Unmasking: memory and transience

New work. Transience, etched on my soul.

The body mask; a sculpturally elegant, totemic, vessel-like form. Speaking of the masks that define and protect us. Viewers engage with the work, creating meaning, through their own associations and memories.
I loved the simplicity of this piece at the stage you see above. It just ...appeared and it seemed to sing. 

I loved the simplicity of this piece at the stage you see above. It just ...appeared and it seemed to sing. 

The most recent from the Body Mask Series, an ongoing body of work.

I came across body masks a lifetime ago as a dark photo in an obscure book about the New Guinea highlands in a public library after going looking for books about PNG, particularly those with lots of pictures. Childhood landscape homesickness. Ever since then, the body mask, or 'full body mask' concept has continued to preoccupy me. No-one is exempt from wearing them and doing so every day.

The original masks of PNG, wicker-woven full human scale forms, were stored in the Men's Hut when not in use in tribal ceremonies, propped upright by forked tree branches.

In this artwork, these props (in the form of gilded gum twigs) are left leaning idly, apart from the mask, much like a pair of high heels might be when one gets home after a long day. The shelf is black lacquer, a 'black mirror' effect, with the protruding edge cut to the shape of a landscape horizon line.

Linear patterns, etched into the surface like they run through my mind. Always looking for a master plan, a pattern to it all.

Linear patterns, etched into the surface like they run through my mind. Always looking for a master plan, a pattern to it all.

In this piece, the juxtaposition of the three dimensional mask on the landscape is quite striking, so the mask has the feeling of coming forward toward the viewer out of the canvas, and forces the view to confront it and consider its meaning or consequence.

Both the mask and the landscape are marked by patterns in reference to the traditional ceremonial wooden masks of PNG, providing context and giving the viewer a clearer sense or hint as to where this idea stemmed from. The mask is held hovering mid canvas by Rare Earth magnets, one embedded inside the mask and another fixed behind the canvas; it is held invisibly and with irresistible force. For me, the spirit of that in itself feels powerful; the word that sprang to my mind when I made it is transcendence. Rise above.

The landscape, built from many layers of pigments and paint, evokes the hazy, ephemeral and elusive nature of memory.  The landscape as inscape. The absence of strong detail and landmarks allows the viewer to fill in the blanks and associate it with a landscape they may have been to in the past, a memory.   

Before it can ever be a repose for the senses, landscape is the work of the mind. Its scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as from layers of rock.
— Simon Schama's "Landscape and Memory", taken from a text of unknown origin.
Marks happen gradually until they're irradicable, scars are earned. And they can be beautiful.

Marks happen gradually until they're irradicable, scars are earned. And they can be beautiful.

A fascination with the mask concept is a part of human consciousness through all of history. Me, I see it as an elegant, pure sculptural form, totemic & loaded with myriad meanings; from blank container of our souls, benignly ready to adopt whatever guise we think might ease our way through the world, to a slightly sinister alien form, with a creepily sexual vacuum of a mouth. In either case, it has a purpose and a function that directly informs it's shape, like it’s a reverse/inverse manifestation of….whatever we project upon it. Benign malevolence? It looks like it needs to exist and that the reason for that is written in the mind of each individual who views it.

People make of it whatever they will; it speaks to me on any number of levels. Some say it's engaging, disturbing, with a shape that is similar to a human face although it has no clear features beyond an open space. Perhaps its reminiscent of the open mouth of a person screaming, as in Munch's famous painting, that ghoul like appearance, referencing other worldly beings. Others again see a cradle, a new birth and hope, an opportunity just begun.

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I like this piece. You can rate it in the comment section below if you like, judge, judge away.

Like I said, the holiday break was a good run, work wise. Other work going on in the studio: