Through makeup, Athena Paginton addresses topics of mental health, LGBTQIA+ rights and climate change

Swirls, zigzags and important messaging prevail throughout the work of the London-based makeup artist.

15 December 2021

There’s a lot more to makeup than you might think, far deeper than enhancing your features with lipsticks, powder and blush. This becomes prevalent in the portfolio of Athena Paginton, who employs illustrative and activist techniques to paint on her subjects’ face and body – switching a swab of mascara for more colourful displays of art. In her work, you’ll see an array of creative 2D ideas brought to life on the arches and curves of the human canvas; like a colourful rainbow, a pattern comprising black and red block prints, a bold red face with turquoise crosses, stars and zigzags, or the recreation of a character on the back of the neck.

Athena moved to London at the age of 18, which is when she began shooting tests and collaborating with different teams in the fashion industry. “I was face and body painting at every given opportunity,” she tells It’s Nice That, “which remains the same to this day!” Ever since, she’s worked with a plethora of fashion clients such as adidas, Alexander McQueen, Arise Arise, Balenciaga, Burberry, Converse, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana among many more. She’s also had her pieces features in the pages of 032C, 10 Magazine, AnOther, Cero, Dazed & Confused, Garage, i-D plus others.

While working on an idea for a project, the first thing Athena thinks about is her commitment to activism through her practice. “It’s integral for me to intertwine it into my creative work, it fuels every project,” she explains. “When it comes to the creation, I draw out my designs, create physical art pieces, sculptures, face charts or paint straight onto the face or body.” It’s a precise and considered approach that sees Athena carefully place each stroke, splash of colour and shape with skill and consideration. This means a typical day for Athena will consist of copious amounts of paint and coffee, plus “a lot of lols”. The starting point of any given project will begin with a topical issue that’s been brought to her attention, which could be anything from mental health, animal rights, LGBTQIA+ rights or climate change. Once the topic is decided, she’ll start the painting and illustration phase, applying her paints to paper, canvas, friends and whatever else she can get her hands on. This part tends to be free-slowing and intuitive, so the end point is always going to end up as a little surprise. “That’s definitely my favourite way of working,” she says. “I love the process of creation when there is no planned outcome.”


Athena Paginton: Samaritans (Copyright © Athena Paginton, 2021)

In a recent project, Athena worked on a beauty series in collaboration with Samaritans in order to raise awareness of mental health in males. “For the past ten years, I have created events or projects to raise awareness of mental health,” she explains. In this body of work, Athena has created a structurally hypnotic display of patterns on the model’s faces – pointed stars, ovals and zigzags orderly painted atop vibrant backdrops of lime and blue. “For this beauty series, I wanted to create a safe space for males to discuss mental health in a non-stigmatised environment,” she notes. “When the project launched, we also released information and helplines for those who may need it or may be in crisis.”

This project, alongside Athena’s practice in general, proves that beauty is more than surface deep. And, when coupled with the creative application of paint and makeup, it has the power to make a stand against the topics prevailing in society. “I definitely hope to create work that makes a difference,” she explains. “I hope it creates an opportunity for more leaning and understanding. My main goal is to continuously fight for those whose voices are unheard.”

Athena and her colourful, conceptually driven works will continue to have lasting impact in the months (if not years) to come. She’s currently curating Athena’s Alternative Advent, a 24-day-long beauty project where, each day, a face or body paint is released alongside a nugget of information about sustainability, wellness and cruelty-free makeup. “I want to help others realise the switch to being sustainable and cruelty-free is accessible, easy and exciting. I’ve loved creating a project on this scale; it’s created a huge opportunity to explore so many themes within beauty and sustainability. It’s been incredibly fun and reminds me of why I love what I do!”

GalleryCopyright © Athena Paginton, 2021

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Copyright © Athena Paginton, 2021

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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