Hockey players are not your typical visitors to art galleries, and artists are often not big followers of sports.
An art show at the Community pARTners Gallery in the Yorkton Public Library attempts to bridge the gap between art and sport.
The show entitled 'Saving Face: The Maskerade' incorporates goaltender mask art and coincides with the World Junior A Challenge being held in the city. The art show will run Nov. 1 to 15.
"To me to see a goalie mask in a gallery, that's the best thing. I'm not into painting on canvas or other flat surfaces," said Saskatoon artist John Chubak. "I do Harley tanks and goalie masks."
"It really is a unique opportunity," said Art Lima, who supplied five masks for the show. The Regina artist said he has aspirations to one day do more traditional fine arts on canvas, but this exhibit "shows these (goalie masks) are a medium for art too."
He added he doesn't see a large gap between different types of art.
"I'm not really hung up on that whole thing," he said. "I have no formal training in art, so I don't feel I'm a starving artist stuck in a rut doing something just to make money."
In fact, Lima said he sees painting masks as something which require skills beyond that of regular art.
"You have to have other skills. You have to prep it like you would prep a car for painting. You have to be able to fill and sand and prime it. You have to have those skills in order to create the art work."
Chubak is also happy to have his masks on display in a gallery setting. "It's common to have my art in bike shows. It's neat to see my art on those beautiful choppers.
"People don't think of goalie masks the same way, but the same amount of creativity goes into them."
Chubak said he too sees the interest in masks as art objects beginning to grow. "I've had a lot of customers say 'Oh man, I'm not wearing this one.'"
In such situations Chubak encourages them to put the mask on and go play hockey, adding he tells them he can always touch up any nicks after the playing days of the mask are over. "A lot of customers will bring old masks back to get it to look like new again so they can keep it behind glass, or keep it on the wall as a keepsake."
Lima also appreciates that his masks are art that athletes might appreciate more than most.
"The first thing a goalie is going to do when he takes a new mask in the dressing room is show half the guys," he said. "There’s no way it's fine art, but it is a good way for people to express themselves."
While definitely objects of art, painting masks is also a business, one which Lima said is slowly but surely getting busier.
"I'm just finishing one up for the Flin Flon Bombers (of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League)," he said.
The Bombers are also a team which has turned to a painted mask for more than protecting their netminder.
Last year the SJHL team commissioned a work from Lima which was auctioned off as an art piece as a fundraiser. "It was their director of marketing that called me," said the artist, adding he hasn't seen a lot of that sort of interest in masks yet, but he sees it as an area with potential to grow.
Chubak too has seen interest in the business of painting masks. "Oh man, I'm doing lots. Sometimes it can be as many as five a week this time of year. It can be pretty hectic. It's a lot of late nights, and a lot of early mornings. I'm impatient, so I think my customers are too, so I don't procrastinate."
For Lima, creating goalie mask art was a natural fit, given his artistic interest and his involvement in the game. "I was a goalie growing up. I've painted masks really since I was a kid. Iremember taking ball hockey masks, taping them up and painting them using aerosol cans (of paint)."
An air brush artist, Chubak said his involvement in painting masks came almost by accident. He had always liked to draw, but found his artistic niche when his wife gave him an airbrush in 1996.
"I just put my heart into it. It was something I thought I could be good at," Chubak said.
Since then, his 'canvases' read a little like a list of articles at a yard sale. He said he has painted toilet seats – adding with a chuckle he only paints new ones – cell phones, bowling pins, guitars, snowboards, Harley Davidsons, and Hummers, along with goalie marks. "A guy at work wanted me to do his goalie mask, and after that it was word-of-mouth; one would come, and then another," he said, adding he is probably nearing 200 he has painted over the last few years.
Chubak said he enjoys the masks knowing they'll be viewed by hundreds of fans.
Ideally, a goaltender provides a basic idea and then allows Chubak the artistic freedom to be creative around the chosen theme. "I tend to like those people that give me free rein."
One of Chubak's favourite masks was a dragon theme.
"Every scale was done on it. I tried to get in as much detail as possible. I tried to meticulously do the mask. I spent hours and hours on it," he said.
That is the great thing about painting masks Chubak says: "You just never know what's going to be the next project." He is currently working on a mask where the customer has told him to just go wild. The piece has skulls up the side, moving into the mist with some ghouls, while the top of the helmet is, according to the artist, “a demented dragon head with ram horns on it."
Lima agreed that unique works are most interesting. He is currently working on a mask for someone familiar to fans of junior hockey in Yorkton: Michael Clague, the younger brother of former Yorkton Terrier and SJHL Most Valuable Player Jason Clague. The piece exemplifies what, as an artist, Lima enjoys doing. It is the third mask for the younger Clague, who now plays senior hockey for the Lloydminster Border Kings. The first two masks were in team colours, but with the new mask the goaltender and artist are taking the art in a new direction.
"This time we went totally different. It has a medieval theme," said Lima, explaining the overall look of a castle wall, with a king – signifying the Border Kings – in full armour and carrying a sword.
"It's a lot more fun than the other ones. A lot of the projects I've got on the go right now are fun projects," he said. "It's fun to have to push yourself."
Another mask in progress is being created as a tribute to a lost friend of the goaltender. It will incorporate the dead friend's name, and angels. "It will be a challenging mask to do," said Lima.
Chubak said it can be difficult to see a mask leave the shop knowing it will be abused on the ice every night, and most likely painted over in time – he has goaltenders who have new art applied every season or two. "I've done some jobs that were very hard to give back. I thought 'Wow, these look really nice.’"
Chubak said he is just pleased when customers like the masks he has painted for them, adding that it is equal to having his art in any gallery. He recalled one young netminder who took the mask and began to look at it closely. "Then he closed his eyes and actually dropped to his knees. He said 'I've got to get my breath. I don't want to use this one. I want to get another mask to use. I never expected anything this good.’"