BY DESIGN : FASHION / SCENE : A Gathering of L.A. Artists at Her Fingertips


File this away.

This is for those glamour girls desperately seeking Chanel's Vamp, sure that a dragon lady shade puts them on the cutting edge: Please. A flat matte of color is just a primer. Nails deserve more; they are a canvas in miniature. And if you ask Flo Jo, you are the artist.

That's Flo Jo, the company, and Florence Griffith Joyner, the Olympic gold medalist. Both were on display Monday at the Remba Gallery in West Hollywood to kick off Flo Jo the company's launch of a national nail art contest with $100,000 in prize money. The exhibition, co-sponsored by Detour magazine and SKYY Vodka, was also a fund-raiser for the Florence Griffith Joyner Youth Foundation, an organization that tries to fulfill the career dreams of youths in L.A., Orange and San Diego counties.

So amid the monoprints, mixocasts and mixografias on the walls, and among a crowd so cool that black leather didn't wilt them on a 100-degree day, three L.A. artists set about brushing an image of their choice over 10 digits.

Matt Aston, who typically does drip art acrylic and oil paintings, chose to put black ancient Egyptian-style eyes on a gold leaf background, a creation he deemed "Orwellian." Sculptor Trevor Wilson used decals to spell annihilate on the tips of his model's nails and then added eyes, noses and mouths cut from fashion magazines. Phil Roberts, whose jewelry work gave him experience on tiny surfaces, duplicated an eight-foot vibrant seascape from his home, and when model Tanya Nemcik put her thumbs together, they formed a giddy fish.

Roberts also got to adorn the two-inch nails (slightly shorter on the right hand) of Joyner. For her, he created a Gustav Klimt-inspired rendering of the track sensation running with some of the kids in her foundation, completed in around five hours.

With her hand relaxed above a palette-shaped table encasing 126 disembodied designs from her full-service nail art kits, Joyner shared secrets of nail consciousness, including her method for spurring growth.

"I used to dig under my nails with a pin," she says. "I had tried drinking milk and Knox gelatin--remember when that was big?--none of that worked. Then one day I started to dig under my nail with a pin in sewing class. It didn't hurt at first, but by the third day I was in a lot of pain."

In those early years, Joyner also used blackboard chalk to effect a French manicure. And she still does her own nails ("It's hard to find someone to do it the way you want it done."), donning them with cartoon characters and her favorite shades: "red, fuchsia, pink--daring colors."


For those with nails more stubs than swords, Jacqui Pierce, nail specialist at Umberto in Beverly Hills, demonstrated ways to not get left behind, with decals and the hottest colors of the moment, blues and blacks. She explained why nail painting is so desirable. "It's a feeling of being pampered. It's something of beauty women can do themselves and the ability to do that gives a sense of empowerment."

Pierce, who's been in the business 16 years, sees the nail art trend taking off, possibly in more elaborate ways. "In Japan, they are putting little objects on nails."

Since all the exhibition nail art was created with products from the Flo Jo line ($2 to about $10), available along with contest information at drug and discount stores, critical assessments were in order. The reviews were positive. Artist Aston touted the products' "funness" and then turned philosophical. "It's a product for peacetime," he said. "That we could have something like this shows we're living in good times."

As for the contest, TV celebrity reporter Marc Freden, one of seven judges, seemed eager to get going. "I'll be looking for detail and class, as opposed to tacky," he said of the amateur entries. You know, like some tattoos you look at and you say 'Oh, that's beautiful,' and some look like they got it in a drunken stupor." The tattoo comparison is apt, he believes. "Nail art is the original tattoo. As more people realize the permanence of tattoos and body piercing, they'll be turning to this."

But where does that leave men?

"Men can admire ," he says.

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