Monday, September 6, 2010

The Masque Goes On

The masque goes on, oil and crepe bandage on canvas, 30 x 40 cm

Are we really happy
With this lonely game we play
Looking for the right words to say?
But not finding understanding anyway
We're lost in a masquerade

We try to talk it over
But the words get in the way
We're lost inside
This lonely game we play.

No matter how hard we try
To understand the reasons why
We carry on this way
We're lost in this masquerade.
adapted from This Masquerade, Lyrics by George Benson, cover made famous by the Carpenters  (hear it on Youtube here).
I wanted to explore a bit further the use of crepe bandage in my art practice. I liked both its symbolic associations and the sculptural qualities of its surface.

And so, I  created this 3D piece. The nose and mouth are an impression taken from a plaster caste of my face. The impression was made by smearing the plaster with petroleum jelly (as a releasing agent) and then impregnating some crepe bandage with acrylic polymer gloss and pushing it into place to dry.
I wished to play with flat plane of the canvas. I was hoping for a tension of realities - through which channels do we get our information about a person? Which provides more readable information, the flat and barely suggested eyes, or the textured and fully-formed yet dark mouth? Do all the impressions we have of a person even sit together?
And how much of what we see of another person is mask, persona, social face? What lies beneath? Who is peeking out through the mask?

Society is a dance and we all come in costume, each wearing our masks. I was always struck by the line in T.S. Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, that we "prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet".

The masks are not there simply there to conceal, but also to reveal. Or rather, to manage. Through our Persona we manage the impression we make on others. Our masks are a translator that conveys our inside world to the outside world in a way the outside world can receive and understand and embrace.

But one's social mask can also become a prison, locking us into a way of behaving and being that feels alien or that daily bruises the personhood within. The Man In The Iron Mask.

Though perhaps the worst fate of all is to identify totally with one's own mask, to believe there is no other mental reality, inner life or personal identity than our social face.

Or is that just a Western myth?

Enough musings for today. Below is a second photo of The masque goes on, but lit from right side.


  1. A “mumbling recluse,” perhaps... but still teaching in the very questions you ask.

  2. Interestig.... It's hard for me to view this as 3-D however.... Why is that???? Perhaps I'm trapped in my own way of seeing things.

  3. Thanks, William, for finding anything intelligible in my mumblings, lol.

    I think your first observation is quite right, Marian. When the actual work is present, we have stereoscopic vision and can make small movements of the head side to side. These soon reveal the three-dimensionality.

    Though nonetheless, because the crepe is black like the background, when viewed from a distance, it initially looks like a regular 2D painting. The surprise comes as move past it or approach it closer.

    I've now included a third (small) pic taken side-on to help establish the three-dimensionality here on the blog. Thanks for that, Marian.

  4. Both parts are strong. I want to either shrink the eyes or stretch the jowls and force the parts to "sit together." If you were hoping to create tension, you got it--this piece makes me feel very edgy. The lower half seems friendly but it's partially hidden; the eyes seem disinterested in what I think. Great managing with oil and bandages!

  5. Harry,
    this is so good and amazing!
    reflections to not fit in our own masks ...
    this work has many, many views!
    technically to the observer, depends on the light, position, distance, time .... etc, etc.
    and emotionally, numerous readings!
    and of course, depends on what kind of mask the observer will be using at the moment ...
    great job, congrats!

    P.S.: I love the song 'Masquerade'
    very appropriate! ;)

  6. This one is great - more 3D pieces please! It is very thought provoking that the more 'realistic shaped lower half engages me less than somewhat more abstract painted eyes.
    (And here you are still quoting 'The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock nearly 40 years later! You left me with an enduring love of that poem. The lines from it that stay with me particularly are:
    'And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
    When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall..')

  7. Harry,

    My bet is that you are a guitar player with a George Benson refrence like that? Next to Wes Mongomery, his fluid style is near the top of my list.

    I understand your feeling of not being finished with an have revisited the gauze bandage with powerful results. Good inspirtion for this fine September day. Thank you!

    Have a great week,

  8. The fact that this image is brought to me by the Internet , a " Virtual " means by definition , adds even more thought to the whole situation !!

  9. hi Hallie. Yes, the painting makes me feel edgy too. Is the menace of a Dick Turpin highwayman look? Or just the incongruities in planes, materials and styles? It's now hanging in my study, keeping an eye on me.

  10. hi Denise, your right, the image keeps changing as the light shifts or the viewer changes point of view. I was hoping for an effect like this because in a way that is how we form impressions of other people - they change and shift according to context, the light we see them in, our point of view.

  11. just call me Anton Mesmer, Celeste

  12. hi Annette. I agree about what enages. Which in itself intreagues me, because the eyes are clearly a simple piece of painting while the mouth is a caste and therefore fairly accurate to life. Yet the appearance has more reality than the substance. Masks.

    And thank you for your lovely comments re my teaching, though i'm sure TS Eliot left his mark pretty well on his own merits. Interesting which lines you recall - though your life's trajectory has been anything but that of someone who has been pinned to the spot. (Annette is a former outstanding student of mine from a few years back who has gone on to do great things)

  13. lol, well, i do bend the odd string on my Ibanez and Vox, but so hamfistedly i'd never admit to it in public, Brian. But it does help me appreciate what BB King can do on Lucille. As for the bandage explorations, i hope they're not just a load of crepe :). Cheers, friend.

  14. Interesting observation, Marialuisa. We live in a hall of mirrors.