Main image: Totem (detail)
Where did you learn to carve? How do you think it demonstrates the intentions in your art, together with the material, wood?
I do not have any real training in carving - like most things, it is just practice and attention. The difficult part is the thought. Once the subject and the material strike that mysterious spark in my mind, the physical act of making seems to take care of itself. I share the authorship of each work with its unique material, and the particular symphony of tools it takes to make it happen.
In a lot of your sculptures you put your mark on already existing, everyday objects. Do you enjoy placing a surreal element and changing our perception of an object?
I try to use the everyday object as a metaphorical Trojan horse for the ‘idea’ behind the work. There is a moment of untainted receptivity that happens when one encounters something unexpected that does not fall immediately into a standard category of experience. This is the moment I try to hold open with my work; to slip something through the gap before all the usual associations and expectations cloud over the initial raw experience. I think that, in the moment it is recognized as art, work actually loses part of this power.
Often you focus on the anatomical/skeletal aspects of animals and humans. What’s the fascination with these particular structures? Is there any link to your name ‘Maskull’?
Any connection between my name and work is purely coincidental. I was named after a character in the science-fiction novel Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay. My interest in anatomical structures relates to their history of refinement and embodiment of function. They are also something that everyone carries around, but no one sees. The idea that they might also hide in unexpected objects is very interesting to me.
Three Degrees of Certainty (carved from computer software manuals)
There’s a nostalgic feel to many of the objects you’ve chosen to carve into, is the past something you like to highlight within your work?
The funny thing about the past is, like the skeleton, it’s always with us. I find it interesting how we tend to discriminate between past and present based on origin. Old things participate in the present in the same material way as newly made objects. Older things have just had the chance to collect the layers of collective memory, social context and historical association that newer ones have not. They bring a richer and somehow more stable offering of signifiers to a work than objects that we have not had time to get used to. They are also much easier to carve. I guess implicit in that is some sort of commentary on how time has changed.
What inspires your work?
I am inspired most by the simplest of things, those accidental experiences of gravity, light, time, and inertia that have not been pre-processed or refined. I tend not to look at art, but at materials. I like reading manuals, and am more interested in sound than music. That said, if I could make my sculptures like Tom Waits makes his music, I would be a happy man.
You grew up in Canada and South Africa; both places contrast with each other, yet both contain similarities in terms of areas of vastness. Did either place affect your work in any way?
Both places have affected my work in ways that I continue to discover. Each has a wilderness that has a way of inhabiting part of the societies’ consciousness. There is also something about the African ingenuity when it comes to reusing discarded everyday objects that made an impression on me from a young age.
Some have described you work as being ‘macabre’, do you agree with this?
‘Macabre’ is a word that I sometimes use to describe facets of a work, but it is not a principal impetus, or even intended effect. By revealing bones within the substance of an object, I unearth evidence of an unexpected potential; an alternate history in which the thing had life, movement, and purpose beyond the mute function of a headboard or an axe. Mortality is something I acknowledge, but don't dwell upon. I never feel like I am destroying an object, or invoking a death, but somehow the sculpted thing is being preserved, revealed, restored, and reclaimed.
What was your recent involvement in the Canadian Forces War Artist Program in Afghanistan like?
This is an experience that I will not be able to assimilate quickly. It will have to become fictional somehow, maybe through the passage of time, before I can start to address it creatively. For now it still has too much reality to describe in any other terms than its own. It was a graphic demonstration of consequence and severity that is, for better or worse, totally absent in my everyday life. I find it interesting that it has left me with a curious mix of sadness, gratitude, and longing.
You describe your work as having allegories of value, expectation and utility. If you could represent yourself as an allegory what would it be?
In some strange way, I try to achieve invisibility through the creation of my work. As an allegory, I think I would simply be a process; a structure more than its content, a purpose, or a passageway.
What projects are you working on now?
I am fortunate to have a number of projects on the go right now. I am preparing for three upcoming shows, one in Canada and two in the US. I am also working on a public sculpture commission for the City of Ottawa. These are all good things, but the time I manage to slip away into the studio and work on something unrelated, unplanned, and mysterious to me, is always what I look forward to most.
Maskull at work
To see more of Maskull's work, visit his website here.