From his Barcelona beginnings the Make-up artist Pep Gay has always got under the skin of his subjects. He talks to Beauty Papers about colour as intuition and make-up as self-expression.
Interview Esra Gürmen
Pep Gay first got into make-up when he was coming of age in his native Barcelona in the late 80s. When a moment of boredom led to a DIY photoshoot with his close friends who were all into fashion and visual arts, he ended up handling the make-up and was instantly hooked on the craft. What appealed to Pep most was “the idea of working as a team to create entirely new images from scratch”. And in pursuit of likeminded people to collaborate with, in 1994, he decided to move to New York “without knowing a soul there” and find work as a make-up artist. In 2006, Streeters signed Pep and the following year he did a beauty story for i-D, in the aftermath of which his professional career took off. Nowadays he does editorial work for the likes of Dazed, Document and Vogue, and commercial work for Alexander Wang and Elie Saab, among numerous others.
For our Plastic Issue, in which we explored artifice and pseudo-glamour, Pep Gay transformed creator of Alternative Miss World, sculptor Andrew Logan, and glued on to his face a collage of conventional beauty ideals. Here’s what Pep thinks of beauty and colour.
How would you define your make-up style?
I want to believe that I am closer to the artist in “make-up artist”. I don’t see myself as a technician whose only goal is to make women beautiful. For me, there has to be a story, an intention behind what I do, even when I am working on a simple, nude make-up. I like to think that my work is spontaneous, strong, refined, straightforward and clean. It took a lot of research and creating and experimenting with different techniques and products for me to become more confident.
Could you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind your Beauty Papers shoot and what it was like working with Andrew Logan?
Andrew Logan is a maximalist affiliated with the pop art canon, and I wanted to translate that into the photo shoot. I perused beauty editorials and campaign ads from the back issues of Vogue. The idea was to cut out and borrow old beauty faces and ideals and use them as elements to create a new character. I’d never met Andrew Logan, so I wasn’t sure if he’d be up for having things glued onto his face! But he was very laid-back, open, and enthusiastic when we met him at his museum in Wales. When I presented my ideas to him, he sat down in the make-up chair without hesitation and simply said: “Come on then.” Having sat in that chair countless times for his Alternative Miss World pageants, Andrew was an absolute pro.
Unfortunately, I think beauty has lost its soul to what appears to be beautiful – a false beauty... But once you have tasted the real beauty, you want to find it again somehow.
As a make-up artist, how is your relationship to colour, and the way you see or visualise things?
I’ve always had an intuitive understanding of colour and always paid endless attention to not only the purest colours, but to the combination of different colours and the tone, brightness, warmth and texture that certain combinations create. For me, colour is just as important as the composition or the narrative. Colour is a much broader concept than simply picking the colour of a lipstick, eyeshadow or blush. It’s essential, for example, to recognise the importance of a particular hue in the black used for pencils and mascaras, and the subtle tones of browns for eyebrow pencils, as well as the different tones and warmth of a foundation and concealer – or even the undertones that a setting powder can give to the foundation.
Luckily, some cosmetic brands have started to focus on reaching out to people from diverse backgrounds, each of whom have a different set of needs and desires, and the importance of shades and colour has never been more evident.
Do you think make-up can be political or really say something about the wearer’s personality/ identity?
Absolutely. Make-up has always been a form of self-expression, either to convey one’s feelings and mood or to make a statement about a cause that the wearer feels strongly connected to. This has been one of make-up’s purposes since ancient times. I’m convinced that it all began as a statement of one’s own individuality, and I don’t think it’s any different in today’s society.
For me, colour is just as important as the composition or the narrative. Colour is a much broader concept than simply picking the colour of a lipstick, eyeshadow or blush.
What’s your idea of beauty?
Beauty does not exist. It’s connected to our emotions, so it’s something that we create in our mind. And it’s something that appears unexpectedly. We tend to think of beauty as something pleasant that is easy on the soul, but we forget that it can also be shocking and violent. For me, beauty must be connected to individuality and freedom. Unfortunately, I think beauty has lost its soul to what appears to be beautiful – a false beauty. This is consumerism, and the mass market wants to sell us their rules of beauty, and it’s terrible because it destroys the individuality within each of us. But once you have tasted the real beauty, you want to find it again somehow.