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Masks & Faces


2015 is officially designated as the Year of Arts + Access in Grand Rapids. Endorsed by city leadership and supported by a variety of public and private institutions, a highlight of this initiative is the DisArt Festival. The largest festival of its kind in the United States, DisArt is a multi-platform, multi-venue event the combines art, fashion, performance, film and comedy for one goal: to change perceptions about disability.

The festival’s organizers recognize that we have been conditioned to fear differences. Disabilities -- mental, emotional, and physical – are commonly met with pity or an anxious confusion. DisArt was founded to facilitate a dialogue that will change this. Among the festival’s core beliefs are that disability is a natural human experience and that art holds a uniquely transformative means to change perceptions about disability.

Have Company is excited about DisArt’s goals and inspired to participate. Running simultaneously with the dates of the festival, April 10-25, Masks & Faces is a gallery exhibition that shares a small part of the experiences of six artists who all identify as disabled persons. Three work, or worked, from Heartside Gallery in Grand Rapids, MI; three work from Visionaries + Voices in Cincinnati, OH.

The theme for the exhibition is inspired by my own brother, a man with autism. Among the distinguishing features of his experience, he is unable to “read” others’ faces. He has a remarkable sensitivity and memory for the physical characteristics of a face – shapes, textures, colors, etc. Yet, he is entirely blind to facial paralanguage that many of us rely on to efficiently communicate complex thoughts and emotions. In fact, he is often quite uncomfortable with the notion of looking directly at another’s face while speaking with them. For many years, he has expressed a somewhat obsessive association with Phantom of the Opera, a story whose secretive lead character is famously masked to hide his scarred deformities. Faces fascinate my brother, but lost by their language, he finds comfort in the thought of observing in safety behind an imagined mask of his own.

In organizing Masks & Faces, I simply ask, what does each artist’s depiction, manipulation or disguising of a face tell us about how they see themselves and others? These portraits provide a revealing look at a cross section of memory, hope, anxiety, fascination and obsession. These are their stories, their masks and faces.

- Michael DeMaagd Rodriguez, curator

Emily Funk

Visionaries + Voices

Cincinnati, Ohio

Emily Funk’s expressive monoprints on paper allow us into her world, to see subjects as she subjectively sees them. Most often focusing on the depiction of celebrities, Funk takes tabloid imagery and through her process distorts them into haunting icons. Funk’s approach begins with a mass produced cultural image and ends with a one of a kind monoprint, rebelling against the postmodern tendency to produce for the masses and appeal to the masses. Funk’s process of printing in black ink and then painting over it suggests a masquerading effect of the figures, as if to say although they are part of our collective cultural consciousness we are viewing them through Funk’s personal lens and emotional interpretation. 

Deb Dieppa

Heartside Gallery

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Deb Dieppa paints and draws in testament to her experience of deep pain, shame, resentment and healing. A survivor of sexual abuse, Dieppa makes portraits that are each representative of just a small piece of a complex emotional identity. Though usually rendered flat and two-dimensional, the faces’ expressions are wrenching and arresting, their eyes are deep and remembering. The tense fingers and contorted limbs show a struggle for self-protection. Colors are important in Dieppa’s artworks, indicating feelings of sadness, anger and freedom. Dieppa continues to make her work with remarkable vulnerability and honesty, both for her own healing, as well as to speak to others with similar experiences.


Willie Jones (1955-2013)

Heartside Gallery

Grand Rapids, Michigan

A fixture of Heartside Gallery, Willie Jones became well-known as a prolific artist. He created thousands of drawings of hot rods and classic cars, often coupled with other items of secondary interest, such as musical instruments, trees or flowers. Each rapidly sketched drawing was labeled, signed and dated, though with a year that, to an observer, lacked any particular relevance. Not to be slowed down by explaining his logic, Jones claimed that the numbers just came to him. Passengers are not always present in his vehicles; in fact, they are most often omitted. It would appear that to Jones, the people in the cars were of subordinate concern to the car itself. When people are shown, they are depicted anonymously, charmingly simplified, but with somewhat unsettling rigidity. Defining characteristics, except for female hair, are absent. Their faces and postures provide us no clues as to their identities and experiences. Jones left us impressed by the shear volume of his work, but still wondering as to how he himself related to the people depicted in his drawings.

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Mark Smith

Visionaries + Voices

Cincinnati, Ohio

Mark Smith comes to understand his subjects of women and masks through the process of drawing or painting them. His repetitive and rhythmic drawing style focuses on the medium of drawing itself, playing with expressive line and styles such as never raising the line-making device once it has touched the paper. Smith takes inspiration from popular culture and through making these structured, centered compositions he finds the balance between this culture and his own responses to it. Smith’s ritualized process in creating his drawings of masks refers to their use in rituals throughout history, showing a rich contrast between past and present culture. 

Elmer

Visionaries + Voices

Cincinnati, Ohio

Elmer carries out his voyeuristic colored pencil drawings of women and landscapes in a minimal style not giving away too much information, rather believing that the whole is simply a sum of its parts.  Elmer’s preoccupation with one dimension of the entire story is distinctively reductionist and compels the viewer to wonder what is the whole story. Elmer draws very similar portraits and landscapes over and over in a ritualized manner always dividing the canvas into pleasing ratios where color takes center stage, summoning pure human emotion. The unbroken surface of the flat picture plane draws one’s attention to the smoothness in texture and the haunted gaze of the women in the portraits leads one to ask who is this woman? Is she someone distinctive, or reductionist pieces of all women compiled into a mask that can be transformative and exploitive at once? Elmer’s work tells us that one dimension of the story is all we need to know.

Bertha Zamora

Heartside Gallery

Grand Rapids, Michigan

The ceramic works by Bertha Zamora explore body forms with both an earnest curiosity and a whimsical imagination. Her head vessels and wall masks imply a wide variety of human color, texture, shape and hairstyle. Some seem to be honest renderings of real people; others are playful and free with fantastical accessories or humorous and knowing expressions. Zamora’s hand is ever-present in each piece; never too polished or too perfect, we can clearly see the marks of her fingers molding the faces’ features. We are also witness to the difficulty of a slow, multi-step craft that is occasionally interrupted by instability. Some faces are incomplete, lacking features or glaze. Others are cracked by kiln misfires, stained by spilled glazes or broken in handling. Zamora’s objective is never perfection, however, and perhaps her heads and faces demonstrate what is true of us all: our defining essence, our unique beauty and our charm is composed of flaws.

Earlier Event: April 1
Katie Carey