If you’re on social media, chances are you’ve seen a strangely hairy manicure going viral across the beauty and art communities. That’s one of the bizarre optical illusion works by South Korean artist, Dain Yoon. Armed with extreme make-up as her artistic medium, the 26-year-old is best known for sending the internet into a tizzy by using her face and body as her emotive, limitless canvases, fusing parts of herself—both physically and philosophically—with her surroundings, movement, objects and lighting, with weird and wonderful details. The daughter of an artist and architect started her social media shockwave in 2016 and has since drawn a global audience—including a feature on The Ellen Show—which has led to live performance art with multi-eyed sculptures coming to life, and her warped masterpieces showcasing at major art events around the world.
How did you get started in make-up and optical illusion artworks?
I have always enjoyed painting, since I was very young and, frankly speaking, it was what I was best at. I attended Yewon Arts secondary and Seoul Arts high school, graduating at the top of my class. These arts schools are the most prestigious in Korea. After I got into Art College, I studied scenography. I had a chance to design theatrical make-up and to draw on the body of actors of plays.
However, after participating in theatrical makeup I felt a strong need to do my own creative work, and not be part of the theatre. At first, for my personal art works, I painted on the bodies of models. A little later, this is about seven years ago, I decided to draw on my own face because the face is the strongest, most sensitive part of the body where I can deliver my own most delicate emotions I seek to convey.
It’s also important to note that my artistic family has been a very important part of my life. My mom is an artist and my dad a professor of architecture. Since I was young, my mom always emphasized that a sense of humor is very important for artworks. My parent’s philosophy has always supported and influenced me and my artistic development a lot.
How would you describe Dain Yoon’s aesthetic or look?
When I am creating my ‘‘look’’, I always try to capture everything inside the frame, not just the painting. I try to curate everything, not only the body parts being painted but also the background, the atmosphere, the movement of body, objects, lighting, every single detail. I think it comes from my experience with scenography. It made me look at the bigger picture, the whole scene. It helped me move my focus from the subject to the bigger picture.
What does creativity mean to you? And how would you describe your artistic evolution?
To show your brain, and every thought and emotion that comes with it. To me it’s the most personal part of oneself, even if it’s unhappiness or trauma. I believe that when I use my own feeling of inferiority to create or do something positive, it’s a very powerful metamorphosis.
When I started my career, I would always instantly produce an idea I’d come up with, whether it’s good or not. More recently, I’m more trying to focus on quality over quantity.
What have been some of your most interesting make-up projects to date?
There have been so many! When I was young and didn’t yet know what I was going to do in the future, I was certain that whatever it was going to be, it was going to be great. That said, I never expected that I would be able to do such a wide range of creative projects, so I feel very lucky!
Appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres show was definitely a pivotal moment in my career, so I’m very thankful for that. But also dream collaborations with brands such as Apple, Mercedes and Adidas. Or being a judge on Snapchat’s original show ‘‘FAKE UP’’ come to mind, immediately. Also, the fact that even during this global pandemic, to keep getting invites to great projects all around the world and being able to keep expanding my artistic oeuvre has truly been a blessing.
How would you describe the transformative power of make-up for yourself, and for others?
I like makeup that helps bring out, and enhance, my or someone’s unique, personal character.
How would you describe the effects of make-up and enhancements (or alterations) have on one’s self image? (e.g. do you think it affects our expectations of how we look, our beauty goals, or is simply a fun way to try on a new look?)
It really depends… I definitely believe that beauty comes from within, first and foremost. I am not an opponent of plastic surgery, for example. But if you have a beautiful face, and don’t have self-esteem, it won’t matter whether you apply make up, go shopping, or have many surgeries. You’ll never be satisfied. But if you have a high self esteem, they you will know which part is most charming… if they then decide to do beauty surgery, you can really enhance yourself.
What are you renewed and replenished by as a creator?
What I like about watching a movie is I that I feel like I’m looking inside of the director’s brain. In the same way, painting, music, dance or any other version of artistic expression shows the creator’s personality, which is what I really love to see and feel. This is why I feel that for me it’s more difficult to express myself in words than through painting, most of the time. And once I finally see a finished art piece, I feel amazing that I can now see what was once only an invisible concept.
What does “beauty” mean to you? And how that translates into your work and aesthetic style?
For me, beauty does not mean ‘‘pretty’’. I would describe beauty as every individual’s own unique ego. This then means that when you make a piece of work, only you the individual, can make a specific work like it.
What has been your most outrageous beauty creation to date, and what was the concept and creation process like?
If I had to pick one, I would say my “Hair Nails” because that was the creation that got me on The Ellen Show. It was also one of the most ‘viral’ and polarising, where half of the reactions were ‘‘WOW, Amazing!’’ and the other half went ‘‘Eww, weird! Scary!’’ The simple idea was that my nails are also part of my body, so why not try them out as a canvas for showcasing my different emotions.
How would you say you’re pushing boundaries in the world of beauty and digital, and inspiring others to do the same?
People are more and more comfortable with showing their true personality online. Others are creating an entirely new digital personality. As an artist, I have gotten great benefits from using social media to show my work to the world. In doing so, I have always felt strongly that the presentation of a creation is as important as the making of it. So if anything, I hope that I can inspire people to create more, but also focus more on how they present whatever they put out into the world.
Your works spark all sorts of emotions and reactions, what goes through your mind while in that creative zone? And what keeps you creative and inspired?
After I come up with an idea, the process of production starts and this is truly the only time when I can completely only focus on ‘‘creating’’ rather than having worries. It’s liberating. I always try to be better artist than the one I was yesterday. It inspires me keep to my focus on further developing my art.
What is the furthest you’ve gone in the name of ‘‘beauty’’?
One of the unique features of my look is that I have very narrow eyes. When I was only 15 years old, I visited a plastic surgeon to make them even more narrow. The poor doctor didn’t understand why I wanted to look ‘‘more Asian’’ and recommended me to do the popular double-eyelid surgery to make my eyes more big and look more kind & gentle. It was a pretty surreal conversation.