Print May/June 1988|
The legendary American masked man the Lone Ranger hides his identity from
outlaws behind a slash of black cloth, while most other superheroes conceal
their virtuous characters under tight-fitting spandex. Americans are used to
righteous men and women disguising their selflessness for the betterment
of humankind. But non-heros also wear masks: the executioners of old, and the
nightriders of the Ku Klux Klan - if you accept that a hood is a mask. A mask is thus
a contradictory symbol: on the one hand, it connotes evil and fear; on the other,
truth and justice. A mask is also an integral part of national ritual and mythic
experiencein virtually all cultures. In Mexico, on the Day of the Dead, ceremonial
masks are worn to suggest a panoply of emotions and a range of personalities. Japanese
theater masks, used to represent archetypal characters, alter the actor's sex, emotion
and demeanor as not makeup could. In Lithuania, as in so many other once
agrarian cultures, masks are used to transform their weares into both beasts of
burden and animals slaughtered for food.
Stasys Eidrigevicius (pronounced Stacease Edri-gaav-ichus), a Lithuanian artist now
living in Warsaw, Poland, was raised with the symbolic masks and other graphic
totems indigenous to his birthplace, the farming town of Mediniskiai. After years
of creating beguilingly visionary children's books illustrations, ex libris and
theater posters, he has become a zealous maskmaker, having produced hundreds of tribal
face- and headpieces in varying degrees of complexity.
Eidrigevicius's masks are extensions of the macabre two-dimensional images
from his native folklore and are cut with a sometimes chilling surrealism. Present
in much of his work, particularly the masks, is the idea of a trapped bird, evidence of
his own acceptance of isolation and powerlessness as an artist in a world where art has
been ineffectual in achieving social change. While these masks are not designed as
social commentaries, they do have the power to elicit a varying range of interpretations
from viewers. They are at once the somewhat naive recollection of a Lithuanian childhood,
the visual improvisations of a fertile imagination, and the emotionally charged
statements of an artist whose surrealism is not conceit but a distinct way of life.
The masks are not disguises, but rather, portraits of the artist's inner self.