Yevgeniya Kilupe, mask-maker from Latvia

Yevgeniya Kilupe was born in St Petersburg in 1938. During the war she was sent to a concentration camp in Salaspils, Latvia. However the camp was full, so she was re-located to a prisoner-of-war camp in Rezekne, Eastern Latvia. On her release she remained in Rezekne, where she lives still.

As a child Yevegeniya loved to draw, but she never had the opportunity to study art. Instead she supported her family by working as a ‘driller’ in a factory. The salary was small, and to supplement her income she began to make papier mâché masks.

In 2010 Yevgeniya had her first exhibition at a gallery in Riga. It was a great success, and the gallery owner now helps Yevgeniya promote and sell her masks through an Etsy shop.

Recently I selected and purchased a mask from Yevgeniya’s store. The parcel arrived within a week.

I chose a red dog.

I don’t know what made this extraordinary ‘folk artist’ choose masks as her mode of expression. Whatever her reasons, clearly there is a compulsion to create, and we can only be grateful that she is so industrious.

Yevgeniya’s masks delight me. Her animal forms are simplified, perfectly realised for the purpose, and her painting is confident and deft. Here is a woman with a vision. The ‘starved’ brush work of fur and feather is brief and effective, the varnish pleasingly shiny to give depth to her colours. The red dog in my mask and puppet cabinet looks mighty fine, but now I have my eye on those goats, cows and deer. (I particularly like the ‘horned’ masks.)

You too can visit Yevgeniya’s Etsy store, HERE

Der Golem: the mask speaks

In my teens I joined a film-club, and many of the films that have stayed with me and influenced my work over the years were first experienced at club-screenings in a class-room at Newport College of Art, though the prints were frequently pretty terrible. So it may have been there that I first saw the 1920 film of The Golem. Now of course you can easily watch such treasures of early cinema, digitally restored and looking pristine at YouTube.

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The film was the idea of the great Paul Wegener, but when acting he liked to collaborate with craftsmanlike directors who would serve as his eyes behind the camera. On the 1913 film The Student of Prague it had been Stellan Rye. For The Golem, in which Wegener played the creature of the title, he invited Carl Boese to be co-director.

Above: Paul Wegener as The Golem

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Art direction was by Kurt Richter and architect Hans Poelzig, and Poelzig’s sets of the Jewish ghetto of Prague are an Expressionist riot of crazed roof-tops and labyrinthine alleyways.

In the scene where Rabbi Loew conjures life into the huge clay statue of a man, the film reaches its imaginative zenith. Poelzig’s set of the Rabbi’s laboratory, with its staircase housed in what appears to be a cross-section of a conch shell, is a triumph of design.

Above: model of the laboratory set

Below: the scene as realised for the film

Below: a demonic mask conjured by the Rabbi

Here’s Carl Boese on the moment when a demonic mask appears, and scraps of magic words issue from its mouth:

“The effect was executed by a mobile camera in front of black velvet, using dissolves and lap dissolves, and the whole was super-imposed on the negative in the camera itself, as we were used to doing, by counting the frames. The letters of the words were cut out in yellowish cardboard, they were harshly lit, and we used the same effect as for the flashes, while using two negative emulsions from time to time in order to light some more than others, and to make them dip and sway.”

Above: film poster for The Golem

In my ‘wilderness’ years – the years after my career in the theatre had ended but before I’d evolved into a painter – I became a mask-maker. I wasn’t very successful at it. It’s very hard to earn a living from making and selling masks. I thought I might stand a better chance if I had a business card, and so set about creating one. First I turned to my ‘project book’, with its pages of  pen and ink mask designs.

I selected a design I’d made with a crown of skeleton horsemen flanking a bird perched on a crescent moon.

I made the mask from a laminate of paper gum-strip, gessoed and painted with metal powders and patinated to mimic weathered lead.

On completion I photographed it and had a student friend design and produce my ‘business’ cards, using the demon-conjuring scene from The Golem as inspiration for the ectoplasmic smoke spelling the word ‘masks’.

