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Artist finds tools she needs in her makeup bag: Kim Mi-seung turned her interest in beauty products into a new style of painting

I believe cosmetics intensify the characteristics of subjects while creating a glamorous ambience.
Feb 18,2019
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Artist Kim Mi-seung at her home in Gimpo. Kim uses expired beauty products to color her drawings. [LIM HYUN-DONG]
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Some of the colorful beauty products Kim Mi-seung uses for her artworks, including a palette of eye shadows and lipsticks. [LIM HYUN-DONG]
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Some popular works by Kim Mi-seung include a portrait of Vincent van Gogh, left, and singer Sunmi, right. [LIM HYUN-DONG]
For many, putting on makeup is a part of their everyday routine. They purchase a number of beauty products to wear each day, ranging from BB cream to foundation, eye shadow, lipstick and blush, many of which are only good for six months before they expire. Naturally, many beauty products go to waste every year, especially in Korea, where leading cosmetics brands release new and trendy items every few months.

Artist Kim Mi-seung, however, has found a new use for these expired beauty items. Instead of just throwing them away, the 25-year-old uses them as the primary medium for her paintings. For example, she uses leftover BB cream to color in the skin of a figure on a drawing while using glossy pearls from eye shadow to brighten up the general ambience of her work and add some glamor to it.

Some of her notable artworks that have captured people’s attention are Mathilda from “Leon” (1994) and the famous image of Audrey Hepburn resting her chin on her hands.

Although the main reason the artist began using beauty products for her paintings was not to save the environment but out of her interest in beauty products, many people who support her mission regularly send her their cosmetics, hoping to save the environment while leaving their leftover beauty products to be utilized effectively.

Amid growing concerns about how to best protect the environment, Kim has become a star not just on social media but also in the retail business. Last month, Shinsegae Duty Free collaborated with the artist for a campaign about upcycling.

To discuss her process of making art, Kim sat down for an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily earlier this month in Sinchon, western Seoul. The following are edited excerpts.



Q. You said you have been interested in using cosmetics products since you were a teenager. What about beauty products did you find so charming?

A
. I began wearing makeup when I was in middle school. At that time, lots of brands, such as The Face Shop and Innisfree started opening up on the corners of every street. Since I was a teenager, I was very concerned about my look and wanted to overcome what I did not like about my appearance through beauty products. I felt more confident after putting on makeup and I gradually became obsessed with it. Even after being scolded by my parents and teachers for putting on makeup, I did not stop. They still appear in my dreams sometimes (laughs).



Applying makeup on paper is different from putting it on your face. What motivated you to use makeup tools for your artwork?

The first time I used beauty products for a painting was when I was in high school. It was during a test for Western art class. The primary tool we were required to use was acrylic paints. At that time, I was not used to using them, so I took out a BB cream sample I had in my bag. By applying BB cream on the face of my drawing, I was able to soften the rugged surface created from the acrylic paints. I received a good grade for that. After the test, I forgot about what I did, but that thought popped back into my mind when I was about to graduate university [and was looking for what to do with my career.]



What makes cosmetics better than existing art tools such as paint or pastels?

There are many different types of cosmetics that I can choose from and use depending on my intention of painting. If I want to produce the texture of a pastel, I will use eye shadow. To replace watercolors, I will use lip tint and nail polish for acrylic paint. I believe most existing art tools can be replaced with beauty products. I am also interested in experimenting with mixing different types of beauty products to yield new results. For example, if I want to create the texture of watercolor, I can mix up lip balm and eye shadow [instead of just using lip tint.]

My favorite beauty product for my artwork is cosmetic pearls. It is not just sparkly, but is also 3-D, meaning it creates different looks and ambience depending on the angle from which the viewer looks at my works.



There must be limitation to using beauty products for art. What are some things you can’t do using cosmetics for your art?

So far, I have not faced any limits using cosmetics. My oldest painting is five years old, but it has not been discolored so far, although it may in the future. At first, I wanted to prevent [the colors from fading] at all costs. But now, I believe that is just part of my art. Now, I wonder how it will change.



If they fade, wouldn’t it make your works more difficult to sell?

I receive requests for portraits and I have been turning them down [because of] concerns over discoloration. But if I one day decide to take commissions, I would have to warn them in advance about possible discoloration.

Apart from this concern, another reason I am not drawing on others’ request is because I do not want to be paid for doing what I like. Right now, I am enjoying what I am doing - drawing people I like with the tools I favor. But once I start to be paid to do it, I will feel a lot of responsibility and pressure.



What makes you stick with using beauty products?

I like sparkly things and I am very familiar with beauty products. Since I am comfortable with them, I have a special affection toward cosmetics. Also, I find it very interesting to continue experimenting with beauty products.



Apart from drawing people, what charm do you think cosmetic products have when drawing subjects?

I believe cosmetic products intensify the characteristics of subjects while creating a glamorous ambience. I recently painted a tiger. While working on it, I was able to make its fur look soft and glossy by using [eye shadow] pearls. I think beauty products could make what could be bland look much livelier.



You have been labeled an upcycling artist. How do you feel about the title?

To be honest, being environmentally-friendly was not my original intention. I started doing art this way because of my love for cosmetics. I purchased a lot of beauty products and I thought it was a waste to throw them away, so I started painting with them. I do not have to worry about the cost of my supplies because so many people send me their expired cosmetics.

Apart from cosmetics, I also draw and paint on kraft paper, which is also environmentally friendly. I use these papers because the color of a person’s skin tone is better depicted on brown paper than white paper.



There is some disagreement over whether your works can be deemed art. How do you feel about that?

I have receive criticism from some people who discuss whether my works should be deemed art. These remarks stimulate me to work harder to create better quality pieces. Though they have the freedom to question my work, I am planning to continue making art using beauty products because that is what I like.



It has only been four years since you started your career as an artist. What kind of an artist do you want to become?

I want to be an artist who is able to go beyond producing works that are just pretty and help viewers experience a wide range of feelings through them.

BY JIN MIN-JI [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]