Derrick Erasmus

THE MASK THEME

While working for botanist at the Kew Gardens Herbarium in England, I was reminded daily that nature consists of a vast series of variations on themes.

To the natural scientist each discipline requires thematic research, for example, Ornithology, Botany, Entomology etc.  Within a given theme/discipline the variations are seemingly infinite.

I was drawing grasses for an Irish Botanist, Dr. Bor when for the first time I realized, not only how many different types of grass there are, but how the various anatomical structures are different yet similar from grass to grass.  Again I perceived a vast series of variations on themes.

This awareness of nature’s themes lead me to search for an unifying theme for my paintings.  At first I worked with basic geometric shapes and colours, sometimes repeating the shapes and varying the colours, or varying the shapes and limiting the colouring.  Although this area of investigation was personally satisfying, the subject matter seems esoteric.

What I was searching for, was a theme which would readily communicate with the observer yet have a potential for limitless variation.

The mask theme fulfilled these needs, and still does.  Small children respond readily to facial expressions.  A joyful smiling mask as of a circus clown would stimulate their interest whereas they would shrink form a sinister forbidding mask.

Masks lend themselves to grouping into various sub themes, for example under the broad limitations of geometric or organic further exploration may be embarked on with reference to the formal language of art (e.g. line, tone, texture, colour).  Each formal building block is in itself an avenue of research.  Linear masks may consist of contour or perspective lines with subject matter such as happy or sad clowns.

It becomes evident that within apparent limitation, endless variation is possible.

The mask theme has served me well for many years and, God willing, will continue to do so.