The Seen and The Unseen:
 An Imagined Reality

                                             Wound-Up and Bearing Arms (detail)   o/c

                                             Wound-Up and Bearing Arms (detail)   o/c

Shelley Newman Stevens

 THE SEEN AND THE UNSEEN:  An Imagined Reality

As an artist, I am well aware of the psychological power of images.  As a figurative artist, my goal has always been to provoke a strong emotional reaction by using the human figure to depict the psychological battles that transpire within us.  That is, I use the physical manifestation of the body to describe the inner (invisible) emotional workings.  In my recent use of masks, however, I question the ability to correctly read and understand an image (in this case, the human form) by placing a barrier between it and the viewer.  Therein lies the uncertainty of truth.

 In this series of work I am focusing on the mask as a metaphor for the physical and behavioral facade we construct in an attempt to reveal/conceal only certain aspects of ourselves.  These self-referential aspects are often determined by how we wish to be perceived in accordance with society’s ever-changing standards and expectations; in other words, one may wear a variety of masks throughout a lifetime (or throughout a day) depending upon our age and stage of life, our needs and goals, the expectations of self and others, as well as the myths and truths of our particular culture.

 The images in this series depict the confusion, the deception and even the sinister danger that lurks in the manipulation of perception through pretense, equally perilous for the one who dons the mask and the one who is confronted by it.  In such cases our lives become performances, and it is in this theme that I base my images.  These paintings contain elements of the theatrical and the artificial even as they attempt to expose a truth.  Bizarre and dream-like qualities intrigue us even as certain physical and behavioral qualities lure us in real life.  But what is real and what is false?  Does it even matter?  Is the imagined more compelling than reality?  Do we now live in a society in which the truth is no longer preferred?  Should we settle for a “piece of real” amid a sea of altered truth and outright artificiality?  When does fantasy and imagination turn into heartless simulacra?  What are the risks for the one who is lured by the mask and the performance, and perhaps more importantly, what are the consequences for the one who dons the mask in an attempt to control an imagined reality…an identity that is constructed through the mesmerized eyes of others and reflected back to us?   The eyes behind the mask may allude to an uncomfortable truth as they return the viewer’s gaze.  However, in some instances, the eyes are not readable, and it is in these situations that the potential for danger is the greatest.