Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hawaiian Priest

This is an engraving of a Hawaiian priest in a mask made of a gourd, cloth for the beard, and shrubbery for the hair. The artist seems to be John Webber, who voyaged with Captain Cook to Hawaii on Cook's third voyage. Webber made several observational drawings and paintings like this, which were turned into engravings, published and sold in 1784. I’ve been interested in old engravings for a while now, especially ones from expeditions, where artists were part of the science team, the first people of their culture to document new cultures and species. This illustration above has been haunting me for months ever since I saw it. The masks were supposedly used to separate the priests from the mundane world (though representations of these masks are now sold to tourist as "warrior helmets." Real details on the purpose of the mask are hard to come across). That line between reality and spirituality or the space in one’s mind is echoed in some of the themes I like to address in my own work. I also like to walk a bit on the cartoony side in my work, and the exaggerated holes for eyes interested me because of that, as well as the elimination of the mouth. It seems like cartoon proportions brought into the real world, or something a surrealist would make, but it’s just a real and everyday part of living for the depicted man. Compared to some of the other engravings I've seen, this one really stands out because of the skill in its execution and the serenity of the pose. It's descriptive without feeling like a diagram, simple but mysterious. The artist definitely captured the otherworldly nature of the priest profession.

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting to learn the history behind an illustration like this. I also enjoy old engravings, especially drawings of botany and animals.