Teen Vogue recently featured Sara Cwynar.
Brooklyn artist Sara Cwynar has devoted her entire career to going beyond the surface of the beauty world, exploring products from her own perspective behind the lens.
“I think there is a similarity between beauty and art; both are heavily monetized industries that are so subjective,” she says. “Historically, makeup and photography were talked about as middlebrow art forms. Early attitudes toward them were [that they were] non-serious ways of being creative. Now, people take photography more seriously than makeup, but they are both accessible art forms.”
One of the forms her interest take is the study of trending colors. Her short film “Rose Gold” traces the rise of the iconic hue from its prevalence in jewelry during the Victorian era to its popularity when Apple introduced the rose-gold iPhone in 2015. She also examines the stories behind makeup shade names, investigating creamy foundation shades named after the French actress Élisa Rachel Félix, for instance.
“Our ideas of what palettes are in or out are always changing,” she explains. “I think there is a nostalgia in design right now. I see a trend of dusty pinks, orangey reds, and even mustard yellow. These colors refer back to the era of high modernism, the 1960s and 1970s. It was the heyday of advertising. I’m currently showing a series of photographs of my friend, the graphic designer Tracy Ma, leaning against retro grid patterns from the 1950s. She plays on the classic art reclining-woman pose and poses ironically with a knowledge of how women have been depicted in mind, so there’s a wink in it. [She’s] leaning back on large paper blowups of old printing color charts from the 1980s, so she is a figure floating on a color field. There are so many colors in the world, but we actually only see a small percentage of what technology can reproduce. Certain colors take us back to certain times.”
She also studies how the shades we see every day can shift our perceptions of beauty. “I recently made a film called Cover Girl, which was shot in a makeup factory,” she adds. “I wanted to learn about how color gets standardized and how skin tones can be printed digitally. It delves into a larger philosophical tangent about truth and perception: How do we know what we are seeing is right? Who decides what we see? What colors are normalized?”
Sara has been called a “curiosity collector” who collects not only information, but stuff. She is known for carefully arranging iPhone cases, pink razors, and makeup brushes and color-coordinating makeup cases and fake flowers for her photographs. She’s also known for scanning found images from magazines and mixing them with unlikely ones, like lipsticks with basketballs and rubber gloves with blow-dryers.
Her artwork organizes these objects into color-coded collages, revealing new sides of them. Laid out on her studio floor, they tell a specific story.
For inspiration, Sara is drawn to retro beauty advertisements of the 1950s. She also has a collection of Avon aftershave bottles featuring presidential busts, which were released on the U.S. bicentennial in 1976. It’s an all-male cast of world leaders in bottles with their heads as the caps for cologne. But for the artist’s series, which she calls Avon Presidential Bust, Sara removed the heads, photographing them as anonymous busts.
Her work also reveals how much we amass in garbage, plastic packaging, and unnecessary purchases. She taps into the language of advertising to criticize consumerism, creating work at the intersection of product design and pop culture. “What surprised me about the makeup factories is that the really high-end and low-end products are made by the same machinery, so I came to realize so much of makeup is just different packaging,” she says. “I was also struck by the beauty of pigment; it’s crushed into powder. Lipstick tubes are poured into cylinders and hardened. The process is aesthetically seductive.”
Viewing beauty products through new lenses has also shaped her view of the industry. “I’ve always thought a lot about historical depictions of women in art,” she says. “There are problematic politics around who was painted in the 18th century, for example. We only ever see rich white ladies. Looking back on art history, everyone is white, affluent, and submissive. What remains of how women are treated and viewed?”
Ultimately, she believes we’re moving in the right direction. “Makeup can be empowering,” she says. “The question of people being beautiful outside of norms is constantly changing. Our ideas of universal beauty are ever-changing.”
To view the full article please visit Teen Vogue.
For more information about Sara Cwynar please contact the gallery: