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(Image: Archi Banal)
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SocietyFebruary 28, 2022

Auckland artist Hazel Zishun is redefining makeup

(Image: Archi Banal)
(Image: Archi Banal)

Hazel Zishun 榛子瞬 is a makeup designer, artist, creative and director from Tāmaki Makaurau. Zishun sat down with Naomii Seah to discuss their creative journey. 

Watching Hazel Zishun 榛子瞬 work is visual meditation. In the little squares of my Instagram homepage, Zishun pops up every so often, playing the guzheng, swooping a paintbrush with a preternaturally steady hand over cheeks, or digitally editing their intricate “paints”. Their movements are calm and graceful, but the end result is controlled chaos, which Zishun describes as “an Aries thing”. 

The way Zishun utilises makeup is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Delicate swirls twist themselves chaotically over cheekbones. Though at first glance the placement looks haphazard, on second look it becomes evident that even the smallest fleck is done with intention. Unexpected colour palettes are blended, smudged and blown-out to perfection, criss-crossed with bold lines and abstract details that inspire double-takes, then triple-takes, then quadruple-takes. Because every glance reveals fresh detail. Zishun’s makeup isn’t just art, it’s a visual feast. 

Zishun is part of Āhua collective, which centres Takatāpui, queer, and BIPOC artists here in Aotearoa. In their latest exhibition, Zishun featured their photo series “如梦初醒Now you see me” and the paintings “回家coming home”, painted with makeup, alongside other artists in the collective like Sara Moana, Marc Conaco and Sonya Milford. 

I went along to the opening night of the exhibition and quickly spotted Zishun, rocking a brightly patterned head-scarf, a bold green button down and equally bold eye-makeup in saturated pink, purple, green and yellow. There’s no denying it – Zishun has an artistic expression that’s just plain cool, and unapologetically singular.

Some weeks later, we Zoomed in to have a chat about all things makeup, and Zishun appeared fresh-faced on their couch, an adorable cat plushie perched behind them. They apologise about cancelling our in-person bubble tea appointment: “I’m menstruating at the moment,” they confide with an eye-roll, a hand on their stomach.

Though still in young adulthood, Zishun has already lived many lives. Zishun began studying as a teacher in 2012, working from 2015-2017 as a teacher and a sometime children’s face-painter. Then, feeling “drawn to the [film] industry”, Zishun quit teaching in 2017 to study prosthetics and special effects makeup at Gorton Studio in the UK. When they came home to Tāmaki, they continued studying makeup artistry for fashion, film and TV at The Makeup School in Ponsonby. 

“I look at my career and what I’ve built so far fondly and with gratitude and love,” says Zishun. And so they should; they’ve accomplished a lot in their time, directing their own short film based on the photo series “如梦初醒Now you see me” and working on the Amazon production of The Lord of the Rings. But Zishun is quick to redirect the spotlight onto those around them, gushing their appreciation for the people who’ve impacted their career. Creative projects – especially in the film and fashion industry – often involve huge teams, and Zishun is quick to thank theirs, including Karen Ishiguro and the creative team for “如梦初醒Now you see me”, Griff Jones, who directed a the recent short film project Zishun worked on, and Laura Stables. 

Zishun’s influences extend into their wider lives too; they describe their parents, their family and “especially my laolao” as “my soulmates”. There’s a light in Zishun’s eyes when they speak about “the joy I feel connecting with talents and creatives I get to meet in my career, and as I realise just how much human connections mean for me as I expand my soul and consciousness on this earth”. Zishun describes their current work as “healing my past selves.” 

