For a recent collaboration, illustrator Eli Neugeboren and still-life photographer Christine Blackburne teamed up to create a series of portraits from an unlikely — and finicky — material: nail polish. The idea to use the beauty product as paint came from years of shooting nail polish blobs for beauty editorials and cosmetic companies: “I knew for a while that I wanted to do some sort of painting with nail polish, but I can’t really draw much more than stick figures myself,” Christine told the Cut. After meeting Eli at a group show last year, the two decided to collaborate on a series of portraits — inspired by Jackson Pollock, John Singer Sargent, and street paintings by Greenpoint-based artist Paul Richard — made by dripping nail polish onto acetate and photographing them while still wet. The New York–based artists spoke to the Cut about the inspiration for the series and the challenges of painting with nail polish.
Where did you get the idea to paint portraits out of nail polish?
Christine: It came from a bunch of different things. I shoot a lot of nail polish blobs and squiggles in my daily life for magazines and different cosmetic companies. My original concept was that I wanted to take this beauty product that we usually apply to our own bodies and turn that on its head — so you see the beauty product making a beautiful person. From seeing other artists work with ink as a medium, I envisioned these as very free-flowing — I wanted there to be a sense of movement in them. I’ve always really enjoyed this very gestural type of drawing.
Eli: Christine sent me images of Paul Richard’s work, which is this kind of drip-paint street art, and there was also a natural connection to Jackson Pollock and that kind of thing. I was thinking of it as more of a kinetic experience and less of a labored, painterly thing — really trying to get at a gesture with something that’s not usually used to get a gestural mark.
How is painting with nail polish different from other materials that you’ve used?
Eli: It’s very close to painting with heavy enamel — like something you’d use to paint the fence outside your house. It’s very viscous and thick; it has such a heavy, soupy feel to it. Because of the way Christine shoots, I wanted to capture the real luscious, sensual feeling of the nail polish, so I wanted to make sure it wasn’t brushy. It’s different in that sense, because I was dripping everything. It’s very different from working in oils or something like that, where you’re really pushing the paints together on the palette and then pushing the paints together on the canvas, and really mashing it up. With dripping, you have to get over the natural impulse to want to control everything and make it perfect. To me the experience was much more like a gesture drawing, but using a liquid to do it.
So you shoot the portraits while the polish is still wet?
Christine: Yeah. With nail polish there’s usually a certain amount of time before they start to separate. It depends on the kind of nail polish — some of them will separate immediately, but we didn’t use those ones, obviously. But all of them were still wet as we were shooting them, because after a while they sort of get tacky, and no longer have that really reflexive, luscious quality.
Eli: Think about, like, soup. They get a skin on them after a little while and they start to shrink and get wrinkly — it just changes the texture completely.
What kind of nail polish works best for your purposes?
Christine: Gel polish tends to work a little better because it’s much thicker, but unfortunately it’s also way more expensive. We also tried to work with some more sparkles, but that tends to separate really quickly.
Eli: Yeah, the flat, opaque colors tend to work the best.
Do you plan to do more work with nail polish?
Christine: Definitely. Nail polish is so much fun to work with. The colors are amazing — it’s more than I could possibly imagine in the rainbow. This was also the first time I’ve worked in collaboration with an artist. Before the shoot, I wondered if I was just going to feel like I was taking a picture of someone else’s art, but I actually ended up doing a lot more with the lighting that I had originally thought.
Eli: It really was a true collaboration in that sense. There was a lot of dialogue, and it was really an exciting process.
Most Viewed Stories
Melania Trump Is Reportedly ‘Miserable’ in Her Role As First Lady
Nighttime Voice-mails From the White House
My Daughter’s Suburban Childhood Looks Nothing Like My Urban One
Trump Somehow Found a Way to Insult Women at the Unveiling of an Airplane
Angelina Jolie Attended the Premiere of Her New Movie in Cambodia
Chrissy Teigen on ‘Underrepresented’ Asian Models and Appropriation
Angela Merkel Is Also Powerless Against Justin Trudeau’s Gaze
Zoe Saldana Shares the First Photo of Her Newborn Baby
Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, Dies at Age 69
Alt-Right Troll Milo Yiannopoulos Uses Campus Visit to Openly Mock a Transgender Student
Latest News from The CutMeet Halpern, The Beyoncé-Approved Designer Blowing Up London Fashion Week
Not bad work for his first standalone presentation.Watch the Topshop Unique Livestream
Enjoy!Simone Rocha’s All-Ages Casting Was Perfect
The London Fashion Week show included iconic septuagenarians Jan de Villeneuve and Benedetta Barzini.Zoe Saldana Shares the First Photo of Her Newborn Baby
Zen is her third son with husband Marco Perego.Watch the Versus Versace Livestream
Enjoy!Mariah Carey Sort of Confirms She’s Dating Backup Dancer Bryan Tanaka
Mimi hath spoken.Designer Reportedly Selling LOL T-Shirts Online
You know, like the shirt worn by one of the suspected assassins of Kim Jong-nam.Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, Dies at Age 69
McCorvey was the plaintiff in the landmark case that made abortion a constitutional right.Angelina Jolie Attended the Premiere of Her New Movie in Cambodia
She co-wrote and directed First They Killed My Father.Ready-to-Wear Designer Emmanuelle Khanh Dies at 79
“The couture is dead; I want to design for the street.”
This custody battle marches on.WATCH: This New Model Just Wore a Hijab at New York Fashion Week
She’s committed to her choices.Chrissy Teigen on ‘Underrepresented’ Asian Models and Appropriation
Some real talk about diversity in modeling and movies.Nothing Catches the Eye Better Than Bedazzled Marc Jacobs
Our Golden Peacock winner for the last day of New York Fashion Week.Buffalo Plaid and a Green Military Coat Are a Perfect Mix
The chicest look on the last day of New York Fashion Week.11 Amazing Pieces on Sale at Nordstrom Right Now
We’ve picked out the best items from a bubblegum-pink beanie to a classic pair of Adidas.The Biggest Beauty Trend From New York Fashion Week
It doesn’t involve any contouring.See Lost Photos of Hollywood Starlets by a Condé Nast Photographer
Lusha Nelson photographed for Vogue and Vanity Fair in the 1930s.Is Ginger Tea Really Good for an Upset Stomach?
Two experts explain it all.You Won’t Believe What This Inspiring Mom Sent to Her Son in College
The ultimate care package.