Vincent Damyanovich, mask sculptor

PHOTO Courtesy of Vincent damyanovich

Entertainment isn’t Vincent Damyanovich’s endgame when it comes to sculpting masks. He’s into transformation and possibly even shifting consciousness. His Vanguard FX Studio is a modest garage space in Curtis Park. There, he’s made prosthetic props like false limbs for medical training, zombie hands for a The Walking Dead event, and envisioned fantasy worlds for his growing interest in set design. Masks and character creation have their place in entertainment, and Damyanovich respects that. For example, what if masks could transform a white 20-something redhead into an incarcerated Latino gang member? Damyanovich did that.

One of your works turns a white woman into a tattooed Latino gang inmate. Why do this?

I wanted to take somebody that’s feminine and change her form so drastically that she becomes hypermasculinized. People are going to treat this person very different than her. And yet the idea is, “What if they’re the same person?” A whole shared humanity.

What are some of society’s masks?

It can just be the masks that we put on when we go to work. “Who are we?” We are constantly asking. People know your face and when you change that, they relate to you a little bit differently. They serve as a reminder that our egos aren’t so solid and that things aren’t so chiseled in stone. The challenge of being human is that we are creative beings. All the problems we have, we created them. To have this conversation is maybe a step to start viewing masks as intentionally used specifically for that social purpose.

Is there healing potential in masks?

The power of the mask is not just to conceal but the art of revealing. In some instances, masks predate language by 3,500 years. It takes you into a realm of archetype. It connects you to something bigger than yourself but also has the power to transform consciousness. Everything that we’re facing today requires a shift in consciousness. To bring back that aspect of masks in our culture is a way to problem-solve what we’re up against.

Are you exploring mental health in your work?

Doing transformational makeups on various people over the years, I have seen lasting personality changes for the better. A couple individuals have gone from quiet or mildly depressed to having more confidence or feeling that they are beautiful. That has really moved me. It’s an element that gets lost in entertainment. I’m trying to come into contact with a more fulfilling and larger picture of who we are as humans.

What’s subconsciously at play when people choose a Halloween costume?

There’s a desire to change. In that, there’s a space that, if explored, could shift consciousness. Be mindful that it’s an opportunity. In the desire to be a different identity there’s a transformational aspect that could have a healing benefit.

How do you deal with people who think of your work as weird?

I’ve been dealing with that element of “it’s weird and strange” probably since kindergarten. Truly. But I want to explore that fear, rather than shy away from that. Masks are a great way to examine one’s fears. A friend of mine once told me being called weird is like being called “limited edition.” You’re something people don’t see every day.

Have you ever fallen in love with your fantasy characters?

I almost become a bit possessed by the idea and the pursuit. When it’s all done, I think it’s just a relief. When I’m gripped by an idea there’s not a lot of rest. Do I fall in love? No. I do feel a bit more complete with myself. There’s also post-project blues where it doesn’t live up to the inner critic.

Has anyone ever requested a prototype of their genitalia?

No. Occasionally you get the Exorcist request and you realize it’s a bedroom role-play thing.

You were one of the final students of Dick Smith, the godfather of makeup.

I feel a little pressure. I’m one of the very last proteges of Dick Smith. I studied under him almost five years. He was relentless and very tough, but that’s how I learned to be a decent sculptor. We talked on the phone probably once a week for four years.

What was the best advice he gave?

It’s not enough to be committed, you really have to be obsessed. You have to live and breathe it. He’d also nitpick and nitpick and what he wanted you to do is eventually stand up for yourself and say, “Dick, I think this wrinkle is good!” He wanted you to be good with it. And now he’s in my head, always there to ask, “Are you sure?”

What’s next?

I’m in the process of moving more into themed environments and set design. I’m also interested in public art and larger-scale sculpture. As far as mask-making I’m getting interested in self-portraits. What other faces do I have that I can play with?