“My art is an escape—it doesn’t always come across as pretty,” says Ophelia Liu, regarding her unique approach to artistry in her field. The make-up artist says the looks she creates and photographs on herself often explore “the uglier side of things”.
It makes her feel like she’s doing something different, which is important to her. This need for variety is reflected in how she is building her career: in addition to creating looks on herself, she does make-up for clients such as the English National Ballet, and last year she launched a clothing and accessories venture, 18 Levels Of.
“People tend to have prejudgements about influencers, and if I can break that perception, I will,” Liu says. “I like doing things that surprise people—I hate being a one-trick pony."
Originally from Hong Kong, London-based Liu’s pursual of a creative path did not align with her family’s traditional Asian values—but the 27-year-old eventually won their approval after winning Season 2 of Glow Up, the Netflix reality show to find the next big name in make-up art. She grew her Instagram following to over 600,000 , and now Liu’s bread and butter is regularly posting photos and tutorials of complex looks.
Liu’s view is that beauty is ultimately about what one feels comfortable with—although she has a unique level of comfort. “I’m intrigued by the grotesque, the dark and the disturbed,” she explains, and encourages her followers to challenge their own perceptions of beauty.
Her looks can be intense, often incorporating prosthetics—she’s created textured gargoyles, moody deities and electric masks. But they are all softened with a touch of femininity, although Liu says it isn’t intentional. The addition of a winged eyeliner, lined lips and a bit of gloss help her audience to see the potential of “a beautiful story behind the ugly”.
This femininity extends to the idea of glamour, albeit her version of it. “Glam stems from drag, South Asian beauty and even goth. Glam has been taken to a place where it’s a just look, but it’s an identity, a lifestyle.” Liu says. “People assume that I can’t do glam looks, but that’s because many shy away from an alternative glam look. People are stuck with one idea of what’s pretty.”
An Asian woman in the beauty industry, she acknowledges the recognition she’s received since winning Glow Up, but admits, “I still feel quite left out. All the comments and messages I get on Instagram are so supportive, but I’ve noticed that plenty of companies will still use an Asian model rather an Asian make-up artist.”