Welcome to Artist Spotlight #15 series on my blog.
Kevyn Aucoin was a makeup artist decades ahead of his time. Long before the age of Instagram, the late legend furiously—and intimately—documented his life and career, recording it all with a Polaroid camera or VHS camcorder glued to one of his famously large hands, as well as in his precious collection of scrapbook-style journals, which haven’t been seen publicly until now.
The Makeup Museum unveiled a vast, never-before-seen digital archive of the journals that Aucoin, widely considered the world’s first celebrity makeup artist, kept between 1983 to 1994. They document his Hollywood rolodex (Hello, Tina and Liza!), meetings with all-star collaborators and supermodel confidantes (Cindy, Linda, and Paulina…to name a few), and candid Polaroids snapped on iconic photoshoot sets, from Vogue editorials with Irving Penn to a Chanel campaign with Claudia Schiffer. Altogether, Aucoin’s personal notebooks offer a raw and authentic look into his day to day, the hustle and glamour of it.
“Kevyn was pioneering because he was the first makeup artist to ‘pull back the curtain’ and allow anyone who was even remotely interested in the world of beauty to see behind the scenes,” explains makeup artist Troy Surratt, who was a protégé of Aucoin’s. “He invited everyone to come along with him to catch a glimpse of what was an elusive and exclusive world.” Longstanding proof of this is cemented in his 1997 book Making Faces, which is widely considered “the bible” by new and seasoned makeup artists alike, and has even seen renewed interest from pros in quarantine.
Celebrity makeup artist and cofounder of the Makeup Museum Rachel Goodwin calls Aucoin her “makeup Fairy Godfather” and believes that he not only forged new territory for makeup artists, but new notoriety for the industry (now a billion-dollar behemoth on a rapid upward trajectory). “He was one of the first to bring makeup artistry into mainstream consciousness as a viable profession,” explains Goodwin. “Before Kevyn, there was a lot of secrecy around what we do. [He] gave our craft credibility, he legitimized it.” Moreover, Aucoin’s tale of drive, passion, and perseverance is one that continues to inspire—and his journals evocatively telegraph his personal evolution, from major milestones to personal mementos, such as his backstage pass to the 1994 Oscars or ticket to a Barbra Streisand concert at Madison Square Garden. “They are full of his energy and excitement and unbridled reverence for beauty,” explains Goodwin. “They tell a story of a boy from rural Louisiana whose dream was coming true in real-time. There are so many pinch-me moments in the pages and the way he documented them, it was almost as if he couldn’t believe what was happening to him either.”
A hero to many lost too soon, Aucoin lives on through his work, as well as a personal analog archive that is surely offering something novel to a new generation that taps and uploads as opposed to cutting and pasting. “The journals were created to live on…they are not as ephemeral or fleeting as an Instagram post,” says Surratt. “They are tangible and tactile, the spirit of Kevyn is imbued in the pages.”
Below, see an exclusive preview of the Makeup Museum’s digital archive of Aucoin’s journals.