published Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

UNMASKED: Artists make statement on hidden emotions

"Everything I want the viewer to feel is captured and revealed in the eyes," artist Michel Smelcher says.
"Everything I want the viewer to feel is captured and revealed in the eyes," artist Michel Smelcher says.
  • photo
    Clowns and jesters are recurring subjects in Smelcher's work.


What: "The Mask Behind the Mask."

Where: Exum Gallery, 305 W. Seventh St.

Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Admission: Free.

Information: Call 266-8195.

People wear masks every day, even though they probably don't realize it, Curt Hodge says.

"We wear a different mask for every person we encounter. There are many layers of masks we have for everybody we meet," says Hodge, co-owner of Flowers by Gil & Curt.

That philosophy is behind the exhibition "The Mask Behind the Mask," which fills the Exum Gallery in St. Paul's Episcopal Church with paintings and elaborate Mardi Gras masks to make a statement on hidden emotions and superficiality.

Along with two dozen beaded and feathered Mardi Gras masks handmade by Hodge, the exhibit also features nine acrylic paintings by Michael Smelcher, an auctioneer at Chattanooga Auction House.

Hodge's two dozen masks display his creativity from idea through finished face. Strips of celluloid film coil around "Hollywood," a glittering silver mask wearing dark shades. "Decked Out" is a papier mache face covered in playing cards with stacked cards curling up from behind the mask as though they are being shuffled.

"The show title, in my opinion, is a statement on both self-imposed and unintentionally imposed interactive protocols between people; connections based on whom we pretend to be rather than whom we actually happen to be," says Smelcher.

The self-taught artist says his paintings focus on the emotional conditions that lie beneath all masks.

"As most often is the case, we are all different, more vulnerable, more fragile than what we publicly project with masks intact," he explains.

Smelcher's paintings evoke a response from viewers through the intensity of the emotions revealed in the subjects' eyes.

"Michael's subject matter and his technique of focusing on the eyes has been of interest to folks. Through his paintings and the Mardi Gras masks, we are seeing through the eyes of both artists," says Ann Woody, chairwoman of the St. Paul Arts Committee.

Woody says the committee of church laypeople sponsors five to six major exhibits annually. This exhibit was chosen, she said, "because it folds into the church year, Mardi Gras being the season preparatory to Lent."

"The Mask Behind the Masks" will remain up through Feb. 10, after which Hodge's masks will be worn by revelers at the Chattanooga Bach Choir's annual Mardi Gras benefit at the Walden Club.

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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