The fixed point of an intentional gaze
Behind the masks of a thousand-year-old culture that is unknown because of its vast diversity, models are hidden who disappear upon being intervened by the creative hand of Felipe Bedoya. All that is left and that evokes feelings is a gaze.
Like an epiphany, a face appears. Thick smears of paint as well as heavy and almost lumpy makeup conceal the skin. Only dark skin can be seen between the masks and not the gender or age. Between it all, we can see the eyes: the gaze. It is piercing, immobile and direct and it indiscreetly and vehemently shows itself to alert the viewer and not let them pass by without an exchange.
This is part of an exhibition by the way. An affluent guest in the gallery for people who observe those passing by looking. As the guest watches people pass by and stop, it understands that there are doubts in face of its presence and diverse reactions to its fixed gaze. In effect, as an apparent human being, it doesn’t really exist and it is there to create contradictions and reactions. “The person that you see, doesn’t exist. It is fictitious. The idea is to make the viewer uncomfortable and ask questions as well as to wonder how real what you are seeing is,” explains Felipe Bedoya, the artist. What is certain is that those real people, the models that he works with, cease to exist in his creations when he intervenes, when he creates each piece.
Is there a model? Yes, there is. Is there makeup? Yes. However, the result of the paint on the face, plus the effect of the acrylic paint and the digital manipulation that is performed later on the photographs, transform them so deeply and willingly that whoever the model is in the image, isn’t the same in the finished piece –at least in their essence–. Each one of the pieces is the result of Felipe Bedoya’s obsession. His soft spot and attention lie in the study of African culture. Despite not knowing where this interest came from, he works with it so whole-heartedly that he manages to exhibit every aesthetic detail of the countenance residing in that culture.
He has said that in the African culture “the gazes and the way in which they live and express their identity” inevitably draw him in, which might or might not stem from the African American descendants living in his native country of Colombia. “I pick up on every mark of war, line; the facial expression feeds much of my work,” he describes in regards to the purpose of the fixed gaze and portraiture as a technique. “It looks like photography, but it isn’t. I can’t just hit a button and then the work is done. People have also thought that they are paintings. Some people think that I take them straight from Africa, but what is certain is that all the information that the image contains is also disinformation,” explains Felipe, who misleads the viewer with his artistic process by disorienting them and leading them to delve into their own conclusions.
There it remains, on the wall looking. At times it seems raw, tough, aggressive; others may say that it is nostalgia, sadness, or perhaps melancholy. And that is what he wants. That character who uses all of the space that was given to them and timidly exhibits their body while their gaze fervently reveals an intention, an emotion so extroverted that you empathize with the bashfulness of its creator. “I’m not one to look others in the eye. I am rather shy and reserved. Exhibiting my characters facing the viewer and looking directly at them, is the contrast that makes you feel like I am talking through the images in a language that I can’t convey in real life due to how I am,” confesses the artist.
His motivation also has a bit of intrigue. Very few people really possess in-depth knowledge about African cultures, because of their diversity, which is often foreign to our continent and getting a closer look at it becomes difficult for a large portion of the globe. “That makes the process of manipulating the images easier as well as conveying that to the viewer. I work with the concept of individuality and solitude. That is how I got to African masks and these people. That special glimmer in their eye, how they live, the marks and lines they make on their bodies with their fingers express their appurtenance,” Felipe adds to his original thought. That is why his main obsession isn’t the culture in itself, but rather what its members convey and the behaviors that they emanate. The way in which Felipe Bedoya exhibits his portraits describes the goal of causing one to think about what they are seeing and how the perceptions mix reality with the emotive nature of fiction itself.
Have you actually travelled to Africa?
No, I haven’t. I did all the research from my studio because I didn’t want to directly involve myself with the African culture, but rather probe it and get a little closer to it. The masks are what interested me.
What do they show or hide in the masks?
They don’t have the specific purpose of a mask as something to hide a face. Rather, they bring out and highlight what’s inside. They highlight candidness and the origin and essence of each person. I exhibit them as silhouettes. What is really important is the face, particularly, what is shown as makeup.
How do you use masks to “unmask” something?
I have an idea of the model in my head. The figure is real, however it only plays the role of a silhouette of what I want to construct. I do this so much so that my final figures seem sexless, both men and women or kids. That is how I begin to assemble the parts in order to achieve the idea that I have and construct the specter or fictitious being.
What is with the tough, bleak demeanor and impetuous gaze?
It is true, there is a link to darkness. Many people even think they are gloomy. But to some people, it provokes sadness, and to others it hypnotizes them. It always depends on their experiences and what they are going through when they see the work.
What role do the flowers play?
They draw the characters in towards their nature. They give the piece serenity and balance it. Without the flowers, it seems sullen. Nonetheless, it is the people themselves who use this type of clothing, decorate and embellish themselves. My work isn’t the same without the flowers. Their color, their natural quality and spontaneous joy create a contrast to the demeanor of the photographs’ protagonists.
Do you hope to visit Africa?
Yes, I am working on that. I am drawn to the culture. I didn’t want to go because up until now, I have been in a process of conceptual research and self-recognition, but now I plan on travelling there.