Sakura – Asian Woman Red

January on Mayne island is tranquil, some might say slow, while others still might find it boring, decrying the relative lack of urban distractions or warm summertime activities. The full time population of roughly 1,000 – which can swell to 2500+ in the busy summer season – likely drops to 7 or 8 hundred as sun seekers migrate to points south.

It’s mid-January 2014 and I am not bored. Each weekend as I commute from Vancouver to Mayne I have a myriad of engaging tasks and creative activities to keep my mind active and my body moving. At this point – just 2 months into the setting up of my studio Shavasana – I am: working on some signage projects; putting together a business Facebook page; planning some gardening in a few beds I’ve created and a 6′ x 12′ raised vegetable garden that I’ve inherited; in discussions to co-manage a Yoga retreat; searching for new “Antlers for Art”; meeting a flurry of residents of this bucolic sanctuary, and making some art – in the form of necklaces and masks.

I had just completed mask # 4 –  Chaac – in early January and was now researching imagery and sketching possible faces for the elusive Asian Woman Red which would become Mask # 5. Asian Woman Red came with some new technical challenges. Unlike previous masks, which were adorned with deer antlers, AWR was being given the distinction of sporting Bighorn Sheep Horns*. Due to their size and hollow nature, and the fact that I use glue sparingly, made attaching the horns to Asian Woman Red  fullsizeoutput_13

especially challenging. My preferred method of attaching antlers involves drilling a hole at the base of each antler, running a thin copper wire through the hole and affixing it to the mask via holes in the skull which are then “tied off” inside the mask cavity. As this was not possible with the Horns, I wound up affixing wooden blocks within the hollow horns, drilling two holes in each and then running the copper wires through the blocks and into the skull to provide more stability. Here’s a little video illustrating day one of working the clay and a look at the big horn mask attachments:

Here is another video showing the final look of Asian Woman Red before curing and firing. You’ll note that the clay is still moist and a few touch ups are needed – but the hoped for outcome is close.

It’s always necessary to let the mask cure for a week or two to ensure that there is no moisture left in the clay when it goes into the kiln. This can lead to the mask exploding upon firing, a lesson I learned the hard way in the early days of my mask enthusiasm (see: Mask Making – Abraham Maslowe’s Exploding Head ) . Once I feel confident that the mask is dry and that no cracks have formed in the clay which need repair, I take the mask to my friend John who runs a little business in Kitsilano called You Paint, I Fire . It is here that I will have AWR fired, as I have done for all masks thus far with the exception of Tuatha. John is a very congenial fellow and it’s always a pleasure working with him on my creations. There is always a danger that some undetected inconsistency in the clay will lead to “mask failure”…some irreparable disaster that ruins all of one’s efforts. Thus far, with John at the helm, I’ve been fortunate.

Asian Woman Red came out beautifully – unscathed from her trial by fire. I stuffed her into my backpack for the foot passenger journey back to Mayne Island where the horns awaited attachment and my paints were ready for the final adornment of the “vision” (since Chaac I have chosen to paint my masks as I feel it gives me greater control over the colouration and final outcome)

Over several months as I pondered this new member of my studio, I found myself drawn to Geisha imagery for colouration – specifically the light rose pancake makeup that they wear. Also the name Sakura – which means Cherry Blossom in Japanese – seemed to dovetail nicely with the evolving look of Mask # 5. I’ve always had a soft spot for Japanese culture having grown up in a family that counted many Japanese families among our dearest friends. I also learned how to sing a traditional Japanese song called, “Sakura, Sakura” in grade school, which I can belt out to this day 🙂

Sakura’s look is a little mysterious and sensual, she gazes at you through her heavily lidded eyes down her elongated nose. The Horns are symbols of strength and power which would dissuade all but the most ardent to attempt a kiss of her red passionate lips…here is the final image, adorned with some of my more delicate wishbone necklaces

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*I am not a hunter. All of my antlers and horns have been donated or – in rare instances – purchased. The Big Horn sheep horns were owned by my ex-wife and I received them from my son when she passed away in 2013…I don’t know if the sheep was hunted or died from natural causes. The horns are branded with the number: M6

Rinpoche

It is late November 2013 and I am ensconced in my new studio on Mayne Island.  Daylight Savings has kicked in so the days are short and becoming cool. November is “shoulder season” in the Gulf Islands, the tourists have gone home, weekenders and part-timers and other fair weather friends have vacated, the locals are winterizing their cabins and the peak summertime population has plummeted by 60%. It is slow, and I am soaking up the tranquility and feeling of decompression that I get each Thursday when I arrive by ferry from Vancouver to open up my studio.

My “business model” was still quite loose and embryonic – studio space for some of my art and writing projects, a little additional art on the walls from various sources, and a self-serve coffee and tea bar with tables where people could hang out with a drink, use the wifi and chillout. I’d been open to the public for a few weeks, slowly getting to know some of the braver souls who were curious about my new space, and filling my spare time with creative projects.

