What mask are you wearing today? This is precisely the question painter Kathleen Putnam asks with her 2012 ArtPrize entry Who Is the Person You Hide? Behind our daily politically correct, people pleasing demeanor, there is a true emotion hiding, and Kathleen dares viewers to let it show.
Who Is the Person You Hide? is Kathleen's second submission on the topic. In it, she "purposely ran the masks off either end of the canvas to illustrate all the masks that we choose given the circumstance. I have seen people who have been so very angry and then the phone rings and they are pleasant and happy and welcoming. Of course, what
else is there to do?" she says.
Last year, her painting, Happy Face, depicted a woman at a social function looking at a mask in her hand. The mask was a friendly face, the woman's actual expression was dread.
"She was tired of putting on a mask," Kathleen says.
The series is meant to be relatable because like Kathleen says, everyone has felt obligated to express on the surface something different than what is deep inside.
"Often times we outwardly have one expression when inwardly we feel completely different. We all do this to fit into what we want to present in society and to be a part of society," she says.
Kathleen's work reflects her personality, she's a watcher. In observing others, she can pick up on idiosyncrasies of her peers. From a young age, Kathleen started noticing the way people acted in social situations and began to mimic them.
"That became part of my mask," she says. "I think often we project how we would like to be in a situation verses how we would really feel. (If we're afraid) we present a face of bravado, courage, friendliness. Often the mask saves us."
But Kathleen warns against using masks as a crutch. Hiding behind false emotions for the sole purpose of fitting into society erases individuality.
Kathleen encourages conversation with her art, and so far has had positive feedback. The full-time artist, in addition to creating painted works, shares her knowledge of the arts with others. She teaches in afterschool programs and hopes to prolong a childlike creativity that, like individuality, can sometimes disappear with age.
"I think you catch children at an age where they create out of their mind…As they get older, they (try to) fit more and more into a round hole, and I think that's a shame. When we lose our imagination, we lose our ability to create. There's a hope that's lost when that goes," Kathleen says.
Check out Kathleen's art at the Amway Grand Plaza, Boardroom A. Click here to see her artist profile online.
Written by: Erika Fifelski is West Michigan Woman magazine's editorial coordinator. She was born and raised in West Michigan, and after a brief stint on the sunrise side, she's home and loving it. Erika enjoys gardening, vacuuming, and discovering new ways to live sustainably and support local businesses. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Putnam