A few years ago, my son became interested in world mythology, and I became drawn to it through talking and reading with him. The more I studied, the more I realized the importance every ancient culture placed on masks as iconic representations of their beliefs. The image depicted in mask form helps the people in each particular culture identify with the symbolized force of nature, or the deity that they worship. Thousands of years ago, when humans were hunter-gatherers, masks were first used as camouflage for the hunt. The masks were made of animal hide and animal bone and helped the hunter blend in with his environment. As human society evolved and the perception of their world evolved, their collective awareness became tinged with the mysteries of life. These inexplainable mysteries (such as birth and death, for instance) forced the collective human awareness towards matters of the spiritual. This growing spiritual awareness brought on a whole new type of hunt; the hunt for the origins of life and for God. Just as the ancient hunter used a mask as a cloaking device in order to blend in with and become part of the animal world, this new type of spiritually aware human was hunting for a way to identify with unseen forces. As mythology was born out of the depths of the human collective unconscious people needed a way to identify with their God or Gods. Thus a new type of role playing was born, and the mask was an integral part of it. I highly recommend the writings of Joseph Campbell to anyone who finds this topic fascinating, because there simply isn’t enough time or space at the present to thoroughly cover this subject. In Campbell’s book: “The Power of Myth” he says: “The images of myth are reflections of the spiritual potentialities of every one of us. Through contemplating these, we evoke their powers in our own lives.” This strikes a chord with me because the longer I studied mythology, the more I came to the realization that through my own personal artwork I was actually developing my own mythology. Perhaps every artist is doing this to a greater or lesser degree, but all of what I consider to be my best art is coming from the wellspring of my subconscious, (the collective unconscious?) which is where all mythology was originally born. Also masks are mighty handy when your being sought by the I.R.S., the F.b.I., or that guy you accidently backed your car into in the grocery store parking lot. Not that I would know.
These masks are all constructed out of found objects. In a word: JUNK! Literally stuff I’ve found in the neighbor’s trash can, things I’ve found in the gutter, garage sale shmatta, Goodwill gunk. Old toys and broken parts of toys that my son no longer wants. I’m even using garden debris, such as seed pods, for instance. Now that the economy has tanked I’m seeing oodles of stories and articles in the print media about “the virtues of re-using and recycling.” I’ve been making things out of found objects for about twenty years now, and it took a “recession” (a.k.a. Depression) to make the rest of society catch up! Im not claiming to have invented the idea, certainly. after all, Marcel Duchamp was using found objects before I was even a gleam in my Father’s eye. Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg were using found objects in their artwork back in the 1950’s, and as previously mentioned, ancient peoples were using animal skins and bones long after that animal had been eaten. I just find it ironic that in a society where almost any manufactured object that is five or more years old is destined for the landfill, we now have the well-to-do shopping at thrift stores. But I digress.
The one thing I do end up buying occasionally from an actual store is fasteners from the hardware store. These masks are NOT held together with glues or adhesives of any kind! I HATE GLUE! It’s messy! It smells bad! It gives me headaches! I find ways, sometimes quite elaborate, to attach these found objects with nuts & bolts, screws, nails, steel and/or copper wire. Adhesives are not sturdy enough (no matter WHAT it says on the packaging) This requires some tricky carving and drilling. Ever tried drilling in to certain types of plastics? I’ve had the plastic melt all over the drill bit a few times. If any of you kids try this at home, always where safety goggles, says the one-eyed pirate! ARRR!
The process of making a mask involves a reversed way of thinking, compared to the process of painting a canvas, at least for me. When I paint a canvas or even a watercolor, I usually start out with a sketch of some kind, ether a small sketch on a separate piece of paper, or i’ll sketch directly on to the canvas. From there, its mostly me applying pigment to the surface, and manipulating it to achieve a pre-concieved image. I try to leave my self open to “happy accidents”, but for the most part, I am placing color to canvas with a desired end result in mind.
With the masks, the process is in reverse, because the medium is manipulating me, or rather, my decision-making process. Im starting out with pre-made objects, already existing shapes and colors that completely influence my decision-making process, at least as far as esthetics are concerned. My theme, as I’ve stated, is world mythology, which is a pretty broad topic and covers a wide range of characters, but within that theme, I have to work with the vast array of objects that I’ve collected. this forces me to work in a much more “stream of consciousness” style of thinking, even if the mask is of a specific character from mythology. I place the found objects that I’m working with next to each other, or on top of each other and use them almost like puzzle pieces. It sometimes becomes a rather precarious balancing act, until I’ve finally started to attach objects to objects. Once I have the main pieces the way they seem to work best, then the process of attachment begins. As stated before, at this point in the procedure, I become Mr. Home Improvement Guy, and get out the power drill and the hardware. This process has forced me to think out of the box, because Im not mechanically minded by ANY stretch of the imagination. Sometimes the power drill won’t go through the surface of the object very well (as I said before, certain types of plastic can get tricky), so I’ll have to resort to using my wife’s Foredom. (no, its not a marital aid.) My wife, Cristi, works in glass, (stained glass, kiln-fired glass, etc.) and she has this device called a foredom that has diamond-encrusted drill bits and is kind of like the Superman of the grinding and drilling world, which means it will go through just about any substance except Kriptonite. On the other end of the scale, some types of material tend to be to soft and easily ripped (cardboard, canvas, etc.) and for those I’ve just recently learned how to use GROMMETS! (and I’m not talking about the dog, either!