It’s sometimes difficult to look at one of Gail Gulick’s life-sized shamanic masks, beautiful though they may be. They vary greatly in mood and shape, and they all seem to pierce the viewer, evoking a strong response — ferocity, hard-won peace, struggle, or release. In so doing, they aim to forever change artist, participant, and viewer.
To begin, she casts a human face, either her own or perhaps that of a client (Gulick works as a shamanic-arts practitioner). She places wet plastered gauze on the person’s face. It’s restrictive, it’s difficult to move, and it takes about a half hour.
“When I cast a mask, it takes me, or the person I’m working on, into a shamanic state,” says Gulick. “It’s somewhat akin to some shamanic cultures that bury people alive.” But if there’s a little echo of death in the process, there’s also a sense of rebirth.
From there, the artist’s process is a little more conventional. She works in her studio, largely in silence, letting the mask lead her toward what the final work will become. Some gain whole bodies. Some become more abstract, perhaps with an element that evokes a shroud, a wing, or another element ranging from the ethereal to the visceral.
Gulick speaks of “Dark Moon Goddess,” a work that might be considered frightening, and one of many inspired by neopagan archetypes. She made it while processing a great deal of fear during her time living in the Virgin Islands. “Somebody might look at it and see it as angry or threatening, but to me, it’s the core of my fierceness.”
She delights in the unexpected reactions of viewers. “It’s actually so individual. I’ve had a two-year-old look at my most frightening mask and engage with it in a very loving and intimate way. It’s almost like it was a best friend.”
These masks — or rather, her penchant for making variations on the human form — started when she was a child herself. “Probably at five or six, I would make full-body beings and hang them on my walls,” she says. And that interest has shifted again with the addition of her spirit rattles.
These playful items sell as fast as she can make them. “I like to tell people I lifecast fairies,” she says. The large-eyed, round faces on them call up woodland animals, trees, or even small deities. Sometimes mounted into a full body, they seem wise, yet possibly mischievous, and conjure “the playfulness of elemental spirits.”
All of her pieces have a medicinal bent. “When we look at them,” Gulick says, “they are likely to stir things up inside of ourselves that are meant to be healed.” The rattles can literally be used in ceremonies toward that end. And, of course, even when not in use, they enchant their owners.
Gail Gulick, East Asheville. To see works for sale and learn about ongoing and seasonal workshops, including a “Journey with the Celtic Saint Brigit”
beginning February 15, visit dreamtimejourneys.net.