INTERVIEW // Mimi Choi
When someone paints a tree, you can look at that painting and say "Yup that looks like a tree" Because we have physical reference to what a tree looks like, You don't have to come up a tree. Picasso could actually paint one hell of a tree, but he didn't see trees the same way you saw a tree. It takes a certain level of brilliance to create something no one has ever seen before, something that you and only you could imagine and execute. You may be able to follow or change a recipe, but are you able to create one?
Mimi Choi see the world differently, her make up routine may be a little different than yours...Mimi creates looks that you will not believe are real. Her surreal go beyond the realm of physics. Mimi suffers from intense sleep paralysis, which is a condition that causes extreme illusion and terror.. Sleep paralysis occurs when you wake up, but your body thinks your still asleep/ You aren't able to move, you brain starts to panic, you start hallucinating and seeing figures that aren't there. It truly is a really bad time.
You've heard the phrase "Turn you dreams into reality" well Mimi turns her nightmares into reality, quite literally.
What about surrealism is so intriguing for you?
Surrealism is dream-like and otherworldly. There are no rules to abide by when I paint in this style and I am able to escape from reality with my art. It allows me to be as creative as I want and I feel that the possibilities are boundless.
Do you think any idea you come up with is possible to execute? Are there any limitations on what you can or can't do?
Generally, if I have an idea or concept in mind, it is within my limitations to execute it. It may not always turn out the exact way I expect it to, but I use these situations as learning experiences which motivates me to try again. I have a pretty good idea of what I can and can't accomplish with makeup and usually stay within those boundaries.
You state that you suffer from sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis, for people who may not know, can extremely scary, and your work is definitely a great visual representation of the effects it can have on you. A lot of people run away from their fears, is your art a way to embrace this condition you have, maybe try to make the best out of it?
For most of my life, I didn't understand what I was experiencing and was frightened by it. My mother told me that I was haunted which really didn't help things either as a child. Shortly after enrolling in makeup school, I decided to paint one of my recurring visions which was a large, realistic spider on my face. I found that since doing so, I've stopped experiencing spider hallucinations. Now, I use my sleep paralysis as inspiration and although it can still be scary at times, I am thankful to be able to turn something that was once a hindrance into a positive.
What were some of your first creative outlets as a kid?
I grew up in Macau where the curriculum was very academically focused and not a lot of attention was given to the arts. While I did take art classes in school, creativity and individuality was not particularly encouraged. Where I did find a creative outlet was through fashion and the clothes I wore. In fact, one of the first Christmas presents I remember receiving was a pair of silver cowboy boots that I requested from Santa Claus! Since then, I've enjoyed expressing myself through my unconventional sense of fashion.
I'm sure you have a background in painting/drawing, did you make art in this manner before you adopted it with makeup? Or were you doing make up and then started to experiment with this style? What came first?
I've actually never taken a painting or drawing class beyond what was taught at school. Although I enjoyed doodling, I saw it as a hobby and a way to relieve stress. When I was a preschool instructor, I would unwind in the evenings by painting intricate details on my nails but I never thought that I could make a living from doing this until I switched careers and enrolled at makeup and beauty school. During my first year as a makeup student, I decided to attempt an illusion look for Halloween which was a simple cracked face look using only 2 liners. When I shared my work on Instagram, I received a lot of positive feedback and it really encouraged me to further explore this genre which I've been doing ever since!
What is the average time spent working on a look?
My looks can take anywhere between 2 - 10 hours to complete depending on the scale and intricacy of it. I usually spend several more hours capturing my looks with my iPhone and doing minor touch ups. As I like to work at night, I usually go to sleep when most people are waking up!
What is your ideal reaction to your work? Why do you think people are so attracted to these designs?
I love it when people tell me how confused they are by one of my looks or that my multiple eye looks make them feel dizzy. When my audience can't figure out how I was able to pull off a look, it is one of the most rewarding feelings. I think that we are all naturally drawn to imagery that elicits strong feelings and emotions within us. Most of us are curious and like to figure things out which is why we are also drawn to magic tricks and riddles.
Are you a perfectionist? It seems like there isn’t much room for error when creating these illusions.
I would definitely call myself a perfectionist. I've yet to reach perfection on any look that I've done and I feel that this is what drives me to continue painting. If I could, I would spend days fine tuning and improving a look, but of course I'm restricted by the number of hours in a day. Knowing when to put the brush down is one of the most difficult things to gauge and at the end of the day, I have to accept the fact that nothing that I create will be flawless to me.
Who's your dream face to use as a canvas? What situation would it be for?
There are so many people that I would love to paint on and my criteria has nothing to do with physical characteristics. I feed off of positive energy and really enjoy being around creative people so I've always thought that it would be fun to work on artists like Lady Gaga, Rihanna or The Weeknd. I feel that illusion and creative makeup is becoming more mainstream and prevalent in pop culture. For example, this past year, I've worked on music videos, the Met Gala, television shows and commercials and I truly believe that there's no limit to the applications that this type of makeup can be used for.
Do you have a look that personally means a lot to you?
Every look that I do has meaning to me as they are always based off of some type of personal inspiration. However, I would say that my multiple eye look is particularly special as this type of illusion is one of my iconic looks and is often requested by clients and students. Eyes are something that I started early on in my career and brought a lot of attention to my work. Since then, I've been trying to improve on my technique everyday.
Do you/would you like to work on films/costume prosthetics?
I did learn how to apply prosthetics in makeup school and I have thought about working on films, however, I much prefer the freedom that I have now to do whatever I wish whenever I please. I have incredible respect for makeup artists who work in film and in fact, have many friends and mentors who do. However, I feel that I wouldn't have the patience to apply the same look on the same face everyday on set.
Do you always have a plan when you start a look? Do you ever improvise? Typically, I have an idea of what I want to achieve, but I rarely plan the look out on a face chart unless it's required for a client. There is a lot of trial and error that goes into illusion makeup as it is very angle dependent, so in that sense, I need to improvise to achieve an impactful look. For example, when I worked on Ezra Miller, we didn't have time for a trial and instead, I played around with the positioning of the eyes to suit his face on the morning of the Met Gala.
Who do you look up to?
One aspect that I am trying to improve upon is my level of patience. This is why I look up to people like special effects makeup artist Mike Marino whose attention to detail and patience is incredibly inspiring to me.
What are your goals? Where do you see yourself going from here?
I am so grateful to be able to combine my passions for makeup, teaching, and travel so I hope to continue leading classes around the world. I am also currently working on a few projects that I'm really excited about and hope to share with everyone soon. Ultimately, I hope to continue painting until the day I die and I'm excited to see how my style evolves over the years!
Check out more of Mimi's Work //
Instagram // @mimles