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The Masks of Nature: Three female artists reveal the relationship between masquerade and Mother Earth

May 27, 2009
by: Lauren Hodges

Diverse Perspectives
Artwork of Karen Crouch, Gail Sue and Leslie Pearson
The Reserve at Mayfaire Clubhouse
Reception: May 30, 5-8pm
(910) 256-4019

Animals have been using disguises to mask themselves from the outside world since the Big Bang (or the Big “Bling!” depending on your beliefs). Some creatures use them to hide from predators, while others use camouflage to hide from prey. Whatever the use, the main goal is survival and prosperity in the natural world.

Humans use masks literally and metaphorically to hide their true natures in order to survive in society. Only the bravest of creatures go through life without a cover of some kind. Artists—with their hearts painted onto canvases, manipulated into sculpture and even, in Leslie Pearson’s case, sewn into a mask—are never lacking in guts.

“I work at ACME Art Studios,” Pearson says, giving credit for her courage to her tight-knit group of creative support. “It has come to mean so much to me. “With 22 working artists there, it has become a little family and a place to bounce ideas off of each other.”

At ACME the only masks worn are the ones Pearson tries on her friends for fun. To her the artistic collaboration within the studio is nature at its finest without the need for camouflage. “We really do have diverse backgrounds and interests outside of what we do in the studio, but our common bond is the way we are all passionate about our artwork. We all love what we do and understand that it is our creative outlet.”

Juices flow so willingly within the studio that it seems, well, natural that the beauty of nature is the biggest inspiration. “I ground my work in the essence of living things: vines, leaves, birds, trees,” metal sculptor Karen Crouch say. “Fronds become vessels; birds sit at the helm of deconstructed boats; trees snag moons; peas and vines tangle up sails. Increasingly, I ground pieces with stones. There is an element of solidity and an element of decay, but both are parts of the natural cycle.”

Crouch finds similarities in many of her colleagues’ works. Gail Sue, for instance, an Australian-born painter, inspires Crouch with her bold color choices, including violet, magenta and aqua, used on an otherwise earthy pallette. Crouch sees her work next to Sue’s as a complement, with each artist highlighting a different strength.

“While Gail pushes the color, I push the structure,” she says. “We are working in three different mediums, but each of us draws from the world around us, both the natural world and the man-made structures that help us live in and navigate that world.”

Pearson, Crouch and Sue all recently decided to see how much their different strengths could support each other’s works by pulling together a collaborative show. “We called our show ‘Diverse Perspectives,’” Sue says, “simply because it was hard to come up with a theme that would do justice to our different approaches and styles: Karen’s sculpture in bronze, Leslie’s leather and mixed media art, and my contemporary paintings in bright color. So I guess the theme of our show is the diversity of approach with three different artists presenting their visions.”

Yet, the theme might be more obvious than they realize. Pearson’s masks mixed with Crouch’s and Sue’s outdoor elements make a magnificent atmosphere like that of a masquerade garden party. The metaphor for masks in nature is cheeky and perfect for a group of such sharp women. Another obvious similarity is their shared love of curves and curls in their work. As a leather mask sways into a point for a Mardi Gras-style finish, Crouch’s iron vine snakes upward in the same fashion as does Sue’s palm tree swaying in the breeze. All elements of cohesion point to the group’s final similarity: a tendency to stray from the straight and narrow.

“I always want people to take away a sense of peace and hope,” Crouch says of her work. “Sometimes my birds are like little souls sailing along, looking forward, being still and hopeful. For much of my life I made little room for peace and stillness. I hope my work creates a little slice of that now.”

Most of all Pearson hopes to inspire creativity in others. “Seeing an exhibition of artwork is the catalyst for inspiration,” she says. “I’m always amazed at how inspired and encouraged I am after I’ve been to see someone’s artwork because it’s an expression of how they see the world around them. I think the community will be inspired because of the way we use the variety of materials in our work. Plus, it will be a lot of fun to try on some leather masks.”