Alex Box, Pushing Boundaries

Known for her experimental streak, the makeup artist is turning painting faces into performance art.

LONDON — Makeup artist Alex Box, who’s known for her experimental streak, is turning painting faces into performance art.

This story first appeared in the March 29, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Box, who started out as a fine artist and trained at London’s Chelsea College of Art, teamed with MAC Cosmetics to stage a live performance, called “The Evolution of Surface,” at London’s Louise Blouin Foundation gallery Thursday.

Her work has appeared in titles including Vogue Italia, Vogue Japan, i-D and Dazed & Confused. At the gallery Thursday, she worked with airbrushes, pigments and glosses to create three radically different looks on her model. They ran from one that evoked an ethereal goddess, using MAC’s Blusher in different shades of pink, highlighted with MAC Reflects Gold Pigment, to a surreal, playful look done with painterly brush strokes of MAC’s Chromacake in Vivid Pink, Sky Blue and Genuine Orange, to a Gothic visage painted in glittering blacks and silvers, using MAC’s Micronized Airbrush formula and Silver Pigment, topped off with a feathered headdress. Tonight Box will hold a similar performance at New York’s New Museum, and on Friday at Milk Studios in Los Angeles.

“I really wanted to bring it back to makeup being a performance and an experience,” said Box during an interview Friday. The makeup artist created the looks to music and scented the room with three different Comme des Garçons fragrances to give the performance extra sensory elements. “A friend of mine said ‘You never get to see a painter paint,’ and I think that is one of the magical moments of [the performance], the fact that you get to see [the looks] evolve,” she said.

There was also a digital aspect to Box’s presentation — she used motion control technology to virtually paint on a 3-D face shown on a screen, gesturing like a conductor to make colors appear on the face. “It’s all about exploring what surface is and how you interact with it —and how to explode the dynamic of what makeup is,” said Box.

Indeed, Box said she believes there’s a move toward fantastical beauty looks becoming more commonplace in magazine editorials and on the street. “I think that when we move into a state of economic decline, that’s when people really want fantasy and…to be lifted out of a depression, and that’s when people look to adornment to tell a story,” she said. “You know that it’s artifice, but equally you know that it might be achievable, because it’s makeup.”