Makeup and Birdcalls



Back in the 1950s—though it could have happened yesterday—the artist Marisol was invited to be on a panel with four older and more-established male artists. The first brilliant thing Marisol did was to show up in a mask. This of course frustrated her fellow panelists, and as the panel went on, she was under increasing pressure to show her face. I’ve never seen any images documenting the event, but the New York Times tells us that Marisol wore “a white Japanese mask” and that she initially said very little. That in itself would have been good enough for a story, and is quite an accomplishment for a panel participant, but when Marisol eventually gave in and took off the mask, the full brilliance of the stunt was revealed: all along she had been wearing a second mask, of white makeup, underneath the first.

In 1981, Stuart Leslie Goddard, better known as Adam Ant, developed a look for his final album, Prince Charming: two red stripes of makeup on his right cheek. Allan Ballard took the photos, and the images were licensed for reproduction, so when a company called Harpbond published an old picture of Goddard with his new stripes added via photomontage, Goddard naturally took Harpbond to court. When the initial lawsuit failed because the images were not copies of Ballard’s photos, Goddard launched an appeal, focusing on the striped makeup pattern, which he argued was a kind of painting. After the court wrestled with the vexing question of what a painting actually is, the judge settled on the reasonable formulation that a painting is not simply paint, but paint on something else. Unfortunately for Goddard, this meant he lost the case, as it was decided that his face, as a painting surface, was not sufficiently permanent to be protected by the United Kingdom’s Copyright Act of 1956.


A traveler in a foreign country is invited to a dinner party, where he finds himself seated next to a zookeeper. In the course of their conversation, the traveler speaks admiringly of the zoo’s collection, revealing that he is himself an amateur birdwatcher. Learning this, the zookeeper invites him to visit the aviary that houses the birds not on display. The following day, the two of them drive through the dusty countryside to a huge, hangar-like building filled with thousands of canaries, cockatiels, finches, lovebirds, and macaws. Mesmerized by the raucous chirping and the iridescent storm of feathers, the traveler wonders why the zoo would keep so many beautiful specimens hidden away. The zookeeper explains that the birds were bequeathed to the zoo when they outlived their owners, usually older people who had bought them out of loneliness. Yes, the traveler says, but why weren’t these birds on display?  Because we have too many of them, the zookeeper replies. Persisting, the traveler asks why the zoo did not loan them to other zoos. At this point, the zookeeper invites the traveler deeper inside the gigantic cage, and as they make their way through the blur of colorful feathers, a cacophony of nearly human squawking swirls above their heads. Eventually, the pair arrive at the far wall, where many of the birds are perched, and just as the traveler begins to discern some details of their plumage, he hears a barrage of the unmistakable profanities they had learned to pronounce.