During his appearance in Geneseo Pride Alliance’s Drag Ball last year, business administration major sophomore Michael Carlin discovered a hidden talent: his expertise in makeup. Known to many by the pseudonym “Kai Vanguard,” Carlin has embraced his ability to create his unique artwork, using cosmetics to contour cheeks instead of carving clay and using powder instead of paint. An advocate for social justice, he has combined art and activism to produce works rooted in cultural diversity. Carlin explained that his interest in makeup developed when he was a child, foreshadowing the natural skill that emerged during his freshman year of college. “I remember times when I would sneak into my mom’s makeup bag and play with the products,” he said. “I had a natural inclination for it.”
His connection with the craft, however, did not spark until his participation in Drag Ball. With encouragement from friends, Carlin transformed his look using cosmetics, fully experiencing the power of makeup for the first time and discovering another side of himself that had yet to be seen.
“I fell in love right then and there,” he said.
A self-proclaimed “self-portrait artist,” Carlin’s style centers on androgyny. Although he gathers inspiration from a variety of sources such as New York City photographer Ryan Burke and YouTube vlogger Patrick Simondac—also known as PatrickStarrr—Carlin strives for originality in all of his creations. He emphasized his pride in being self-taught, with his creative eye acting as an intrinsic gift.
“Some of the best advice that I’ve heard is that you can’t take someone else’s ideas and thoughts and incorporate them into your own because then it will never actually be your own art,” he said. “I want people to perceive me as I perceive me.”
Carlin added that he thoroughly appreciates the work done by Burke and Simondac, complimenting their thought-provoking, “over-the-top” designs. These artists have inspired him to push boundaries, specifically those regarding gender fluidity.
“Kai Vanguard” is an emulation of this androgyny, providing Carlin with a persona that is even more extravagant than “Michael”—a persona that does not have to align with a gender.
Alongside juniors Sarah Simon and Thomas Magnus, Carlin is currently working on a studio project in Sturges Hall that will exemplify his advocacy for social justice and gender equality. The project will be a series of photographed looks that represent different diverse cultures and minority groups on campus, such as blacks, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and LGBTQ+ students.
In addition to creative projects and artistic looks, Carlin does simpler makeup across campus for people attending date parties or special occasions. “Simplicity can be so amazing,” he said. “My favorite thing is seeing all the little things add up and the confidence I can instill.”
Carlin explained that he hopes to pursue a career in makeup artistry by attending the New York City campus of Make-Up Designory following his graduation from Geneseo, aspiring to enter the nightlife entertainment industry or to become a potential business owner.
“I would like to be an artist; not in the sense that I’m going around doing wedding makeup, but that I’m going around doing what I like to do,” Carlin said.