Ryan Burke is the second installment in The Creators series, a column where we spotlight the badasses shaping the current beauty landscape.
Before CoverGirl, Maybelline, and Rimmel made waves by adding Instaboys like James Charles, Manny Gutierrez, and Lewys Ball to their already stacked rosters of supermodel spokespersons, there was Ryan Burke. He’s less concerned with looking stereotypically “pretty” than he is with blowing minds with his mesmerizing looks that combine everything from shards of mirror to brass pipes. “I like very surreal makeup,” explains Burke of his unique aesthetic. “It has to have a flow and rhythm to it.” And much like a conductor who directs various members of an orchestra to produce a magnificent symphony, this pro is a maestro of makeup—coordinating three-dimensional elements and pigments into one spectacular piece of museum-worthy art that’s on display for one night only (typically on view at one of Ladyfag’s or Susanne Bartsch’s legendary soirees). Luckily, the face painter often captures the moment for posterity and posts it to Instagram, allowing those of us who can’t stay awake long enough to make it to Holy Mountain or Boom! to share in the spectacle.
It’s not exactly surprising that the prodigy’s “surreal,” “colorful,” “trippy,” and “abstract” take on makeup caught the eye of Pat McGrath, the reigning queen of runway maquillage. While Burke currently serves as an ambassador for Pat McGrath Labs, he says he joined the coveted crew as an assistant in a very “normal way” via an introduction from his agent and former McGrath team member, Ryan McKnight of Kreative Kommune. “Several people thought I got on the team because of Instagram, but it wasn’t,” he clarifies. While industry connections did get his foot in the door, it was Burke’s own uninhibited ambition that kicked it wide open. “I came in with no kit—nothing,” he says of showing up to Tommy Hilfiger’s Fall 2015 show, his very first backstage job. “They asked someone to come to the front and I said, ‘I’m going!’ I was in the very back, and I thought, This isn’t going to turn into anything if I’m all the way back here…so I went right up to the front, right in front of Pat, and she said, ‘This tattoo on this girl’s face is in the wrong place and it needs to be moved up, don’t you think?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I think so, sure.’ She asked me to take it off, put it back on again in a higher place—all while recording it on video and doing it in ten seconds! It was the first time I had ever met her and immediately after I did it, I went straight to the back because I was shaking.”
Clearly, his risk paid off. But the surreal pro wasn’t always so quick to put himself in the line of fire in front of the world’s premiere makeup artist. In fact, this small-town boy from the mountains of Virginia describes himself as an “introvert.” Here, how Burke used makeup to break out of his shell.