to deny that it’s aggressively marketed to us from the time we’re young and can feel like a necessity in order to fit into our culture’s unrealistic beauty standards.
By transforming the makeup palette into art, it gives us room to consider all of these things more fully than if we were, say, just browsing the local Ulta. And by elevating things traditionally associated with women into the (still shockingly male-dominated) fine art realm, Fleury makes the statement that these topics are worth talking about, and not just among women. “That’s what I do all the time, I rethink these things … It ultimately is about awareness – just paying more attention to things, to people,” she says.
But of course, just like makeup itself, it’s also possible to enjoy Fleury’s paintings for exactly what they are on the surface: beautiful, colorful things.