Six foot three in scuffed Gucci boots, Lyle Reimer—a.k.a. the artist Lyle XOX—is standing in Gastown’s Inform Interiors, snipping rings of fabric from a detached doll’s arm. In a week, the store will host his Vancouver book launch, and he’s creating assemblages on mannequins in preparation.
Reimer usually meticulously constructs his sculptures—striking found-object compilations—using his face as foundation, wearing each piece only once in order to photograph it, before archiving its components. When a hardier piece is required, as for a window display, he builds onto mannequins. Today, as he works, the fabric becomes the pale lips of a bust he’s crowned with a long tube of packing foam and a small plastic hand.
Later, during the Q&A at his book launch, Reimer explains this piece was inspired by the visual contrast between the blue foam and a strip of umber tape affixed to its end when he found it: “It just said: ‘This is your colour family!’” With its blues and browns and grey-green plastic bag hair, the face he created has a horrible beauty—one that suggests a carnivorous mermaid from a polluted sea. An audience member rises to ask him a question about his creative journey only to choke up with emotion. This, he says, is a frequent occurrence.
“I haven’t done a talk ever, in all the places around the world I’ve been, not once has it happened where people aren’t crying,” he tells me. “They fall into my chest sobbing, and your heart feels like it’s going to explode.”
Reimer—whose calm, cornflower-blue gaze is as piercing in person as it is staring out from his surreal portraits—first began exploring the face as a canvas in 1999, when he moved to Vancouver to attend makeup school at the Blanche Macdonald Centre. There, he admits, he was less interested in learning aesthetic rules than subverting them. “I wanted to mix stuff into the makeup,” he says. “I wanted to customize everything.” After graduation, he nurtured his outré instincts over a 16-year career as a trainer at MAC Cosmetics, designing clothing and maintaining a painting practice on the side.
In 2013, he began posting selfies to Instagram in which he modelled makeup looks augmented by mixed-media elements—a shredded magazine hat, ketchup-packet earrings. Gradually, he began adhering more and more discarded ephemera to his face with prosthetic glue, accruing a nearly 150,000-strong Instagram following while honing his signature style. In 2017, at the age of 38, he left MAC to focus on his art full-time. Now, he creates stunningly ornate facial sculptures that recall the avant-garde glamour of Leigh Bowery, the hallucinatory collages of Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu, and the nightmarish busts of Canadian sculptor David Altmejd, all while remaining strikingly inventive.
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