Four Faces – 1978
EXHIBITION:Barry Herem: Wood. Glass. Paper. Steel.
This four-color silk-screen print was directly inspired by a serigraph on silk by Pablo Picasso entitled “Dove of Peace and Four Faces”, a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Norman Davis to the Seattle Art Museum. To Picasso I am indebted for the concept of half-circles and profiles, to the Northwest Coast for a few of the facial types which partially characterize the design style of the tribes named.
It should, however, be noted that there are many more facial types and details – perhaps an infinite number – which could also be termed Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian or Bella Coola (not to mention the many other tribal groups of the Northwest Coast which are not represented here). Each group has, or had, its own artistic conventions and in creating personalized “portraits” – which is what many existing masks appear to be – had the human face in all of its varieties to draw upon. This, typically begins to hint at the stylistic depth and the breadth of variation possible and implicit in all of the artistic mediums of traditional Northwest Coast Indian art.
None of these profiles is an exact copy of any known mask, yet each draws upon one of the styles of each of the tribes. For instance, the Tsimshian face is based upon a style of mask widely considered to be “death masks”, that is, portrait masks of some particular person laying in state. The Tlingit face is based on the work of an unnamed and “unknown” Tlingit artist whose beautiful human figures can be seen in totemic carvings found in the small Alaska towns of Wrangell and Klukwan. The Haida face is based upon miniature figures historically carved in argillite (a black slat-like stone) from the Queen Charlotte Islands during the last century. The extension of the lower lip represents the use of a labret or lip plug which positively identifies this as the profile of a woman. The Bella Coola face with its round eye and other stylistic details is merely typical of the art style of the Bella Coola people of British Columbia.
The central bird or eagle figure is intended as a unifying mythological or animistic symbol of the Northwest Cost cosmos. The same is true of the small square designs at the corners of the print: the four corners or houseposts of the traditional community house, the four major compass points; the four corners of the world.