Looking at it from this distance it seems to me my friend did a pretty good job capturing the atmosphere I was so enraptured by in the film. However it was probably a deal too imaginative for its purpose as most would struggle to decipher my Golem-inspired lettering for ‘Clive Hicks-Jenkins, designer and maker of masks’, followed by an almost illegible telephone number. I like to keep the card as a reminder of my past and it lies between the pages of that old mask project-book keeping company with the dense ink-hatched drawings. Most of the masks in the book were made and sold though I still have a few. Sadly not the one on the card, which I rather liked.

Bertjan Pot: coiled-rope masks

Bertjan Pot is a young Dutch product designer known principally for his ‘Random Light’. He writes of the masks:

“Although seemingly these masks tell stories, this started out as a material experiment. I wanted to find out if by stitching a rope together I could make a large flat carpet. Instead of flat, the samples got curvy. When I was about to give up on the carpet, Vladi came up with the idea of ​​shaping the rope into masks. The possibilities are endless, I’m meeting new faces every day.”

 …

Schandmaskes: masks of shame

In Europe the Mask of Shame, known in Germany as the Schandmaske, was a punishment used to moderate social misbehaviour. Being padlocked into a mask that by design revealed the shortcomings of the miscreant forced to wear it, would have been a strong disincentive to any behaviour that might incur the disapprobation of neighbours and community.

Grotesquely elongated tongues indicated tell-tales or gossips. Exaggerated ears and spectacles warned of nosy persons who heard and saw everything. The masks are often demonic in appearance, which might indicate an ill-disposed nature. Others take the form of animals, such as dogs and pigs.

The idea was fairly straight forward; to expose and to punish by ridicule. If the number and diversity of surviving Schandmaskes is anything to go by, then from the middle ages to the eighteenth century the punishment was relatively commonplace in mainland Europe. As well as being used against gossips, it was a punishment for women accused of hen-pecking their husbands. (In Britain there was the similar tradition of the ‘scold’s bridle, examples of which show that the wearer’s tongue was ‘stilled’ by an internal plate that forcibly held it down.)

Though the barbarity of the Schandmaske tradition repels modern sensibilities, the smithing-skills of the makers can’t be denied. While it’s not possible to separate form from what we know to have been the function of these masks, in design terms alone they are incredibly imaginative and visually arresting.

Mask Week at the Artlog

In the past we’ve had dedicated weeks at the Artlog celebrating maquettes and puppets, and I plan further explorations of those themes. However, following on from my recent posts about the grass-mask by maker Phil Clarke, I’m preparing a week-long celebration of masks, and it kicks off tomorrow with one of the more sinister manifestations of the mask-maker’s art, the Schandmaske.

update on ‘grassmask’

Peter has returned home and it turns out he remembered the name of the mask-maker. He’s Phil Clark, and on the ‘Scenario’ website he’s described as:

“A professional mask maker who has worked with a variety of theatre groups. He has travelled worldwide to study mask making and the use of masks in performance. He also creates his own masks using natural materials to form a series of spirit masks linked to the Dartmoor landscape.”

I’ve searched diligently, but can find no online images of Phil Clark’s masks. I’ll keep looking. I love ours, and would be most interested in seeing more

grassmask

In 1995 some of my papier mâché masks were shown in an exhibition called Seeing is Believing at Pennine Arts in Burnley. While visiting the gallery Peter purchased a mask for me by a maker whose work I admired. The mask has the most wonderful presence, and lives in our library where it’s displayed on one of the iron stands I commissioned for my own masks. It’s made from Exmoor grass applied over a rough papier mâché base, with leather binding around the edges to make it sturdier and more comfortable to wear. I fear I can’t remember the name of the maker, and there’s no label or signature inside. If anyone out there recognises the work, please contact me with the name of the man who made it. I’d like to attribute his work here at the Artlog, and attach a small label inside the mask with his name on it.

One of the reasons the mask holds such appeal for me, is that it’s always reminded me a little of the face of the Beast played by Jean Marais in Jean Cocteau’s incomparable version of the fairy-tale, La Belle et la Bête, a film I love above all others.

UPDATE: 13/ 10/13

The maker’s name, I’ve discovered, is Phil Clark. However I’ve had no luck finding further examples of his work, and so please contact me if you can cast any light on his output.