David Dow Artist’s Statement
Do masks hide who we are or allow us to become something we’re not? Do they help us thrive or allow us to survive? I’ve worn many masks over the past 59 years. The short, fat, happy kid from the seemingly perfect, privileged Christian Science family, trying to hide the mental illness and abuse that awaited me at home. The no longer short and fat teen, trying to pretend that words like sissy, fairy and faggot didn’t hurt. The young man who dropped out of art school, picking duty to the family business because it would pay better. The successful entrepreneur, still yearning to be an artist. The native Californian, now living in the twin cities of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois.
Normal Tribe—Series 1 has its roots in the deep love and impenetrable bonds formed with families of choice—“tribes”—that sustain, nurture, inspire and protect when blood families let us down. In my lifelong fascination with tribal masks—at once decorative, magical, transporting and steeped in symbolism. In a cerebral query: are body painting, tattoo and scarification really less “civilized” than Botox and plastic surgery? In an obsession with travel that was born in the fourth grade and continues uninterrupted—the always eye-opening and sense-stimulating exposure to cultures vastly different from our own. And in the medium itself: self-hardening clay. Each mask is like a relationship as features, characteristics and souls take form through my eyes, hands and tools. The clay is malleable and forgiving in the early stages but can become quite willful as it hardens and eventually dries, exposing its own unique patinas and variations. Shortcuts or rushed steps can lead to disappointment and demise of the work—a valuable lesson still being learned as I experience the deep personal satisfaction of sinking my hands back into clay, putting on my artist mask and allowing my tribe to emerge.
P.S. The paper-mache started as a P.S. of sorts, an alternative medium I could use while waiting for clay to dry. But now it’s taken on a life (lives) of its own. Torn, not cut, newsprint; equal parts flour, water and white glue; and lots of layers transform common bases (a cardboard box, balloons, a shipping container) into 3D souls. Found objects help to create their identity: antique barn-beam stakes become feathers, a gracefully sculpted pair of ice pincers become horns, and oversize rings turn into an earring. Paper-mache is no longer an afterthought but an equal and alluring partner to clay in helping to define my tribe.