Beauty is often said to be in the eye of the beholder, and for Eszter Magyar, it resides in the grotesque, the ugly and the irreverent. Hailing from Budapest and currently based in London, this makeup artist-turned-creative rebel operates at the intersection of social criticism, photography and human aesthetics.
Her brainchild, Makeupbrutalism, is a purpose-driven visual project that has gained significant media attention and a devoted following. It skillfully blends makeup and art to radicalize the female gaze. However, it has not been without its share of controversy and negativity, something Eszter embraces proudly. For her, the fact that her work elicits strong emotions, even if they are negative, means that she has successfully engaged her audience beyond the confines of a mundane screen.
The first time I stumbled upon Eszter’s avant-garde approach to makeup, I was not repulsed; quite the opposite, I was utterly in awe. It was an eye-opening experience to witness the traditional notion of clean, flawless beauty being transformed into something new, raw, daring and liberating. Lines that are not straight, brush strokes that do not conceal, texture that takes over perfection—Eszter’s view of beauty suddenly gave mine a whole new meaning.
This is something that, of course, made me wonder if beauty is “Bad” for us, or at least the sort of beauty we learned to perceive during our formative years.
Eszter argues that perceiving beauty is simple biology: “Beauty as an experience (such as seeing something amazing, waves, sunsets, animals, colors, etc.) is essential; it helps us enjoy our lives, giving a better quality to existence.” She continues to explain that beauty as a social construct is what’s harmful, as “It’s based on excluding the majority; it makes no sense to be beautiful if no one is ugly.”
Now the art director of THE UNSEEN Beauty, Eszter ensures that conventional beauty standards, which emphasize flawlessness and perfection, are challenged. Her take on the brutalist side of makeup is also set to arrive in the form of exhibitions in the upcoming months, with her future exhibit at the Wellcome Collection this October seeking to address the global pandemic beauty stereotypes have become.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Eszter and delve into her raw, authentic and daring take on beauty, journey, practice, dreams and nightmares.
Keep scrolling to read our full interview with Makeupbrutalism’s Eszter Magyar.
Tell us about yourself. How did you transition from being a stylist’s assistant to a makeup artist and eventually become a beauty disruptor?
From a very young age, I had a vague vision in my head: I saw myself working in fashion or being involved with clothes. However, I never delved deeper into this idea. As I grew older, I suddenly realized at the age of 19 that I had no clue about my true identity or what I really wanted to become. This realization scared me. I experimented with various things, such as working as a stylist’s assistant for ELLE magazine. However, I eventually found myself attending makeup school and entering the beauty industry.
After a few years, I became frustrated with the concept of beauty standards, the limitations of trends and the lack of challenges. It was then that I created makeupbrutalism for myself—a space for experimentation. This turned out to be the best decision I ever made. Subsequently, everything unfolded naturally. The project evolved and I eventually landed a position as an art director.
“Makeupbrutalism” or “Makeupactivism”? How would you describe your creative practice?
Definitely makeupbrutalism. As it turns out, this creator identity is too selfish and self-centered to engage in any form of activism. My focus is always on myself, as bad as it may sound. Even though I have an interest in societal issues, the core of my work is always my own reaction, which I express through a series of photographs.
Why do you think society is obsessed with using beauty as a currency rather than a tool for self-expression?
Beauty is perceived as safe, while real self-expression is seen as risky. People love to praise uniqueness and aspire to be different, but only within the boundaries of what is considered desirable and socially expected. This notion of uniqueness is not genuine at all. The roots of this obsession can be traced back to our patriarchal society. Society tends to question what can be achieved by embracing irregularity and breaking away from conventional beauty standards.
How do you feel about color? Do you have a favorite pigment to work with?
I have a general love for color and the concept of colors influencing our emotions. However, nowadays, I only use colors if they add an additional depth to my work. When there is a message I want to convey, I prefer to keep it clear and focused, so I typically use black as my primary color.
Why is texture so hard to find in the beauty industry?
