When we think of face painting, we usually think of clowns, county fairs and this turtle-loving zombie kid. We certainly tend not to respect it as an art: instead, it’s considered a dabbling at best, the sort of medium best left to teenage girls raising money for charity during a parade by painting children’s faces.
But as Russian make-up artist Valeriya Kutsan shows, there’s nothing trivial about face painting. The human countenance can be an unparalleled canvas, and accounting for its contours takes great skill. For proof, look no further than Kutsan’s latest series, 2D Or Not 2D. Teamed up with photographer Alexander Khoklov and post-processing expert Veronica Ershova, Kutsan has used a breathtaking array of techniques to paint the faces of models to resemble the flat, two-dimensional works of famous 20th-century artists.
One beauty might be caked with so many metallic pastels as to resemble a Basquiat print, while another might be covered in Ben-Day dots after Lichtenstein, or even be fractured into panes like a Mondrian muse. Some models bleed watercolors, others are obscured by pixelation, still others have been turned into paint-splattered newspaper collages. There is even a red-white-and-blue Russian beauty who has seemingly stepped out of Shepard Fairey’s hopeful artistic world.
It is truly breathtaking technique, but 2D Or Not 2D isn’t Kutsan’s first collaboration with Khoklov. Last year, the team paired up for a series of monochrome prints called Weird Beauty in which Kushan coated models’ faces with white paint, then creating fiendishly intricate reliefs in black. The designs in this series encompassed everything from QR codes to circuit board designs, Wi-Fi symbols, and corporate logos. Perhaps the most impressive in the bunch is one that features Google’s distinctive “G,” repeating itself endlessly as it falls into the false horizon of a model’s face.
While having a great photographer to take pictures and an expert photo editor to retouch them helps, it’s quite clear that most of the skill that brings these models to life lies behind Kutsan’s make-up brush.
To see more of Kutsan’s incredible work, see her website here.