Anita Jolles is a true artist right down to her very core. Although she has a deep-rooted love for art in the broadest sense of the word, it was painting that stole her heart. These days she paints faces instead of canvases and is one of the most renowned makeup artists of the Netherlands. Her creative senses are fed by unexpected moments such as a striking face on the tram, as well as one of the many exhibitions she visits. Wherever she goes, she is constantly adding to her mental catalogue of beauty. Her ability to turn any face into a work of art has struck a chord with the creative teams of Numéro, Harper’s Bazaar, and Vogue, to just name a few. It most certainly struck a chord with us at 5’ELEVEN” Magazine, and we are most excited to talk to her about her journey so far, the meaning of being an artist, her newly printed portfolio book, and looking ahead. Everyone: meet Anita Jolles.
Words by Simone Dolereijers.
Welcome Anita, we’re so happy to have you! How would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
Thank you! I’m Anita Jolles; artist, world traveller, painter and makeup artist, based in the centre of Amsterdam and Paris, enjoying my work for 17 years already.
You have been around the block and you’ve seen all facets of the fashion industry. In the recent past you’ve worked for beautiful magazines like Vogue, Numéro, Harper’s Bazaar, Dazed and Confused, and OFF Black, to name a few. Throughout which we can see your distinguished style shining through. What makes up an Anita Jolles makeup look?
I’m always looking for the perfect balance between imperfections, which also refers to the title of my newly printed portfolio book: “Perfect Balance within Imperfections”. I think my whole life is based on this idea; finding that balance within all the imperfections of life. To me imperfection is more interesting in a way, it’s more inviting and more vulnerable, more real.
In saying that, I do aim for perfection in my preparation and in my focus. What drives me in makeup is that I often “use” the face as a canvas, I look at the face in different layers. Instinctively I find the remarkable features that make a face peculiar or special which are often what people call the imperfections. I’m absorbed by these specific features without looking at the rest of the face. In fact, at the very beginning I almost try to make the face unrecognisable for myself, It gives me the freedom to look further than the face as a whole.
When it comes to my distinctive style, I would describe it as fearless and bold. My approach revolves around the universal beauty of people, regardless of gender. There are no limits if you will; no limits in texture, shape, material or colours. No limits in being a man or a woman, no limits in identity. For me makeup is a never-ending experiment of which the outcome is equally as important as the creative process. It’s an ongoing creative mindset, even when I’m not working.
You’ve recently updated your portfolio and it became a beautiful book, a total work of art. How was it for you to go back in time and look at what you’ve achieved thus far?
This book was born out of something very important to me: I want to continue to learn and to grow. I’ve always been very open to new experiences and the fact that I’ve been in the business for almost twenty years does not mean that I have all the wisdom in the world.
The book to me is a moment of reflection. A year ago I asked an art director to help me make a
book that would represent me as a person and as a creative. Even though the book is purely meant as a portfolio and is not for sale, I think the format reflects me more completely as an artist. Aside from the makeup I’ve done it also gives people a sense of my views on layout, material, and composition. I didn’t want it to be a collection of tear-sheets and covers, because I think being creative is about so much more than that. The book is a translation of my personal interpretation of beauty, presented in a more holistic way. Putting it together was a great experience. I asked a group of talented people to help, people who are all very close to me and we really formed a great team. We spent hours categorising and structuring images and I believe it was the best idea to invite other pairs eyes into the project, they’ve really helped me formulate where I want to go in this business.
What I think was particularly important was to be able to look critically at my work with the help of others. I wanted to get an idea of how I came to certain creations, how to grow, and which direction I want to move towards in the future. To tell the story of where my love for makeup stems from, where I find myself now and where I want to go.
Your book introduction was written by Mikel van den Boogaard and begins with a question: “How do you recognise an artist?”, referring to today’s society in which anyone can claim that handle. What is your personal answer to his question? And what is your view on being an artist in modern day society? Has it become easier to express yourself or do you find it harder due to the sheer volume of images that are available online?
An artist is someone who uses his or her creative talent to make art. Today with all the input you get from all social internet channels, it’s very difficult to stay original and to make something that comes from your heart. I think nowadays it’s even more important to work from your core, from a certain framework from which you do research. When you stay close to yourself the internet will have little influence on your process.
My latest work for example, the photographer asked me to work with four colours: silver, red, white and blue. I went looking for what those colours evoked in me: the evening blue on a cold winter afternoon, the intense red of a blooded lip, silver cutlery, white acrylic paint strokes that I put on an old door... I started looking for materials in paint, glitter, coloured lenses, metallics, anything really you name it! The team agreed that the shoot would be a day of experimenting and creating to see how we would bring our combined expertise together. With the styling, the hair creations, the beautiful couture pieces, and the model's own input, our work came to life in a brilliant series. The different techniques in photography magnified the magic even more. Everything fell into place and the images are all very strong.
I think that if you create something from your own strength it’s always pure, and if the whole team does that together trusting in each other then you have magic. These are the best days for me to express myself, with a team that believes in my talent and sets no limits on my creative process. Of course it’s always with a critical eye and flexibility to change when something doesn’t work the way we envisioned.
I wrote these words before I read your book introduction: “Your makeup often looks like a painter was at work” and as it turns out you actually graduated as a painter. Do you remember what made you want to paint? And how did that love for painting develop into your love for makeup?