Because it is irregular and unpredictable. Many people in the industry are not willing to embrace it due to a lack of bravery. Texture is not associated with perfection, youthfulness or current trends, which makes it less commonly sought after.
Is Brutalism the artistic movement with which you most identify?
I appreciate Brutalism and its essence, as well as the fact that it is often misunderstood. I’m drawn to its focus on functionality over aesthetic appeal. However, if I had to choose my favorite architectural style, it would be American modernism. When it comes to artistic movements, I would say I feel a strong connection with avant-garde, particularly Dadaism and Surrealism. I thrive in chaos and these movements align well with my sensibilities. Additionally, I have a fondness for conceptual art, with my all-time favorite piece being Soul City by Roelof Louw. I’m also intrigued by the idea of multidisciplinary or unified arts, which leads me to appreciate Bauhaus. The list of artistic movements and styles that resonate with me could go on indefinitely.
I love the way you handle criticism. In fact, you have a series of pictures where you transform hateful comments into art. Has this ability to remain unaffected developed over time?
It’s a peculiar thing. I’ve never taken those comments too seriously; online bullying. After all, who are these individuals? Why should their opinions bother me? Even when it comes to constructive criticism, it’s a strange concept in relation to this project because my aim isn’t to improve—I simply want to be authentically myself, without the pressure of achieving perfection.
In general, I have an unconventional relationship with emotions. For instance, I find myself crying frequently. I cry when I’m happy, sad, overwhelmed, joyful, anxious or proud. However, the one time I don’t cry is when someone tries to make me feel sad. My emotions are my own and nobody outside my circle has the authority to make me sad without my permission.
Have you always possessed such a good sense of humor?
Are we flirting now?
You are now the art director for THE UNSEEN Beauty. How did this opportunity come about and what do you love the most about the role?
The journey began when I was approached me to create video content for Spectra in 2021. I met the team and immediately connected. Initially, I had an office space in the building, but then I started working there as a creative advisor, which eventually led to the position of art director. I believe that Lauren Bowker, the brand’s Creative Director and Founder, and I share a common vision for the future of THE UNSEEN Beauty and that’s what brought us here. We understand each other and have become friends.
I won’t deny that I face challenges every day. It’s a constant process of discovering my weaknesses, recognizing my blind spots and identifying areas that require significant improvement. As a perfectionist and workaholic, this can sometimes feel overwhelming. However, it also pushes me to continually learn about myself and strive for self-improvement.
That’s also the most fulfilling aspect of the role—being able to evolve. It’s both terrifying and empowering. The opportunity to grow and develop is a powerful feeling that keeps me engaged and motivated.
What would you do if there were no social media censorship?
I would continue doing the same. In my opinion, the most significant form of censorship that prevents us from being truly authentic on social media is the people themselves. People tend to be oversensitive and overvalue their own opinions, which can limit genuine expression. That’s why I would prefer to create art for galleries rather than focusing solely on content for social media.
Out of all your work, do you have a favorite series?
I don’t have a specific series that stands out as a favorite, but there are individual images and pieces that I particularly like. For example, the “Eastern European Accent” series, as well as the collaborative work we did with Alice Potts on creating eyelashes.
Do you have any recurring dreams or nightmares?
I have a weird relationship with dreams. Whenever I have a nightmare, I wake up with a sensation of pain in my palms. If the dream is particularly intense, the pain can extend to my forearms and even reach my shoulders. I’ve had so many nightmares that I’ve learned to wake myself up when they become too overwhelming.
There’s a strange state I experience between being awake and asleep, where I am conscious of being unconscious. During this state, I can navigate through images and memories. I can recall dreams I had 20 or 30 years ago as if they happened just yesterday.
As an artist, do you have a muse?
I’m not entirely convinced that I am an artist and I don’t subscribe to the idea of muses or seeking inspiration from specific sources.
What’s next for you?
Hopefully lots of new opportunities in the form of exhibitions!