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Oh Seongseok
Courtesy of Oh Seongseok

Make-up artist Oh Seongseok’s exquisite work combines darkness and light

From avant-garde headpieces to alien floral masks, the Korean creative is equally at ease with the freaky and the delicate

From digital artists to photographers, body sculptors and hair stylists to make-up and nail artists, in our Spotlight series, we profile the creatives tearing up the rulebook in their respective industries.

When it comes to beauty, Oh Seongseok is creating some of the most exciting, boundary-pushing work out there. With an eye for the surreal, the Seoul-based make-up artist and headpiece maker’s creations combine the freaky with the tender. There are delicate, painterly watercolour looks; playful faces adorned with stickers and Yu-Gi-Oh cards; avant-garde yet always beautiful headpieces. 

Flowers are a recurring motif, regularly showing up in Oh’s work as inspiration or showing up literally to cover models’ faces. But these are not your grandmother’s sickly sweet florals: orchids fill mouths, poppies protrude out of eyes and ears, lilies spill like blood from skin. In Oh’s work, there is a constant presence of the eerie and the alien; a darkness that balances out the more gentle, even childlike elements. For Korean rapper Mudd the Student, for example, Oh created a series of gimp masks, including two satin yellow and pink ones fashioned out of castoff Disney princess dresses. A third one was made from white leather and styled with a plastic tiara.

Born on Jeju Island in South Korea, it was a friend’s suggestion that first inspired Oh to move to Seoul, where he would go on to study make-up at the MBC Makeupforever Academy. “Since I was young, every Korean has considered school work important. Friends around me had only one goal: to enter university in Seoul,” he says. “However, I was not good at studying, and was far from reaching that goal.”

What he lacked in study skills, he more than made up for when it came to make-up, and he’s been working at it ever since – half his lifetime, in fact. Working closely with Dazed 100 photographer Cho Gi-Seok, Oh has collaborated on shoots for magazines like Dazed Korea, Vogue Korea, Allure and Elle Korea, and brands including Gucci. Here he tells us about his inspirations, creative process, and advice for young make-up artists.

What inspires your make-up looks and headpieces?

Oh Seongseok: To see and to draw. I create images through repetition. I don’t think too hard, and have no prejudice. I try to see things intuitively. I believe this improves my make-up and my work.

I’m influenced by so many things that I can’t pick only one. It’s not just culture or art but also various social issues, like current affairs and the economy, which inspire me.

How would you describe your aesthetic? 

Oh Seongseok: Actually, I don’t think I have a strong aesthetic. But if I have to say, I have a ‘rough and tough’ quality. Make-up should be more delicate than any other work, but I feel the opposite, and I believe that is why people see me differently. That kind of work has become my signature.

Is “beauty” (whatever that word means to you) something you try to capture in your work or is it a concept that you reject?

Oh Seongseok: I don’t think beauty only includes simply beautiful things. Beauty can express everything.

What are the projects that you’re most proud of?

Oh Seongseok: I don’t have proud projects yet. But I always look forward to working with Cho Gi-Seok and stylist Lisa Jarvis.

What is your favourite beauty trend right now? 

Oh Seongseok: I usually don’t anticipate trends because just as each person has a different personality, I believe that there is a beauty that suits it. In fact, I don’t care about trends.

What advice would you give to young artists hoping to get into the industry?

Oh Seongseok: It seems grand to be giving advice, but you should hopefully be having fun and concentrating on the job. People don’t focus on what they like as much as they should.

What are you currently working on?

Oh Seongseok: I’m continuing to focus on making headpieces. These days, I’m also interested in 3D imagery, so I’m trying to sketch that too.