Isamaya Ffrench: senses working overtime

The make-up and performance artist behind Kanye West's BLKKK SKKKN HEAD video transformation takes us through her hyper-real aesthetic

Isamaya Ffrench Transformers
Photography by Florence Tétier and Nicolas Coulomb, Make-up Isamaya Ffrench using MAC Pro

Taken from the summer 2014 issue of Dazed:

“I like the idea of creating imagery that catches you out,” explains London artist Isamaya Ffrench, who approaches skin as a canvas for expression. She’s best known for hyper-real make-up transformations such as Kanye West’s dark alter-ego in the “BLKKK SKKKN HEAD” video and the gold-painted nude performers of artist Eddie Peake. Ffrench is also a performance artist herself with the Theo Adams Company, a radical London-based collective of artists, dancers, musicians and actors. Her intensely vivid, self-taught aesthetic of bold paint and pigment guides narratives through the worlds of fashion, music and art. Under her fingertips, beauty can convey euphoria, fantasy and fear. 

BEYOND THE SENSES

“I’m really into exploring uncontrollable emotional responses and states of euphoria by creating visuals that stimulate nostalgia, fear or surprise. ‘Sense’ is a very specific dictionary definition, but there are senses that aren’t physical – such as an emotional response that isn’t elicited from direct physical contact but makes you react in a way that you can’t necessarily control.” 

WATER OF LIFE

“For this project I wanted to explore a way to connect all the senses. Water was an obvious choice, as submersion has an effect on all senses, either by distorting or removing them. We wanted to create something quite uncomfortable. Theo Adams did a short film a while ago that was all underwater, with harsh, synthetic light and threatening overtones. I was drawn to ideas of water and performance.” 

ANOTHER WORLD

“I hope there is an element of claustrophobia to the final image. You have all these synthetic elements – the colours, the light, the gels, the weird glossiness – and you have this acetate and water distorting it all as it presses against her, an element I had no control over. I like the idea that she is looking away; she is in her own world. If the attention is directed elsewhere it adds another layer of interest into the character. You’ve got to really think about what’s going on in and around the photograph. It’s performative. I think a lot of performance artists play with these ideas of skin, water and claustrophobia.”

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