It’s been a long journey to get to Zishun’s current level of expertise and confidence. A few years ago, Zishun lived in a small, extremely hot apartment in Auckland’s inner city. It was so hot, Zishun would wait until the early evening before getting to work, camera on a tripod before them, and their backdrop pressed to their back. Makeup brushes and body paint would be laid out, and with deft precision, Zishun would begin tracing landscapes across their chest. “I love Bob Ross,” gushes Zishun. And that’s what they’d paint night after night, day after day. Body paint which took hours to do, but quickly built Zishun’s skill. They’d do some quick face makeup after the body paint, take photos, and then head off to the bathroom. Two pumps of body-wash would go on – dry – over Zishun’s hard work, smearing the ridges of mountain peaks, waterfalls and forest scenes. A baby-wipe later, and Zishun would be onto their next Bob Ross masterpiece. And so it went, two paints a night for weeks on end. “It requires passion, you really need to want to do it,” Zishun said, adding with a chuckle that they didn’t think they could do that now. 

But though Zishun is coming up quickly in the industry with their obvious talent, they come from humble beginnings. Zishun notes they “never did makeup” in China, where they lived before immigrating to New Zealand to study. “Creativity, and being able to express yourself creatively, is a thing of privilege,” says Zishun, “and as a first-gen teen immigrant, I had to prioritise the immigration journey, which involved finding a ‘real job’.” Additionally, artistic and personal expression weren’t traits that were encouraged during her upbringing. Like many others, she had grown up with the mantra of “don’t stand out too much”. At the time, she felt her worth was associated with her productivity. 

So they didn’t learn makeup “from my mum or anything,” Zishun says with a wry smile. Instead, their introduction to makeup came at university. A friend asked them if they knew a BB cream from Missha, a Korean makeup brand. Zishun’s response: “what the fuck is a BB cream?” But the real turning point was a friend who showed Zishun their own makeup creations. 

“It was like gemstones on the face – very 2010. I just remember feeling like, you know what, I can probably do that,” ays Zishun. “I never thought to myself I could do anything creatively [before that], because I’ve always been told that this is a hobby.” 

When they started their makeup journey in 2016, Zishun said “I was lost,” because they wanted to be someone else. Like most people, Zishun struggled with beauty ideals. It traces back to white supremacy, notes Zishun, who said they had a lot of internalised whiteness within them during the 2010s. They were convinced of a need to fit “the standard”, and they knew early on that standard wasn’t the face looking back in the mirror. 

As a child, they had a book on the golden ratio, measured to a blonde woman’s face. Zishun got a ruler, excited to measure their own features in comparison. Zishun’s enthusiasm was quickly deflated. “That was the moment I knew I wasn’t beautiful,” says Zishun. “You know Inside Out? The core memories – that was a core memory, but a bad one,” they laugh. 

In 2016, when they began their Instagram, Zishun describes themselves as a very different person. “I was pretty lost,” they said. Zishun laughed that I wouldn’t recognise them, telling me they used to wear a full face of makeup, with spider-lashes almost every day. I imagine the block brows and cut-creases of the 2010s – a world away from Zishun’s current style. Back then, they were fixated on changing their face, and described feeling as if makeup was promising them a “way out”. It took Zishun a while to find their identity, saying at one time they identified with Shaanxo – who is the same age as them – so strongly that they had “xo” in their name. 

Back in 2016, Zishun was also very critical of their own work. They remember “thinking – so harshly – why is my face like that? It was always the face; the body paint was flawless”. They attribute it again to that sense of self-consciousness. “Confidence takes practice,” Zishun says knowingly. 

But the way in which Zishun uses makeup has since changed dramatically. “When I paint myself to be all crazy and chaotic, I feel like it’s a way to celebrate my face.” Now, Zishun goes by “Hazelpaints” as an ode to the beginning of their career – children’s face painting. It’s also a reference to their training as a special effects makeup artist, and of course, Bob Ross. 

From 2019, they started to create “really intricate makeup that was like nothing I’ve done before. I felt they were all just original… I would be inspired by a rock, or the sky, or my curtain and the way the light falls on the floor. It became designing, and I didn’t know that at the time”. 

And this new mode of designing and playing has given Zishun new confidence. “I can tell it’s really good, from the way it all comes together; it’s very mature and the lines flow easily. I’m admiring eight years of my life going into this craft. It’s my ninth year. I’m just like: fuck, I love myself this is great”.

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