“You aren’t a tiger. You’re a rat. No, that’s an insult to a noble and numerous species of rodent. You’re less than a rat.”
(Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys)
When considering Liz Sexton’s Rat mask (which the artist created for Halloween and was documented in Brooklyn, New York, several years ago, amidst the visceral urban subway) and the stylish, self possessed Ratman I am initially reminded of the Rats (note the capitalization) and the Rat Speakers from the book Neverwhere.
Humour and horror (both heavily flavoured with the absurd in a delightfully performative manner) inform Sexton’s works. That’s one of the reasons why I included the images with her cat among those I’m sharing, as the cat’s unimpressed languor challenge the stoic existential nature of her ‘players’ (sometimes Sexton is the one donning the masks, other times not) that become something so much more in her masks, especially as they trod the public sphere. The Ravens (yes, I feel the need to formalize the characters in these scenes) on the subway may be harbingers of doom (if we’ve learned nothing from Edgar Allen Poe, don’t ask a Raven a question you don’t want answered, ahem) or simply out for the evening, on the way to meet fellow feathered friends : please don’t bother them, as a group of ravens IS called an ‘Unkindness.’
Other characters are engaged in equally banal every day activities, while others gaze directly back at us in a challenging manner, and others are captured in quiet moments of introspection, where we seem to be intruding on private moments.
Whether these are ‘disguises’ or new personas, I leave to your own discretion in any conclusion you make.
The words of the artist : “Most everything I create is meant to be interacted with, whether masks, puppets, or simply objects—they’re all intended to be worn, held, or touched….With the wearer concealed under a larger-than-life mask, it becomes as much a human with an animal head as an animal with a human body—a very interesting thing to interact with.
I often work on threatened species, particularly sea creatures, and photograph the animal masks worn in very human habits, highlighting the displacement that many creatures are currently experiencing. I also work on more common animals that we might share our surroundings with but don’t necessarily notice or engage with. Presented on a human scale, they share our world, becoming visible members of our communities.“ (from here)
In this light, I am also reminded of the moment – in Welland’s rust belt wonderland – when I met up with a fox late at night. Their unflinching gaze let me know who was the interloper, and it wasn’t them….
Liz Sexton has lived and worked in Paris, Berlin, and New York, and has recently returned to her Midwest roots, calling Saint Paul, Minnesota home. For now. Experienced in a wide range of mediums, these days she favors paper mâché for its versatility and accessibility. She enjoys creating sculptural objects, often inspired by the natural world.
Liz Sexton’s solo exhibition Out of Water is on view at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum May 6 – September 3, 2023.
~ Bart Gazzola