Kabuki the Makeup Magician

When I look at Kabuki's work i'm usually staring at it in awe trying to dissect how he might have put together such an incredible creation. Kabuki's work is some of the most intricate and detailed out there. The characters he creates are full of fantasy, and each piece offers a bite sized glimpse inside his truly incredible creative mind.

Vogue Italia, March 2004

It's no surprise that from a young age Kabuki was a talented illustrator. At the age of 11 he appeared on a TV programme called "Kidsworld" where he spoke about his drawings. In the video you can hear Kabuki's northern English accent. He was born in Rochdale but his family relocated to Florida when he 10. His dad was an artist for Disney and it was his fathers library of books on artists such as Erte, Aubrey Beardsley, Leon Bakst, Kay Nielsen that really opened his eyes. "Their drawings were like portals to another world of amazing and exotic people".

Kabuki's interests shifted to makeup when he discovered a photo book of David Bowie. It was at the same time that Boy George was also challenging gender stereotypes in pop culture. "When Cameras Go Crazy" was a book that featured photographs of Boy George and his friends from the legendary The Blitz nightclub. "I was finding that there was a real-life version of the paintings and illustrations that I loved."

Kabuki Starshine

Kabuki used his own face as a canvas to develop his skills as a Makeup Artist long before he began making up others. He utilised the techniques he'd learnt as a young painter and practiced on himself until his application was perfect. When he moved to Brooklyn at the age of 20 he was introduced to the underground New York club scene and named himself Kabuki Starshine. It wasn't long before Starshine's otherworldly looks garnered people's attention. Antony Hegarty, now known as Anohni, brought Starshine into Blacklips Performance Cult, a unique performance collective. They would perform together each Monday at the Pyramid Club where legends such as Leigh Bowery would come to watch. As Starshine didn't sing or perform, they relied solely on their visual presentation. Hegarty would give a character or a theme and it was Starshine's job to actualise it. "My contribution was somewhat minuscule compared to Anohni’s amazing talent, but it did push me to make my visuals even more compelling than they might have been otherwise."

Whilst working with Antonio at Blacklips, Starshine caught the eye of Susanne Bartsch. Bartsch took Starshine to Europe where he caught the eye of Thierry Mugler. Mugler spotted Starshine in a club and tapped him on the shoulder to ask if he would walk in his show. The show in questions was the designers 20th anniversary spectacular that took place at the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris in 1995. At the time it was the most expensive fashion show that anyone had ever done. The haute couture show was an hour long spectacle with a mind-blowing 300 looks. The show was walked by supermodels Carmen Dell’Orefice, Veruschka von Lehndorff, Jerry Hall, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Kabuki Starshine closed the show.

The Kabuki Starshine drag persona was a living, breathing and ever-changing work of art that acted as the makeup portfolio that kick started Kabuki's career as a Makeup Artist. In 1998 he received a call from Patricia Fielding asking if he would be interested in being the Makeup Artist for a new show she was doing called "Sex and The City". Keeping his drag name as a professional alias, Kabuki accepted and was the head Makeup Artist for Season's 1 & 2.

"Party Monster" 2003

Kabuki went on to work as the Makeup Artist for several indie movies, one of the last being "Party Monster". The makeup captured the eye of photographer Steven Klein. Kabuki received a phone call and was asked to bring photos of his work. When Klein saw all the avant-garde work he used to do he was sold. Klein booked Kabuki for the job with the instructions to "bring all your stuff and do crazy things." The photoshoot was for Italian Vogue and the story is pure makeup magic. Kabuki changed model Karen Elson's face again and again drawing inspiration from looks he used to create on himself as Kabuki Starshine.

The shoot caused a stir and Kabuki's career quickly sky rocketed him to the Queen and King of pop. Madonna saw the images and asked him to work with her on some press shots and tour videos that Klein was shooting. Following that Kabuki was asked to do Micheal Jackson's makeup for the October cover of L'Uomo Vogue in 2007.

FKA Twigs

Since then Kabuki has really solidified his mark in both the fashion and music industries. Working on music videos and magazine covers for artist's such as Katy Perry, Rihanna, Kylie Minogue and FKA Twigs. His work regularly graces the fashion week runways for designers such as Moschino and Manish Arora and he even designed his own makeup line in collaboration with Mac Cosmetics.

Kabuki's body of work is truly phenomenal and is well worth studying for a lesson in true technical brilliance and fearless creativity.

Head over to our Pinterest page for more examples of Kabuki's amazing work.


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