Between 2012 and 2014 I created over 100 plaster masks, by personally applying plaster gauze strips to the greased faces of friends, family and even strangers, in a quick 20 minute process. Each mask was then protected by a layer of white latex paint and accompanied by the participants “Living Epitaph”.
Several years ago I made a mask of my father’s face before he died, and came across it in 2012 while rummaging through my studio. Holding his mask in my hands, just as I held him in my arms during his last breath, made me wonder how I had survived his passing, and had, in fact, even thrived. After the worst of the grieving is over it is possible to discover an often hidden, sometimes obvious, gift from the deceased. We find a way to continue our lives in a more authentic, joyful manner than ever before, with the clearer knowledge that life is just too damn short. My father’s death had granted me the freedom to redefine myself, but I wanted to know how other’s managed to survive the death of a loved one, or their own near-death experience. What does the concept of death mean to the living? And why wait until we die to have our say? I put a call out on FaceBook for volunteers, asking them for their death stories and their “living epitaphs”, and the response was overwhelming. I have masked people aged 6-60, from a wide range of lifestyles and histories, all of whom offered up a unique variety of wit and wisdom about life and death.
And then something unexpected happened. I realized just how rare it is to have your face respectfully and lovingly touched- to be truly seen and acknowledged as a living human being. Layering tiny bits of gauze around each person’s unique nostrils and eyes, holding their hands when they chose to let me cover their eyes with plaster gauze entirely, and sitting in quiet meditation with them while the mask hardened.. mute and blind, they trusted me, and together, we honored death by appreciating this moment of being alive.
The finished masks belong to the participants, but further ideas include a small book of the masks with more in-depth stories about how death has affected the living in redemptive ways, a print of the masks including the epitaphs, and a group of plastered pregnant body casts with messages from mothers to their children. It has also been suggested that I take this concept on the road to mask and gather stories from other communities.. the potential is endless..
Life Mask Project- Epitaphs:
*Life, what is it but a dream? * No undue Worriation! * Life is a circle. What comes around, goes around. So you best be nice and if you can't be nice, be creative * She saved the world - a lot * It was so simple she fucked it all up * Reborn at 55, when he began to realize he could live for himself rather than for the expectations of others * I do not lie here, for my ashes are scattered in the earth’s oceans, among the stars and compressed into a diamond. I aspired to do good, not necessarily be good * Life is circular. Beginning and end exist at all points. Start where you are * I am a son, husband, father, nurse, educator and artist, and out of all the works and relationships that I have created and fostered over the years, my children have been my greatest! * Be yourself, everybody else is already taken * She Amused Many People *…and he ran straight for the edge, leaping, hoping for that brief moment where he was flying rather than falling * He came. He made a few waves, had a helluva good time and the joint's better for his having been here. Maybe he'll be missed * Approach all of life with wonder and awe * Well behaved women rarely make history * Ain't no goin back * Never take life too seriously. No one gets out alive anyway * Life is a crossword puzzle for which I don't have a clue, life is a deep purple bottle for which I haven't a screw * But then Summer was over * I don't want to die * Ho! Ho! Ho! To the bottle I go. To heal my heart and drown my woe. Rain may fall and wind may blow, And many miles be still to go, But under a tall tree I will lie, And let the clouds go sailing by * It has to end to begin * Ride life like its STOLEN * Animals are people too * Parto Domani * And if the earthly no longer knows your name,whisper to the silent earth: I'm flowing. To the flashing water say: I am * Is it hot in here or is it just me? * Hello Valkyries! Good-bye taxes! ps- bring back tube tops! * My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that, and I intend to end up there * Dance-n-sing like nobody's watchin! * I really do think that love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops. But I also have to say that life isn't fair. It's just fairer than death * He dreamed with his hands * I'll be back and when I am I'll be an ice cream pony princess unicorn * The fish of gratitude * She made what she thought * We are all the same being just walking around in different disguises * She wiped * I am the universe. The universe is in me. I am one with the universe * Smile * Enter at your own risk * Here lie the bones of Miss Sadie Jones, all who knew her said her soul was her own. So lift a tall glass to her ornery old ass. She lived, she died, she lived * There's only now, there's only here, no other path, no day but today * Some days are diamonds, some days are stones * I made it to art school! I'll be back. Hopefully as an ebony pencil or a nice piece of bristol paper with a vellum finish! * The ship who rights herself * Life is a kick * You only live once * If life were an episode of Star Trek, I'd be a lawyer * Death breathes life into one's spirit * No one lives forever. Unless it's in your heart. Have you put someone in your heart today? * Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened * Immortality achieved. The rest is just icing on the cake * I got nothin * Sounds of laughter, shades of life are ringing through my open ears, inciting and inviting me * You are loved more than you'll ever know * Here lies George, consumed by the forge, leaving heat and flames behind, for a stillness filled with kind. He will miss the wonderful women in his life * It's never too late to be who you might have been. Perhaps even after you're dead isn't too late either * There's a lot to be done while your head is still young * We were born to grow old and never know * You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one * Alone Again (Naturally) * Hummm, Yummm, Ommm * I'll be back * Death is the voices in the stars all whispering "I remember you!" right before they help usher you along to your next assignment * Death is a waking up * Be true to yourself * Tight lines * The High Priestess drew The Death card, and found The World * A dignified and chivalrous life, though preferring to be under feet, faithfully standing beside his wife, a more honest man you'll never meet * I have learned to live my life being myself and not who others expect * Every moment is meaningful. Every being you have known will always be a part of you * I love you * And Yoko Bai * Spirito Libero * The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore * I am not a failure, I am a learner * Waking up to unbridled creativity and childish joy! * Life is an adventure. Life is short, live it to the fullest. Have a nice forever * Saluting the many flag covered coffins has made death too real. Guilt resides in my heart as I rejoice that I made it out * Placed inside, safe and sound, shapes and colors are all I see, shapes of colors are all I feel * Always look on the bright side of life! Always look on the bright side of death! * Always a gay old time * Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow creeps forth this petty pace! * Wake up and dream * Well, that was stupid *