Interview: Pete Mitchell and Ernie Paxton | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Masked Life is the first of a series of collaborative exhibitions by Pete Mitchell and Ernie Paxton, two emerging Newcastle based artists and takes place at Basement Snaxx, Newcastle from 19th March to 18th April (free entry). Inspired by the historical and contemporary culture of Japan, the exhibition originally began as an experiment in mask making and painting and grew into an exploration of the demons and daemons that live inside of us and the faces they might have. 

We caught up with Ernie (photographer) and Pete (mask maker) to find out more about themselves and the exhibition ahead of its opening day.

What’s your background in art ?
Ernie: Until 1999 when I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I hadn’t done any form of artwork since the age of 13 at school.  Since then I have explored various media but became more and more drawn to digital art in particular photography.

Pete: Up until three years ago, I didn’t really have one.  My entry into the art world came as a result of mental illness and my subsequent membership of chilli studios at the beginning of 2017.  I think we are what’s known as ‘Outsider Artists’

Who are my biggest creative influences?
Ernie: It’s hard to give a definitive answer to this.  I don’t consciously look for influences from any single or group of artists, but on a subconscious level, I must absorb influences from many areas.

Pete: This might sound a bit corny, but my biggest creative influences are my friends and my emotions. I’m also massively influenced by the art of Japan and China… and my guilty pleasure Tokusatsu.

I’m not influenced by any artists per se, because I don’t want my art and the things I create to become a watered-down version of someone else’s.

Tell us more about masked life.  What inspired it?
Pete: The Heads and Tales heritage project staged an exhibition at Vane Gallery in Newcastle to which Ernie and I submitted a piece which featured a masked figure bearing the invisible weight of every day while the people walking past were blurred.  It was the positive feedback we received from this piece which inspired us to take the other masks I was beginning to paint and place them in similarly out of place situations. In all I think over 100 shots were taken of various masks in different locations before we settled on the ones that are featured.

You said that it began as an experiment in mask making and painting and then grew into a collaborative effort to explore the demons and daemons that live within us and the faces they might have.  Can you elaborate on that progression?
Pete: Initially, I began painting masks from noh theatre, as they have very distinctive characteristics and designs.  From there I began to view a blank mask as just a differently shaped canvas and began to broaden the ways in which they were painted, using more colour and designs.  After submitting the piece to the heads and tales exhibition, Ernie came up with the idea that by using a mixture of models and a variety of locations, the masks could represent the unseen emotions, mental weight and life issues that people live with and this could be accomplished by photographing people wearing the masks in locations that would ultimately range from Ouseburn valley, central Newcastle to the quayside beach. 

With this idea set, I began to paint the remaining few masks and we set about bringing things together.  We used the words demons and daemons because each one of us wears a mask and we all have good (daemons) and bad (demons) inside of us. However, our everyday faces often give no indication of these.

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