|MASQUERADE MASKS by Mark McBeth|
Bulgari party in Manhattan - masquerade bio:
A selection of Mark's much-awaited masks will be displayed in Crabtree's windows from 11th June.
I actually started making masks by pure coincidence about four years ago. A friend of mine was attending a Manhattan masquerade ball and, knowing that I had a Fine Arts degree, asked if I could design something special for her and her husband to wear. The masks were a bit of a hit at the party and a photograph of them ended up in the Sunday New York Times social section the following weekend. Another friend who worked in the fashion industry saw them and asked if I'd design some masks for her company's windows. Next thing I know I was dressing Max Mara's and later Escada's windows with some of my creations. Subsequently, some people from a New York philanthropic group called Save Venice (they raise and donate funds to restore artwork in the Veneto) contacted me and asked if they could refer their clients to me when their annual masquerade ball occurred. Women from the upper east side of Manhattan (just dripping with glamour) started sending me photos of their evening gowns for which I created sort of 'haute couture', one-of-a-kind masks. Sometimes I get calls from California and Texas from people inquiring about masks.
In a most unexpected way, this accidental hobby started to snowball into a regular little business. I still consider it an affair of the heart as I take real pleasure in playing with the materials and conceiving new disguises that fit people's personalities. I just finished my Ph.D. in English and have spent nearly a decade working in a university writing program in New York. My work with literature and literacy studies and my teaching experience actually inform the visual work I do. Constantly interacting with developing students, I think, makes me particularly sensitive to the ways that they want to be perceived. I enjoy chatting with people about how they want to reinvent themselves -- both as learning individuals and superficially for an evening of festivities.
People assume a lot of personas -- both public and private. My friends and I often talk about the multiple kinds of drag that New Yorkers (probably everyone in the world) do on a daily basis. Wall Street investors do business drag. Madison Avenue fashionistas do glamour drag. University professors do intellectual drag (Yawn!). Drag queens have no monopoly on award-winning performances in the Manhattan drag arena. Apropos with a fancy dress party, people want to show a side of themselves that they normally keep hidden. Ironically enough, I have found that masquerade is more about revealing than concealing. The ideas for disguises that people come to me with divulge a lot about what goes on in their heads. A mask allows them to expose facets of themselves without feeling too vulnerable. That's what makes masquerade so fun.
When my Hebden Bridge friend, Jane Brooks, asked me send some masks for this Yorkshire arts festival I was excited about the prospect. I have never shown any of my mask work in England and this seemed a good opportunity. The UK has a tradition of artisanship, which I really enjoy. Currently, you can see it being revitalized with the artists' stalls in London's Spitalfield Market or in all the fabulous little design shops on East London's Brick Lane. On the British side of the pond, there are centuries of tradition with fancy dress (think Shakespeare productions or any royal procession). I love all that grandeur and spectacle. When I visited some musical festivals and clubs last summer in Leeds and Manchester, I noticed that northern club kids were continuing this tradition. Outside the M25 of proper, posh London, I felt people were willing to be more creative and playful; they had less rigid rules of chi-chi chic. So I thought to send some masks to a Yorkshire art festival would be good fun. I am only sorry that I cannot escape New York presently to join in the festivities. Maybe if people enjoy what I've done, I can come in person next year with a new series of transatlantic disguises.