A&E » Arts

The friendly freak fraternity

Pamela Mason’s papier mâché universe



She looks pretty disarming, the human equivalent of a cease-fire agreement. It’s not that she’s tiny, though she is a little slight. Nor is it the barrette, icon of innocence, pinning her bangs to the rest of her long, black hair. Those things are beside the point. People drop their weapons because of an aura, something projected from within.

A lot of people get that vibe, Pamela Mason says, and a good deal of them are shocked at the apparent contrast between her and the art she creates. Creatures, all of them, they have skeletons of chicken wire, embellishments fashioned from wine corks or chop sticks, and skin smoothed out of papier mâché. Colourful bunnies with spiralling eyeballs, paws propped out in old fashioned zombie insistence. A mobile of tiny fish, their gaping mouths lined with craggy teeth. A bigger fish, oblong, with big, black, beady eyes staring off into the rest of her workspace, a smaller one frozen in its huge mouth. And this funky thing with three heads — cow, bunny, rooster — looking for all the world like it’s about to call a limo and head out for a black tie dinner.

“My eye is always drawn towards bright, colourful, happy, pretty things, as trite as that sounds,” she says. “The thing my mind always goes back to is accepting everything for what it is. And I try as hard as I can to be non-judgmental.”

But there’s no shortage of gavels in this world, and most everyone has done their share of pounding, even if unconsciously. If her creatures are ambassadors of deeper acceptance, then they’ve got their work cut out for them. Mason sometimes takes her freaks to the Squamish and Whistler markets, where they’re often viewed as fierce, maybe even hideous.

“Parents will walk by with their children and say, ‘Look at those teeth. You can’t have that; it’s too scary.’ Well, a kid doesn’t know that teeth are scary until you tell them so.”

But alack: Isn’t that so often the way?

“I almost feel like I’m helping in the sense that it is really important to forget what something looks like on the outside because the most important thing is on the inside.”

What informs all this? Mason is from a farming community near London, Ontario. She respectfully calls her family conventional, then explains her station on the weird side of that arrangement and the edgy sense of humour she developed as a result. She left the flatlands seven years ago, arriving in the Sea to Sky corridor as an artist-to-be.

It took a broken knee to get things going. On the lam, she began making things for her friends, falling for the pliable promise of papier mâché and the sometimes surprising forms the medium guarantees. In the ensuing years, whether living in Pemberton or Whistler, Squamish or Vancouver, even out in Tofino, she began showing her work in cafés, sushi bars and clothing stores. She digs Whistler’s Blind Mute Productions, and her freaks parade their insides and out during the gallery’s exhibitions. She’s even taken some work to Nevada’s Burning Man.

Inspiration is hard to pin down. Because we are a society that relies in part on comparison for understanding, let’s briefly play that game. Certainly, there’s a bit of Tim Burton here, something she hears a lot. Picture the characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas, Beetlejuice and Corpse Bride , and you’re getting somewhere near her style. Except, rather than a classical score, have those tweakers lilting around to Mr. Bungle’s “Goodbye Sober Day.” Now you’re closer still. Finally, throw in the magic of underwater life, all those amorphous shapes, those phosphorescent light shows. See it?

Also, always hold on to your wag; this is supposed to be fun.

“People ask me why I’m so angry,” she says. “They ask me what’s wrong with me and what am I suppressing. But I’m not angry at all. I think they’re funny.”

Mason is taking her doctrine of inner beauty and humour to the world of children’s books. That seed has long been in her mind, germinating slowly, and now finally coming to fruition in the wake of this year’s Burning Man. A gaggle of her misfits will wade into situations that pronounce their inner kindness, and acceptance will be the order of the day.

Mason’s work is for sale. And not just the creatures, but also pins, stickers and articles from a budding clothing line. You can contact her at leotamason@hotmail.com .