I painted a lot as a child. My mother did too, not as a profession but for herself. My parents took me to a lot of museums and art galleries and the first artwork that really left an impression on me was by Donald Judd. I must have been four or five years old but I never forgot the experience. It’s not just one art form that resonates with me, I love installations, photography, paintings, statues, all of it. However the first painter I fell in love with was Velazquez! I even gave a mini lecture on him in primary school and I love the details of the costumes he paints, or how the faces seem to have makeup on them. His painting of Prince Baltasar Carlos is amazing.
So yes, it’s fair to say that art played a big role in my childhood. I went to creative school when I was 13 years old, and I went to the IVKO (Individual, secondary education; Arts School of Amsterdam) after that. Later, I ended up doing an introductory year at the Rietveld Academy and it was just so hard to choose from all the disciplines! Painting felt completely natural to me, and so that’s what I pursued by studying fine art at the HKU in Utrecht. I graduated with a series of African women and my thesis was on contemporary African art and how it’s viewed in the West. It was a search for my own individuality and also an ode to my mother. I’ve always been fascinated by painted faces of different cultures and by cultural masks, I think that’s also something that comes back in my work, I just love it when art and fashion melt together into something beautiful.
Your book also paints a small picture of your creative process. How do you start when you see a bare face?
That process already starts long before I see a face, my creativity is triggered non-stop by film music, couture fashion, special faces I see on the tram, conversations with my neighbours, streetwear… anything really. The cultural climate is very important to me too in that sense, I think everything is connected with each other and I can get strangely obsessed by details. Sometimes I catch myself staring at someone in the tram because I’m caught by the amount of colour of someone’s eye, or even sometimes I only recognise people by a set of birthmarks, or the position of their ears. I’m just so intrigued by that fact that in all those billions of people, not two faces are the same.
Over time I collect this whole database in my head, waiting to come out and make full circle when it all falls together with the theme and feel of a shoot. Other times with some faces who already tell a story from their own expressions I decide to do nothing and not interfere.
You state that you find inspiration in all sorts of things. It can be art, music, a good conversation films, or different cultures. What currently inspires you? Do you have any go-to references that you find yourself falling back on from time to time?
At the moment I’m fascinated by the psyche of a human being in relation to art, by the question of “what is reality?”. I recently saw an exhibition of Francis Bacon in Centre Pompidou in Paris, and I think that’s what sparked it.
I’m also drawn to moving images, how you capture movement in an instantaneous snapshot. That fascination is quite clear from my work, I use a lot of brush strokes that I don’t apply with makeup brushes but with large brushes. That way I aim to capture that feeling of an unfinished basis for the first setup.
The book is a condensed version of your career, showing immense versatility. How do you explain your strength to be so diverse?
I think it’s about always having a broad interest. Also, working with many different photographers means that your work is captured in many different fascinating ways. You can have it all worked out in your head, but if a concept is lensed through the eye of a photographer, he or she will expose your idea from a different perspective and it can end up looking completely different.
The inspiration you have pictured in your head never ends up looking exactly the same in an image. You need to let that original concept go, and trust everybody in the team will work together towards an image that echoes the same feeling as the original inspiration. I love to be open to the input of other talented professionals that can surprise you and bring you to greater heights. It requires trust and self-confidence, but it’s so worth it! Forcing your view really doesn’t make sense, It undermines other people’s talent and it puts a stop to the creative process. Being open for ideas is so incredibly important; it can really lead to that magical moment.
My open attitude partly explains my versatility, but also I’ve been in the business for quite some time so more importantly I’ll always have experience to fall back on.
Looking back on your career from this point, what have been your absolute favourite memories? What work are you most proud of?
All my travels and meeting new people. It’s an enormous gift to travel for your work and work in places you might otherwise never have seen. There are so many memories! Travelling through Africa, working in the dark to see the sun come up... I’m very thankful for the job I have. I’m also incredibly grateful to be working with teams for so many years that they’ve become friends and family over time.
Pinpointing what work I’m most proud of is very difficult. I’m ambitious, and I want to grow which means planning your career to a certain extent, however I always try to keep room to be open to opportunities and detours. Life happens! it just can’t be scheduled and this career is not linear at all, it’s very organic. Sometimes unexpected sidesteps lead you to the most amazing achievements, and this feeds back into balancing perfection and imperfection. I guess this is what it boils down to: every step of the way is somehow valuable to me. I’m proud of the assembly of moments, of the process.
Aside from reflecting on the past, a book is also a moment to look ahead and formulate your wishes, hopes and dreams for the future. If anything is possible, where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
I hope I can work for a long time, I notice that I’m increasingly getting the chance to develop my own handwriting and I hope to be learning until I’m grey and old.
You’ve come a long way in your career and you now teach master classes at The New Chic to share your knowledge. What is the most important take-away that you give your students to prepare them for the fashion industry?
I always tell them to make sure they’re prepared for that one chance, so that they’re ready to take it with both hands. Know your materials, and get inspiration from the moments you wouldn’t believe are possible. Success is where opportunity meets preparation, so I teach them to prepare themselves for the next opportunity.
Who taught you the most important lessons in beauty? Is there anyone in the business that you look up to, and see as a role model?
I think beauty starts with confidence. If you have confidence and you trust that based on your core you’ll make the right decisions that will ultimately lead you to walk your unique walk of life. That individuality or eccentricity is what I think makes people beautiful.