Rick Bartow: Masquerade

April 5 - May 13, 2023
for Jamison/Thomas Gallery, August, 1987
The mask has been a constant theme playing through my work since 1979 when I began a series of graphite drawings of figures whose masks were falling off or being ripped away.
I was quitting alcohol at the time.
The phenomenon of the mask and its effects on the performer and the audience fascinate me. What was the first mask maker thinking about. And what did that first audience think when the masked performer lept into the firelight, believing himself empowered by the mask. My drawings of masks and the evolution of the transformation drawings swing around those thoughts. The cleanest lines and the most subtle hues becone something else entirely, when altered by firelight. At once the mask becomes beautiful and grotesque.
Lately a different, unexpected figure has emerged from my work. I had
gone into the studio thinking lightly along the lines of some nice nude crows. Instead I began working on what I now refer to as "the man in the box." He is beat up, scarred, often bound in the box, his perimeters set by slashed graphite lines.
When high hopes are lost I find myself feeling like that. A slash here
and there and suddenly circunstances offer a new set of problems.
Being a father, husband, aid to the handicapped, jack of all trades (necessary to keep an old house habitable) all prove to be anxious labor -- not without rewards, but there are periods of great frustration, possibly mirrored in the work.
There are undoubtedly other, less banal sources for the "man in the box"
image, one being a line from an Alcoholics Anonymous book which refers to man being in "a box of space and time." As such he cannot see what is outside the box but must learn to trust that there is indeed something beyond the box.
In certain Native American tribes there is a medicine rite in which a medicine man or medicine woman is bound in a quilt in the dark.
It appears to me to be a binding of the physical body to release the spiritual body. In a successful ending of this ritual, the seeker is found free of the binding and quilt.
I recently heard a talk on the Hopi prophecy which tells of isolation--isolation of peoples, exclusion of peoples. It speaks of struggle to be more than we are now, and foresees that even at the most negative outcome of our present plight, some will survive through personal struggle.
I also heard the Native American Medicine Man Rolling Thunder speak of escape from the darkness into the light.
Possibly the man in the box could portray thoughts about man's psycho-
logical trauma, inner scars made visible within some external structure--
another turn of Northwest native x-ray technique.
In a way, the box is what we portray to the world.
The inner figure is what has become of our tabula rasa after living life for years. "The Man in the Box" shows a figure who struggles, dances,
or sits placidly as if in contemplation. His box has walls, sometimes
bindings, but has neither floor, nor ceiling. Escape is possible.
To become more through struggle is to be out of the box.
I am asked about the recurring coyote and the red rubber nose.
Art is my therapy, but laughter is medicine for all.
The coyote is the traditional trickster, and the red rubber nose a more modern disguise. To use then to remind myself not to get too self-serious. Red rubber noses are quite inexpensive.
Karin Clarke-Johns

Visit my gallery online at www.karinclarkegallery.com