Nelson artist Ron Robinson estimates he's made 40 masks since 1993.

‘Every culture uses masks’

Nelson artist Ron Robinson hosting mask exhibition on October 24 and 25.

When you step into Ron Robinson’s Nelson home, the first thing you’ll notice are the masks. They’re everywhere.

Hung from most walls and displayed on many of the available surfaces, his creations are constructed out of Raku clay, sheet lead, wood and leather. Many of them feature repurposed materials, such as “Two Face Mask”, where Robinson has used a plentitude of old keys to fashion makeshift hair for the cubist moon face below. They vary in style and aesthetic, some of them ominous and other ones comical.

If you glance out the window, there’s a line of them all the way down his fence.

“What attracted me originally is you can make any mask. There are no rules. You can borrow styles from other cultures, you can experiment,” said Robinson, who has been serving as the president of the Nelson & District Arts Council since he moved here two and a half years ago.

He estimates he’s created approximately 40 masks since 1993. He first became interested in the art form while working as a Calgary teacher.

“That first mask was pretty crude. I was trying to borrow from African masks, I’d done it in low-fire clay and painted it with acrylic paint in colours that reminded me of the African masks I’d seen,” he said.

But the experience was enough to hook him, and he’s spent the last two decades perfecting the art. Recently he participated in a three-artist touring exhibition in Alberta, called Mainly Masks, which was on display for two years. But his upcoming show, which will be held at his house at 511 Nelson Avenue on October 24 and 25, will mark the first time he’s shared his work with the Kootenay art scene.

He believe masks have a universal appeal.

“At a very fundamental level, if you wear makeup, that’s a mask. Masks are often used to create an identity, say going out for Halloween, but they can also be used to hide or conceal an identity. For the Kootenays, I would say we all have an identity, a perception of who we are, whether we actually use make up or a physical mask,” he said.

The opening reception of Robinson’s show will be held on Saturday evening from 7 to 9 p.m. His house will be open for viewings 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Robinson said the masks will be priced slightly above $500 each, depending on the piece. Twenty per cent of the sales will be donated to the Nelson & District Arts Council.

The primary medium Robinson works with is Raku clay, but in some of the pieces the kiln-dried surface looks almost metallic. Robinson said he enjoys the unpredictable results of working with the clay.

“The changes are remarkable. They’re humblingly not controllable, at least not by me. You could have two pieces, the same firing and the same glaze, and there would be differences.”

Robinson ultimately selected 20 masks for the exhibition.

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