Curated by Eric Bornstein
Masks by Eric Bornstein, Deborah Coconis, Katja Esser and Lucrecia Novoa
Photography by Richard A. Chase
Opening Reception: Friday, February 27, 5:30 to 8:00 PM
Special Show Hours: 10 AM to 4 PM, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays
or by appointment, please call 617-276-5760
Masks have played an important role in human communication since man’s earliest history. In numerous countries around the globe, masks continue to play an important part in storytelling and religious rituals and ceremonies. The mask opens a door to many worlds, tapping into an ancient well of magical beings drawn from various cultures, myth, folklore, theater and realm of spirit. Though going back to man’s earliest civilizations, masks still hold the power–even in today’s technology-driven society–to mesmerize, awe and transform us. As master mask maker and teacher Eric Bornstein describes it, “Mask-making is a transcendent art, something that continually introduces me to new cultures and ages of history long passed. Mask-making is about rich storytelling and fascinating characters–human, animal and magical.”
The five artists featured in Masks: The Magic of Transformation come from a variety of artistic backgrounds and the masks they create reflect that. These visual artists also describe themselves as actors and performers, using the masks they’ve created to transform themselves into someone or something altogether different. Working with a variety of materials including paper mache’, feathers, textiles, paint, chicken wire, raffia, and clay to create their masks, these artists’ completed works conjure up an array of characters and beings brought to life once worn.
Each one of the artists brings a unique and distinct vision to his or her masks, making for an exhibit of tremendous imagination and creativity.
Eric Bornstein‘s powerful and finely crafted pieces, which have been created for theatrical productions, including mythical dragons, faces from Homer’s Odyssey, characters from The Chinese epic, The Monkey King, and images recalling Japanese Noh Theater are stunning in their variety and execution.
Beyond the finished product, my work gives me balance. It’s rewarding, purposeful, and celebratory. When performing, I am interacting with fellow actors and a huge audience. But I also hold dear my solitary studio time. These are the most satisfying and exciting aspects of my path as an artist–the relationships with extraordinary individuals that emerge from my work, and the opportunity to explore my own artistic wanderings. With masks, the range of artistic motifs and personality types is limitless.
Deborah Coconis‘ delightful visages reveal a quirky sense of humor along with an idiosyncratic, yet eternal, female elegance. Her Kuan Yin demonstrates the manner in which she takes a well-known character and makes it her own, creating new depth to the mysterious personage.
What I have come to discover on my journey as both a mask maker and performer is the unique synergism that takes place between creator and mask, wearer and mask, and spectator and mask. As creator, a thrill lies in bringing form to a character’s spirit. The design is shaped as much by this spirit as by the tools, materials and skill of the mask maker. As an actor, I enjoy the physical freedom and visual excitement masks create. As wearer of the mask, if I give its presence full respect, I am directed by it. Lastly, and, I think, most importantly, as spectator, I am taken by the mask’s ability to transcend the mundane.
Katja Esser, originally from the Netherlands, draws her inspiration from elements of nature themes including fire, water, and earth as well as magical living trees, abstract Africanesque figures, and spirits of ancient powers and totemic animals. Look not for realism in her pieces, but inspiration from a place of deep spirits. Her Thunderbird and Tree show her virtuoso skills both with the mask and costume construction and design. Over the years, Esser has taken annual trips to Africa to work with shaman Malidoma Some to further deepen the spiritual elements in the work she creates. Says Esser, “The mask keeps the world of spirit alive for me, connecting me to possibilities, magic and a richness that goes beyond the literal way of living.”
Native Chilean Lucrecia Novoa‘s masks conjure images of Latin mythologies, and powerful, often dangerous female forces. Witness this in her Snow Witch, with distinctive angularity in deeply cut facial structures, toothy mouths, and blazing eyes. Having lived through a brutal military dictatorship in Chile, Novoa’s earliest pieces had an undeniable dark feeling to them, but her work has since evolved to include a number of brighter, more light-bearing pieces.
When I attend parades and public events as a full character, with the appropriate attire to enhance the mask in its multifaceted meanings, I bring a distant culture, a distant time, to the observers. Behind the mask, I can perceive the curiosity and the build up of emotions in others. In that moment, I bring the past alive and project it into the future.
Photographer Richard Chase‘s digitally worked images take the mask to a new place of power, magic and mystery–often doubling images or juxtaposing masks with figures and flowers to create an entirely new interpretation of the original mask. He creates a world within the picture frame, where the mask’s effect is both whimsical and iconic. “At first I was concerned about what Eric’s response might be to what I had done with his creations, but his interest in the different ways his artwork can be viewed and used is boundless.”
Show curator Eric Bornstein, long recognized as among the region’s master mask makers, has been a strong influence on his fellow artists in the show, serving as a mentor to several of them and inspiration to all: Says photographer Richard Chase, “Eric Bornstein is a mask maker of the most extraordinary sort. His art springs from history, myth, and his own complex and fantastical imagination.”
Together, these five artists present a formidable collection of mask images, which we hope will stimulate a greater public awareness of, and dialogue about, the magic of mask transformation.