These days we are all getting quite well practised at wearing a mask, aren’t we? Be it the type that covers your mouth and nose to prevent the spread of COVID, or just a false smile on your face as you manage how you are dealing with lockdown, we are all wearing something to hide our face and emotions in one way or another.
Masks have been in use since the year dot, and there are a multitude of places they turn up. From religious or spiritual rituals, to armour, to performance, masks have always been a way to protect the face and/or display something different to the person who is wearing it. Masks have been used in all cultures and penetrate our lives without us giving it a second thought. It is no wonder then, that some take the mask and turn it into their own art form, to project on to a face other than their own and create a series of piece which reflect many different things in their life.
Agathe Dupire is one of those people. Ok… She doesn’t merely work on masks, but they form a predominant part of her work, and I was lucky enough to snag an interview with this intriguing and very lovely lady. With the recent release of the Mothmeister book, Dupire and I connected as she has had some astounding collaboration with them. This drew me to look at her work further, and I fell into a world of deeply primitive and spiritual things.
Before I get into her work, here is Agathe Dupire answering some questions about herself and her work.
I have been having a look around and there is very little online about you as a person. How did you start sculpting and what is your favour medium to work in?
At some point I realised that I had creativity to express, and that I needed to do something with my hands, I needed to feel. I had no idea what I was going to do until I went to a Rob Zombie concert where one of the musicians was wearing a mask. I suddenly realised that it was the way to express myself. In the beginning I tried to customise masks, but soon I found out that It was not enough for me, so I began making them myself.
I love to work with plaster for the many possibilities it gives, by the different textures it can have. It gives me the freedom to rework a project as much as I want.
Your work is so primal, what are the inspiration for your pieces and who do you look up to?
Most of the time I create intuitively, so it’s more the guts and the heart speaking than my mind. I am inspired by many things, but a forest is the place where I love to ground myself and find inspiration. Trees in all sorts and forms, the colours I see, fallen tree trunks with their roots above the ground, wood that is weathered by time…they all speak to my imagination. I love the imperfect, the rotten the broken and the weird. Car boot sales, antique markets they all inspire me. As they open a gate to a different time and a different place. I love the performances by Olivier de Sagazan, the photographs by Joel-Peter Witkin or Jack Burman, sculptures made by Ghyslaine and Sylvain Staëlens, Jan Svankmajer, Blaise Lacolley or Berlinde de Bruyckere, movies from the Quay brothers, there are so many good artists that speak to me in various ways.
I know you have recently collaborated with Mothmeister, what other collaborations have you done, or are there any you would really love to do?
Yes, I have had a couple of amazing collaborations with Mothmeister, you can see some of them in their last book. I would love to collaborate with them again. For Tia Yoon, I worked with Martin Hagen on a 2meter high sculpture that was based on a small creature I created a couple of years ago. That was a nice project and due to the lock down we had a couple of months more to bring the sculpture to life. It is very interesting to work with other people on a different scale and to experiment with materials that where new to me. If artists mentioned in the previous question would like to collaborate, I’m in! I am also attracted by performance art, so if there are possibilities, I would definitely be interested.
You now live in the Netherlands, what made you move there? Has this had an impact on what you create?
I moved to The Netherlands for personal reasons and I guess I needed a change. It’s difficult to analyse the impact on what I create. But when I arrived in the country, I was lucky to live in a forest and it has had for sure an impact on the shapes and the colours I use, I guess.
You make a lot of masks – What draws you to creating these different personas?
That’s a question I have been asking myself actually. So far, I was only able to hazard a guess. In this world, it is quite hard for me to connect with people, so perhaps I am creating my own tribe. The different masks in different styles, are linked to me with feelings or emotions that I undergo through the process of creating them. It can be a weird mix of creatures or people I have seen in this world, who knows. Maybe the different layers in my work are echoes of my personality that I peel down like an onion. There might be a parallel with the work of my father, who was always drawing faces, clowns, or sculpting wood into small totems with many faces. So you see the question is not that easy to answer for me, but I guess it’s a bit of everything.
COVID has impacted us all, but what exciting projects do you have coming up in the pipeline?
I have some projects in mind, and some on hold due to the actual crisis. But at the moment I am working on 7 masks at the same time all in different stages, it might bring bad luck if I tell more lol, so I will keep it like that.
It would be really easy for me now, to show one of the amazing collaboration pieces that Dupire has done, but I think that this actually detracts from her work, as when pieced with anything else, we tend to look at the whole picture and not just focus on one element.
Therefore, I have selected on of her hand sculpted masks, which while it appears simplistic in its design, spoke to me.
Just the name of this piece initially conjures to me a feeling of despair or old age. If I think about the use of winter and cold weather in poetry, it usually indicates death, or old age, or the long dark nights where animals go into hibernation and spirits have the ability to lurk in the shadow.
Dupire has created this piece from papier-mâché and paint to create and almost fossilised face. The dark eyes seem to have a wisdom that none of us can comprehend, with a shape which looked like it has suffered a harrowing life. There are cracks and the lips look damaged by the elements, which bring a feeling of age and torment. The mouth is down turned, but not in a menacing way, it is almost as though there is a lack of teeth to hold the shape of the mouth.
When I look at this mask, it makes me think of an aged Voodoo Shaman, there is a spiritual factor which isn’t fully revealed as it is hidden by the white paint, but beneath the surface is a world of spiritual ritual and “magic” which has the power to help or hinder people.
I also find the inside of this mask fascinating.
The flipside of this mask presents a totally different feel – it is more natural and potentially the face of someone who has suffered through life with a cleft lip. The eyes are smaller and more astute to its surroundings. This side reminds me of a forest nymph, who can blend into the background at a moment’s notice.
Dupire has said that she took up sculpting after seeing a musician in a mask and took the inspiration to start shaping her emotions and thoughts into tactile objects, which I think that this mask is a testament to her direction.
I simply adore Dupire’s work, as it is so elemental, and I would recommend that you view more of it here, as no matter how much I write about this fantastic artist, nothing can really explain her work that the work itself.
You can also find Dupire on Instagram by looking up @agathedupire
What do you think of Dupire’s masks? Why not tell me in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?