The National Arts Club

The National Arts Club (1999)

In this series of paintings, using the masks of different cultures, Brian Lipperd invites one to contemplate nothing less than the journey of life. In 1997, Lipperd won the Edward G. McDowell grant, the most prestigious award bestowed by the Art Students League in New York. This enabled him to travel and study in Europe. As it did for Gauguin, Van Gogh and other illustrious artists before him, the time spent in self-imposed exile in foreign locales critically shaped the direction of his work. While in Venice, Lipperd discovered the beautiful Venetian masks that have been an integral part of the city’s carnival for centuries. Lipperd returned to Venice a year later and began his own collection, which now includes masks from Europe, Asia and Africa.

Though a student of portraiture, in this body of work Lipperd uses masks to go beyond mere likeness to reveal the emotional core – the exuberance, yearning, love and isolation – inherent in every life. A mask can hide one’s identity or help reveal the true self. Lipperd uses masks to achieve the latter. While man’s tendency may be to segregate one another into classes based on wealthy or beauty, birth right or skin tone, – by concealing the superficial and the individual – are the great equalizer. Paradoxically, they allow the essence of humanity in all its complexity to be revealed.

To represent such complexity, the masks are juxtaposed with other objects, colors and textures in compositions that suggest man’s duality, such as our yearning for life and death, love and separateness. In First love, Lipperd uses the mask often associated with death, known as the Doctor of the Plague, in a painting that is a paean to love. Thus, the mask elicits the sense of losing oneself to another with almost violent implications, while surrounded by alluring accoutrements of romantic love.

Duality is also evident in the perception of Lipperd’s work. While he looks to classicists of the past, such as Velasquez, for inspiration, he is equally impressed by the contemporary classicism of Odd Nerdrum. Lipperd’s style, layered and labor-intensive, bold and subtle, is traditional in technique but crackles with emotional intensity and his content exhibits the contemporary propensity for baring one’s soul.

The Settings of the paintings provide a context in which to examine the pursuit of ambitions that define the stages of life. A variety of goals are explored from the materialistic in The Agony of Luxury; to the intellectual in The Disputation; and, ultimately, to the worthiest goals of love and self-awareness as depicted in The Haven and The Transformation.

This series is a study of man’s emotional, spiritual and intellectual journey. Like Shakespeare’s staged world, Lipperd seems to imply that life is a stage in which to survive we feel it necessary to play many parts. But what are we really like when our masks are stripped away? Love is fraught with pain and luxury becomes a burden. Lipperd’s images are powerful and enigmatic and suggest contemplation of our own quest for beauty, wisdom and love. Perhaps, like Indonesian shadow puppets, we have become caricatures of ourselves, performers manipulated by social expectations and our vain pursuits merely overshadow our true selves.

– Donnoldson K. Brown & Hazel Boissiere

The Transformation
This painting depicts the process of moving through various aspects of oneself to achieve a more harmonious existence. The top mask, a face of contentment, watches the transformation below almost as a gentle parent. Even its colors are a blending of those of the masks below, as though a culmination of all that preceded it.
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