It was on a recent March day at a suite in the Omni Los Angeles Hotel in downtown L.A. that Ruby Rose, an Australian actress/singer who appeared on “Orange Is the New Black” and is the face of beauty brand Urban Decay, explained (sounding like an art historian) the style, sensibility and significance of the artwork of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
When Basquiat died in 1988, Ruby Rose was 2 years old, but his art resonated with her during those younger years in her life, she says.
The work of Basquiat, the New York-based graffiti artist and painter and onetime boyfriend of Madonna, now hangs in the Broad in Los Angeles and in other galleries and museums and is owned by private collectors. One of his pieces sold last year to a buyer for about $60 million.
In her case, Ruby Rose (whose full name is Ruby Rose Langenheim) became so fascinated with Basquiat that she had his signature three-pronged crown tattooed on her body years ago, and she has a vivid portrayal of his face emblazoned across her upper arm.
So when Urban Decay decided to launch a limited-edition Basquiat-inspired collection, Rose was struck by the serendipity of it all. Priced from $17 to $39, the 12 pieces will be available in late April on urbandecay.com and at Sephora and Ulta stores and online. The collection comes in packaging striking enough to be displayed as artwork, and it features the primal iconography that Basquiat is known for.
On this day, Ruby Rose’s makeup was muted with just a smidge of metallic green at her eyes. She wore a floaty black top and distressed black leather pants from Thomas Wylde, biker boots from Vetements and dangling cross earrings by Los Angeles brand Established.
“This feels really special,” says Ruby Rose, who will appear in “Pitch Perfect 3” later this year, about the palettes and eye pencils from the Urban Decay collection on a table in front of her. Then she reminisced more about her love of Basquiat.
How did you first come across Jean-Michel Basquiat?
My mother is an artist and had a huge collection of books about every type of art. I always gravitated toward the books on Basquiat. I found him to be so charming. When I was 6, we were doing a school project on our favorite artists, and I chose him. Everyone else was doing Picasso and Van Gogh. My teacher was confused. They called in my mother and questioned her. I never understood why. But it was cool. The other students thought I was so wild. All it did was make me more obsessed with him.
Were you ever inspired by Basquiat’s outspokenness in your own social activism?
Growing up, I’ve tried to work out the fascination. I realize how different he was — how unique and authentic. I realized his messages were about the internal versus the external, extreme poverty versus extreme wealth, segregation versus integration. His was a voice for people who didn’t have a loud enough voice themselves.
How did you find out about the Urban Decay collaboration?
Wende [Zomnir, founding partner and chief creative officer of the brand] told me about it at another shoot. She whispered it. She said nobody could know. She gave me the samples six months ago and told me to have fun. I love that you can hang the package up. The last Basquiat sold for $57 million. This might be the closest I’ll get to having a Basquiat on my wall.
Does the collection reflect what you know of his work?
He had so many different styles. These bright colors remind me so much of the 1980s, but then there are the nude and natural colors and he used earthy tones in a lot of his work.
Do you find that people are still reluctant to use bold colors when it comes to their makeup? And what about yourself?
Two years ago, I wouldn’t have gone and bought a palette that had these shades. Now it’s my favorite thing. I generally stick to what I know — nudes, golds, some shimmer. But when I’m going to a concert or birthday party and want to do something more fun, I’ll go through the 7,000 palettes of Urban Decay I have and look for something I haven’t used. Sometimes it’s completely crazy and wild. Wende can use all these colors, and it looks great. I don’t have that down pat yet. My friends say, “That looks amazing, what did you do?” I tell them, “I have no idea. I couldn’t reproduce it if I tried.”