During these early days of opening up the studio/gallery/café my hours were filled with a myriad of engaging business oriented tasks, and I was also starting to turn my attention to the backlog of art projects that lay before me.  I had a considerable amount of material for a series of paganistic necklaces which I wanted to produce, and was beginning to sketch images for my next series of masks. My first inspiration after this 2 or 3 year mask-making hiatus was “Asian Woman Red”…I began researching and sketching femalefaces of asian descent with a mind to coating the finished product with a red glaze. Early sketches of Aung San Suu Kyi’s face morphed into a Female Wood Nymph… fullsizeoutput_14bb

and then ultimately the delicate and wise Tibetan Monk – Rinpoche – which mask # 3 became.

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Although this return to mask making at my new studio did not immediately give me “Asian Woman Red” I was happy with the result as my hands gave birth to this new mask I would call Rinpoche, (which “is an honorific term used in the Tibetan language. It literally means “precious one”, and may be used to refer to a person, place, or thing–like the words “gem” or “jewel” (Sanskrit Ratna).”)

Here are some pictures of the early, pre-firing process:

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I find that during the mask making process the clay can have a life and direction of it’s own and will provide characteristics which were not necessarily intended at the outset (perhaps this is a function of my skill set :), Rinpoche has arrived and his features and demeanour do not call for a red glaze – Asian Woman Red will come later – here are some pictures of Rinpoche as he looks today:

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Mask Making – Túatha the Prototype

The idea of creating human-likeness ceramic masks with deer antlers, (germinated the night of “The Seminal Moment” – https://clayandbone.com/2017/04/20/mask-making-the-seminal-moment/ ), didn’t evaporate with my morning-after hangover…like so many of my other ill-conceived ideas. The two pictures of Ben B. sporting makeshift branch antlers remained on my kitchen corkboard (Good Ben, Evil Ben) and served as constant reminders of the events of that evening. As it had been many years since my last mask-making attempt (which ended in tragi-comic disaster: https://clayandbone.com/2017/04/30/mask-making-abraham-maslows-exploding-head/  ) I thought it best to enroll in a clay-sculpting course, and found one being offered at Delbrook Community Centre in North Vancouver, taught by “Louisa”. Obtaining the appropriate clay was as simple as dropping in to any one of the many art supply stores in this town. But where does one find antlers? Mr. Internet was a great help, as was Steve Kulash Taxidermy (located then) on Kingsway in Burnaby. I bought 3 sets of deer antlers, of varying shapes and sizes, to help visualize and conceptualize the final product.

I studied sculpting techniques and researched various facial types to get the particular look I was after…sketching, copying or cutting out imagery from rare Library books (kidding!) I also expanded my understanding of the mythical pagan-era deities which sported horns and antlers – the Celtic Cernunnos (antlers), Greek Pan (horns), and the Roman Faunus (horns). It is interesting to note that these pagan deities, which primarily represented benign Gods of nature, forest, stream and fertility, had their imagery hijacked sometime during the Christian era when horned beings came to represent evil, or, the Devil. I’m not sure if this was a conscious and purposeful effort on the part of the church to blacken the benevolent reputation of these pagan deities, if so, it was a cynical reworking of history and a manipulation of indigenous beliefs.

Initially – on the first series of masks – I was trying to avoid the use of powerful glues to affix the antlers to the fired ceramic clay. To accomplish this, I designed a method by which I could: drill a small hole at the base of each antler; run a length of bendable copper wire through the hole; and run the wire through holes in the skull which were then twisted together, out of sight within the cavity of the mask. This left the antlers sometimes a tad wiggly, but I preferred this to the use of inorganic materials (granted, the final glazes and paints are not organic)

Some have noted that Túatha’s image bears a resemblance to me. Although that was not my intent, I too have found the visage to share Celtic/Nordic features (my heritage) which, when combined with the copper-rust patina, reminds me of a primitive time-worn relic of some forgotten Celtic King…It was this interpretation that inspired me to call the piece – Túatha – which is Gaelic (a subset of Celtic) for polity, people, or nation.

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(This mask is available for purchase:  https://clayandbone.com/portfolio/tuatha/ )

The whole process from concept to design and finally creation was fun and interesting and I was pleased with the final product. As a prototype, Túatha was a success, and my intention was to proceed with the next mask (see: “Boko – The Influence of Events” – article under construction). But it was 2005 and a disruptive piece of life had descended upon me ( see Death Mask Parts 1 and 2 – https://clayandbone.com/2016/12/13/death-mask-troubled-dreams-on-the-road-to-clay-bone/  )…I would not return to clay sculpting and the kiln for the next 5 years.

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