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Keith Photography

When it comes to anything glamour related, it’s hard to see humility in the persons who live it, whether it be through lifestyle, profession, constructed media identity, or something else. But talking with Bay Area’s makeup artist Van Pham, founder of Vanity Pham, cosmetics become more than the surface, by making up and thereby creating an aesthetically inclined membrane. She specializes in pageantry and wedding makeup for her work, but her talents and training bring her to areas of work that don’t necessarily make the general civilian think of “makeup artist needed”, i.e. to create gorey looks. Makeup art is one of those places where the line of selling out to working purely for money and client satisfaction runs parallel with the line of being completely independent and free as an artist; this is where Van sets herself apart as one who manages to converge and balance the two by owning both. Perhaps that is because the conversation is shared with Van, or perhaps the conversation serves to represent for the microcosm of makeup art.
Van Pham has always loved makeup. She experimented with makeup on her own face, dashing dark hues, bright colors, and contouring her face into all sorts of shapes through the stroke of a shade. She found that most others didn’t really want to get experimented on, but rather desire to be “beautified”. The various ways of “beautifying” to clients’ satisfaction range as long as their individual interpretations of how to appear beautiful, usually based on media’s wide propagation. They typically come to Van with a desire to look like Celebrity x-y-z. With every face Van makes, she is sensitive to the client’s desire, whether it be a gorey look for Halloween, or a China-doll face for a pageant. Due to her experimental and professional experiences, she can often tell what will compliment clients’ facial anatomy from first glance. Sometimes, clients are very set on a particular shade of red for lipstick, or simply cannot handle “looking so gorgeous”. They tell her just that, saying they don’t feel it’s quite their own face. In those cases, Van will wipe off all the makeup and begin again. As a commercial makeup artist, the client’s wishes are completely privileged. Van just brings her palette of expertise and carefully sensitive consideration. The humility she practices in serving others’ beauty, costume, and or confidence needs is the primer to her professional practice. But when she’s in her own private space, she spirals out with her artistic creativity, having been inspired by the nature around her every day.
Though she loves color, the gentleness and harmony of flowers are also reflected in her professional development and practice. She’s been assistants to master makeup artists, where she learned how to read a face for all its texture variations (i.e. wrinkles, i.e. acne, i.e. scars), moisture and oil production, as well as bone structure. From there, she considers her Asian background as a blessing when she caters to both Asian and non-Asian clientel. Her sensitivity to Asian clients a la being equipped with eyelid tape and fake eyelashes are another aspect of her uniqueness, when others may only be able to make a face appear symmetrical through contouring. But make no mistake, doing makeup is not in Van’s genes, or done out of monetary need.
Van did makeup secretly until she couldn’t keep it in any longer. Her clientel grew, as did pageants to work at, and weddings booked, to stay quiet. Her parents wanted her to “get a good job like being a doctor” because they themselves immigrated to the U.S. and resorted to the beauty industry out of monetary need. But after seeing Van love her work and being loved by her work, they too are proud of her being a makeup conoisseur and experimental artist.
The genuine truthfulness Van brings to her practice is one of the elements for what sets her apart as an artist. She is fully aware of the fact that cosmetics can only cover blemishes i.e. acne and wrinkles, and that they cannot provide a permanent alteration. She lets her clients know that though the makeup will make their face look a certain way for the camera, the fact that they need to drink more water to make their skin brilliant all the time, is something her brushes, creams and powders cannot provide. While cameras have come a long way in technology, the human eye can still spot more than just the aesthetic superficial.
Van’s role as an artist, while quieter than her commercial ego, is still a recognizable one. She’s constantly doing work with other artists, particularly models and photographers. She’s done makeup for photography exhibitions at the Academy of Art in San Francisco and University of California – Davis. And for those who can call a pageant a beauty spectacle or performance involving multi-media, Van’s always sought for those events as well. Maybe you can be the next one to be a time-based art piece of Van Pham.

To see more of her work, here is her website: www.VanityPham.com.

She’s currently involved with Miss San Francisco, Miss Asia Sacramento, and Miss Asia America, just to name a few.
Ellice Park
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