Wendy Grossman, curator of surrealist artist Man Ray’s works, walks us through his legacy and the inspiration behind the Nars x Man Ray collection.
The late celebrated surrealist Man Ray joins Nars’ lineup of highly collectible artist collaborators.
Art historian and May Ray expert Wendy Grossman unpacks the American painter and photographer’s enduring legacy and its influence on fashion, image-making and makeup. By Karen Tee
There’s beauty in the unconventional (and the provocative), and surrealist artist Man Ray is the latest to inspire cool-girl makeup brand Nars. This year, for the brand’s annual tie-up with an artist – previous collaborators include Sarah Moon, Guy Bourdin, Steven Klein and Andy Warhol – for its holiday collection, Francois Nars has picked Man Ray, whose works have influenced him and some of his most avant-garde collaborators.
“Man Ray was very much into beauty, but not in a conventional, boring way. With the collaborations, we highlight artists who have something unique to say about women and beauty. It goes beyond the idea of solely makeup,” says a brand representative.
Born Emmanuel Radnitzky in the US in 1890, the photographer, filmmaker and painter moved to Paris in 1921. There, he famously developed his surrealist stylistic techniques through his work for fashion clients such as Chanel, Lanvin and Vionnet, and frequent contributions to publications like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue.
For the collection, Nars has selected some of the artist’s most iconic photographs –including La Mode au Congo and Les Larmes – to adorn compacts, while Man Ray’s famous “lip” motif shows up on the packaging and is embossed on some of the palettes.
Man Ray expert Wendy Grossman, an art historian, curator and author who has published multiple works on the artist, says the surrealist-inflected Nars makeup collection is a succinct crash course on the artist’s groundbreaking approach to beauty. On the next page, she dissects his lasting impact on the worlds of fashion and beauty.
On Man Ray’s love of the close-up
“Man Ray paid close attention to the way in which his models were made up. And his radical cropping aesthetic led to dramatic images of lips, eyes and hands, all of which draw the viewer’s attention to the components of the body most enhanced through the use of makeup.”
On his obsession with lips
“The lip motif began with Lee Miller, Man Ray’s model, muse and lover from 1929 to 1932. She had beautiful lips, which were featured in many of his photographs. She left him after a tumultuous affair, and he expressed his anger and hurt through an obsessive focus on her lips.”
On his artistic influence
“The surreal appeal of many of Man Ray’s photographs lie in the way his ethereal and otherworldly images operate at the edge of mystery and subversive – rather than classical – beauty. He really was a pioneer in his approach of avant-garde ideas and aesthetics, and I believe his influence is very much prevalent in fashion and beauty today.” “The most significant muses were (nightclub singer, actress and painter) Kiki de Montparnasse, (model turned photographer) Lee Miller, (dancer and model) Juliet Browner Man Ray, and model Adrienne Fidelin. The qualities of his muses were distinct, and each brought something different to his work. But his special talent was to bring out the unique beauty in each of them, and find ways to add a ‘surreal appeal’ in the way he used lighting, shadows, camera angles to infuse his compositions with mystery and intrigue.”
On the essence of Man Ray reflected in the collection
“The collection features rich shades, textures and tones that evoke the surreal appeal in some of Man Ray’s most iconic images. For example, the Love Game eyeshadow palette with 12 vibrant shades is reminiscent of Man Ray’s Surrealist Chessboard, and showcases the iconic La Mode Au Congo image with his beloved muse Adrienne ‘Ady’ Fidelin on the case.”
On the lessons he could impart to today’s social mediaobsessed generation
“The same that every generation can learn from Man Ray – be inventive, challenge conventions. Or as he said, ‘There is no progress in art, just like there is no progress in making love. There are just different ways of doing it.’”
On why his unique style endures
“When he first entered the fashion sphere, Man Ray resolved to ‘do something different’. He brought avant-garde ideas and aesthetics to a more mainstream audience. The manner in which he blurred the line between his commercial and art photography pioneered an approach that is still evident in today’s fashion world.”
Three Man Ray works to know
“Noire et Blanche, a provocative composition featuring a mask from the Baule peoples of Cote d’Ivoire. It has a special place in my list because of my interest in the intersection of Western and non-Western art. Violon d’Ingres: for its witty play on words and multiple meanings. And the mysterious Rayographs, which saw him create his photographic prints by laying objects directly on top of photosensitive paper – they operate as an enigmatic space between representation and abstraction.”