Behind the Mask: Visual artist reveals pieces of himself in quirky facial sculptures

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Soon after Lyle Reimer started sharing his stunning selfies on Instagram in 2013, he gained an unexpected new follower: Cher. Yes, the iconic singer, who to date only follows 38 people. The Vancouver artist known as Lyle XOX still doesn’t know how she found it, but says it sparked intense media interest that culminated with an invitation to a Vogue Italia photoshoot. Reimer had to decline as it conflicted with his commitments as a makeup artist and trainer at MAC Cosmetics, a company he worked with for 16 years. “At that point, I knew I had to stop my nine-to-five job and focus on my artistic career,” he says.

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Although he left his post at MAC about six years ago, makeup still plays an important role in Reimer’s creative process. But it is not the star of the intricate sculptures that he puts together and adheres to his face. What is?

Garbage. Abundant daily garbage.

“I have a huge obsession and a real passion for found objects and recycled waste, and 100 percent of everything I use in my job is exactly that,” he says in a video chat one week before the opening of his solo exhibition at Meat Hook Gallery at McKinley Studios in Calgary. “It will always be part of my DNA, to give voice to all the objects that we get rid of so easily in our daily life. “

His ability to transform objects such as old keys, children’s orthodontic equipment, turkey bones and crumpled toothpaste tubes into extraordinary facial sculptures has, unsurprisingly, caught the attention of many in the world of beauty. fashion. Reimer has collaborated with Gucci, Maison Margiela, Gentle Monster and singer FKA Twigs. His work has been featured everywhere from the New York Times to GQ China. And when his book, Lyle XOX: Head of Design, was published in 2019, famous designers Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren contributed to the preface.

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The launch of the book itself was a dream come true, says the 40-year-old artist. Bergdorf Goodman not only hosted the book signing event, but also exhibited his work in their Fifth Avenue storefronts in New York City. “I don’t know if I will ever get married, but for me it was like a wedding day.”

At times, says Reimer, his rise has seemed surreal. That’s because he grew up in Wymark, Saskatchewan, a town of less than 200 people to which he never felt like he belonged. His artistic practice began as a child, when he and his mother spent hours turning found objects and recycled waste into arts and crafts. And that’s exactly how he works today.

Reimer does not draw or trace his intricate facial sculptures. On the contrary, it relies on instinct and impulse. “There are times when I’m in the studio and I don’t know what my hands are doing. It’s like an out-of-body experience, ”he says. “I cut and glue and watch it happen from above.”

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When he senses a sculpture is ready, Reimer arrives at his studio early in the morning, plays music, brews tea, and begins to put on makeup. Even at this point, he has no master plan. “I let the makeup take me on a journey, and then as I put on pieces of the sculpture – some are full pieces, some are partial – many of their elements are also part of the makeup. “

To glue the sculptures to her face and neck, Reimer uses everything from pins to medical grade glue. He works, he says, until “the magical moment when I look at myself in the mirror and no longer see Lyle”. Finally, he takes all the photos himself with a technical assistant nearby.

Looking at the portraits, Reimer’s mother sometimes doesn’t even recognize him. But that doesn’t mean, as people often do, that he’s wearing a mask.

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“I think ‘mask’ has a connotation of hiding or covering up something. For me, it’s more about revealing another part of myself, ”he says. “It’s a huge compliment to me when people say they can feel my soul in these tracks, even though they can’t see me.”

These days, Reimer is considering ways to share more of himself with the world. He would like his work to be featured in major Canadian and international galleries, and he will soon be able to sell the facial sculptures. But getting home is one of her top priorities.

Although the pandemic has delayed an invitation to speak to students at his former high school, he is eager to seize the opportunity. He wants to tell them to dream big, to believe that anything is possible and, above all, to embrace who they really are.

“You just have to be able to work hard and do something that really, authentically looks like you,” he says, “and I know without a doubt that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. “

Lyle XOX’s solo exhibition opened on October 22 at McKinley Studios’ Meat Hook Gallery in Calgary and will run through early December. Call McKinley Studios at 403-229-2037 to arrange a viewing.

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