New work. Transience, etched on my soul.
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.
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.
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.
I like this piece.