New York makeup artist Rolly Robinson is a shapeshifter, using the vast potential of his face to take on different dramatic characters—all otherworldly and fueled by the maximalist motto, “More is More.” A new mini-documentary of the same name, directed by Alexis Boling, outlines Robinson’s craft, following him as he gets into his “refined Jap-anime” looks and takes on the city streets like an alien scouring its plebeian prey.
“In my mind, I see so many things,” he says in Boling’s stunning doc. “I’ve never lived in this century, in this time, on this plane, at all. I’ve always been an escapist—that’s how I deal with real life sometimes. When I put these looks together it’s like I came out of a world I painted in my mind.”
More Is More will be an ongoing series, with this first episode acting as Robinson’s introduction to the world, providing viewers with a brief scope of the artist’s colorful craft. Watch it, below, and keep reading for an interview with the Harlem-based escapist.
Tell me about growing up.
I was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but later moved to a tiny town when I was six, called Sevierville, which is in Tennessee. My family and I lived right next to the Smoky Mountains, so for three years I was completely surrounded by nature. Even though I was young, I still went through a culture shock. I attended an all white school with kids who had strong, southern accents. I didn’t understand it or why I was the only brown person in the entire school. It was actually awesome living in the only home at the very top of a hill in the center of wildlife. I would play outside with things I found in nature and my sisters and I used our imaginations to create another world. I’ve always been a dreamer and my imagination was my biggest asset—it still is. After three years in the Smokies, we moved to Murfreesboro, right outside of Nashville. That’s where I lived for a majority of my life and it’s still a place I call home. Growing up in Tennessee was a lot more tough as a teen—middle school mostly. I was picked on and bullied for being gay, but once I entered high school and approached graduation, I really stopped caring about what anyone had to say.
At what point did makeup enter your life?
Oh gosh, 12 years ago. I began experimenting with makeup when I was 16 and it just went from there. It was another thing I taught myself and mastered, and another way for me to express my truest self. As I got older, I became better and better at it. Now, I combine so many things with makeup that the outcome, for me, is something so otherworldly, that it can’t be explained. It’s just me—it’s Rolly [and] I’m having a lot of fun doing it.
In More Is More, you say you’ve never lived in this century or even in this plane. What does escapism do for you?
Escapism allows me to rid myself of everyday mundanities and get away from what’s actually real. It’s not necessarily my way of tuning the real world out, but at the same time it is. In real life situations, I just turn on my ‘imagination switch’ and visualize something different. I don’t connect with real life sometimes. I see the same shit over and over, and I get bored. [But] if I could have picked when and where I was born, it would have been in Japan in the ’60s, for sure.
Does the film title, More Is More, apply to more than just makeup? Is it a life motto?
I really like to pump up the volume on these looks I’m creating, and coming from a visual standpoint, more being more is just a lot more interesting to me. My life is extremely curated. I think about the entire presentation of everything. The way I dress, to the makeup, my bedroom, which is amazing, mood boards I create. For people who know me, they can tell what I’ve touched. It’s like, ‘Oh yeah, Rolly definitely put this together.’ The idea is to get the most out of life while you still have it.
When did you move to NYC?
I moved to New York City 5 years ago in 2011 from South Florida, where I studied graphic design. Funny enough, Gay Pride was my anniversary. When I came here, I knew I had to really bring it. When you’re surrounded by like-minded people and fellow artists, it really inspires you and motivates you to work harder at your craft, no matter what that is. Everyone is here to make something of themselves, and in a city full of mixed talents, I had to stand out. I worked in beauty upon arrival, then landed my first job in fashion as an editorial designer.
How do you afford being an artist in this expensive city?
My rule of thumb is to always work somewhere where I’m getting things for free. When I was working in the digital space, we were always sent free things from brands. I took full advantage of that when it came to beauty and skincare products. I built my makeup kit exceedingly quick. I had all these products at my disposal and the opportunity to experiment and play. Things like supplies are so costly, and being an artist is just about one of the most expensive occupations out there. I don’t know how I would have been able to do it without that job. A while after mastering my skills and doing so many projects outside of work, I really became unhappy. I hated going to work and couldn’t stand the people I worked with anymore. I’d sit at my desk like, ‘Why am I even here? I could be at home listening to disco and beating my face.’ I made a final exit, and got my clarity back and the will power to do even more.
You were once hit by a bus, which is detailed in More Is More. Describe to me your experience.
I was on vacation in Miami with an ex-boyfriend at the time, and the day before our flight, I was driving through an intersection and a city bus t-boned my car. It was the loudest, most horrifying sound I’d ever heard. My ex was screaming, there was blood everywhere, and I had .0003 seconds to figure out how I was going to keep this car under control and not die. I swerved and hit another parked car under the overpass. When we came to a halt, I pushed him out the car and then crawled out. The airbags deployed and the windshield was a cracked mess. The car was completely destroyed. I luckily walked away without a scratch. My former partner, however, had a broken nose.
How did this affect you?
[My boyfriend] left me as soon as we flew back to New York, and I was in post recovery for a month because I did have a limp. I went into a depression, and it spiraled for me, emotionally. I had nightmares of that car crash over and over. I was sad my boyfriend left me and I had to deal with all the legal bullshit that comes with an accident to that capacity. The whole experience really taught me an important lesson: Life is so short, and anything can happen at a blink of an eye, so I try my damn best to not sweat the small stuff and be thankful for the life I still have. I survived a traumatic car crash, I can handle anything. I realized from that point on that I was going to go full force with what makes me happy. That’s when I really focused in on my makeup artistry. You’re here in a second and gone the next—I want to be as fierce as I can possibly be and know I had a great time enjoying my life.
In the film, you talk a lot about “beauty.” Why is beauty important?
Beauty is all I know. I learned at a very young age how to see the beauty in all things, and if it wasn’t there, I learned how to create it. My mom is really creative and she’s my biggest influence. I’ve been exposed to just about everything, so from that, I learned what it was that I liked and didn’t. That’s how I came up with my own signature aesthetic and style. I think there are so many magical sights to see in the world, and they get overshadowed by things that are lackluster. I’m far too eccentric to be caught up in something that’s not beautiful. I think it does impact the world. It makes people pay attention and remember that beauty does still exist, and no matter where you are, you can see it. You just have to open your eyes.
Do you feel like what you’re doing is creating an impact?
I do feel like there is an impact I’m creating through my work, especially after the launch of More Is More. My production team and I really wanted to showcase what I’m doing, not as a way of shameless self promotion, but as genuine inspiration. I feel very comfortable saying that no one else is doing what I’m doing. More Is More has been out for [just over] two weeks now and it already has over 100k views, and that’s so rewarding. I’ve been getting a lot of mail from people around world who tell me things like, ‘Thank you for being you,’ or share how the film made them feel. I’m happy I’m able to help others turn on that switch within themselves to really just reach for the sky and go for it.