Whittle by whittle

Mask Progress

I write this blog from the airport as I wait for my flight to Portland to board. I wanted to catch you all up on the masks I’ve been making in Bali. In my last post, you saw the old man bondres  I completed.  My teacher pushed me to start two more, so that I could get the hang of beginning from a simple block of wood.

This is a block of pule wood. It is a bit harder than balsa, but softer than pine. I'm excited to see which woods I might work on in the NW.
This is a block of pule wood. It is a bit harder than balsa, but softer than pine. I’m excited to see which woods I might work on in the NW.

Mask 2:  Gajah Mada

For the second mask, I decided to make one that could be used in the dance we were learning.  I sketched a version of the prime minister that I wanted  to create. He’s a warrior, and the first to dance in the topeng.

Evening out the block of wood in the afternoon.
Evening out the block of wood in the afternoon.
After the first rough blocking, we saw our dance teacher Gustu perform his version of this character. I was inspired by the ferocity of expression in his mask. My sketch changed a bit after that.
After the first rough blocking, we saw our dance teacher Gustu perform his version of this character. I was inspired by the ferocity of expression in his mask. My sketch changed a bit after that.

After I showed my sketch to my teacher, he said it was a “Gajah Mada” character. I was confused, as gajah means elephant. (Remember when I went to the Goa Gajah cave? That was fun.) He said it was more of a metaphor, and refers the feeling of strength of the character.

I am taking this one home to Portland to complete the sanding and painting. This mask will have the eyes painted on, and the dancer sees through the shadow-like slit beneath the eye.
I am taking this one home to Portland to complete the sanding and painting. This mask will have the eyes painted on, and the dancer sees through the shadow-like slit beneath the eye.
topengfinal
This is me performing the topeng keras dance on our performance night. Imagine it danced to firelight if you can. The mask was loaned by our dance teacher, and is very powerful.

Mask 3: The Gentle Giant

Halfway there!
Halfway there!

For my final mask I was to start in Bali, I knew I wanted something a little coarser and with a moving jaw.

Chiseling out the teeth. As I look through his eyes, I realized he a little more dim in the bulb than I originally thought.
Chiseling out the teeth. As I look through his eyes, I realized he a little more dim in the bulb than I originally thought.

While working on this mask, Pak Nyoman stood back and let me figure things out as much as he could, which I appreciated. It can be difficult to willingly dive in to your own inevitable mistakes, but it’s much more worthwhile.

And it’s also a bit slower going! I elected to take a couple of extra classes to get some more guidance.  It was fun to work one on one. We got to talk about mask styles from around the world. Nyoman also mentioned that although he is happy to carve traditional Balinese characters, he also welcomes the challenge of other styles, traditional or modern.

But then again, who wouldn’t?  It’s part of the artist’s work and the human condition to follow inspiration and find those things that feed your soul.

Back in San Francisco, my friend Bird models the latest mask.
Back in San Francisco, my friend Bird models the latest mask.

Though I am en route to Portland, fear not, faithful readers! I will be continuing my blog into the future. There are still some things about Bali to write about, and there will always be more masks I’d love to share with you!

racc_orange_horizThis trip was made possible in part by a grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council.

 

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