Sergio Boldrin, born in Venice in 1957, and currently living and working there, is a master mask maker, running two well-known ateliers in the lagoon city alongside his brother Massimo. He is also renowned for collaborating with the theatre and the cinema, especially through the masks featuring in Stanley Kubrick's film "Eyes wide shut". Boldrin showcased his creations in Italy and abroad, in London, Paris, New York and Los Angeles.
Tell us about your story. How did everything start?
Everything started a bit by chance, and a bit for fun. I have always been an impassioned lover of art, creation and painting. I used to paint anytime, anywhere. One day, I saw a theatre company, the “A l’Avogaria”, which had stopped in a campo (a city square in Venetian) very near my home and was performing sketches with improvised dialogues on Commedia dell’Arte. Those thespian actors were wearing very sketchy papier-mâché masks. This reminiscence stayed with me, stored in my memory, until I decided I had found my way in life: creating masks for the stage.
Is there a person or an event that prompted you to choose this craft?
Definitely, as a Venetian, Venice's Carnival was the event that helped my passion come true, and then turn into a full-fledged craft. Venice was rediscovering, after so many years, a moment of joy, of lightheartedness, rich in colours, shapes and smells, with entirely new energy and fantasy, thus regaining its old traditions and, of course, the art of masquerade. And who was the unquestionable protagonist of this joyful comeback? The mask! I could no longer ignore what was going to be my way in life.
Venetian masks are very well-known throughout the world and have a century-old history connected to Carnival. What innovations did you bring to such old tradition?
Early into my path, I started, like many others, reproducing traditional forms, like the Bauta, the Plague Doctor, the Moretta (a round mask coated with black velvet to be worn by women only) or the protagonists of the Commedia dell’Arte. Over time, my curiosity and my wish to learn and test myself brought me to create new, more extravagant and innovative forms inspired by my world, my times and, above all, by the history of art: in fact, I take my cue from great art works and reinterpret them according to my personal taste.
How do you create a mask? How long does it take to craft the finished artwork?
As for any piece of work, you start from an idea which turns into a sketch, the actual starting point for creating a mask. The production process entails many different successive steps, starting from moulding clay in the first place. This step is called “positive”, and this is when our initial concept finds its own expression in sculpture. At a later stage, we prepare the casting by very carefully pouring chalk over the clay; in thirty minutes' time the chalk will set and, turning it upside down, we can remove the clay, thus obtaining the “negative”, ready to be thoroughly cleaned. Papier-mâché, then, comes in: we spread vaseline or oil first, then we start laying the paper, soaked with wallpaper paste or vinyl glue, inside the “negative”. As for the number of layers – usually two or three – it all depends on the mask size. Once the paper is dry, it can be removed and we have the mask, ready to be cut around the edges and then... painted! We cannot easily calculate the time we spend on it; it depends on the size, the concept and the design.
What does a mask need to be authentic?
A mask is authentic when it is filled with artisanal dignity. A genuine Venetian mask should be crafted with non-industrial methods and with papier mâché.
What do you call originality? Is it possible to be original with traditional masks?
Being original means being imaginative. A mask can be both traditional and original, if you make use of unusual colours, innovative colouring techniques or just introduce a “surprise” element, like a gold or silver leaf.
Which is the most peculiar or extravagant work you have created?
My job allows me to have many extravagant works in store. I created many peculiar works: from revisiting Picasso's “Guernica” and painting it on a large-scale mask, to masks in the form of violins, from Shakespeare's famous portraits to Fellini's Casanova. Up to the latest creation for Doppia Firma “Medico dell’aria” (The Air Doctor).
This year you worked alongside Philippe Tabet, a French designer, within the “Doppia Firma” project. The artwork you created is highly contemporary and innovative. How did you respond to the challenge when you were submitted the project?
Being inherently a very curious person, I immediately welcomed the challenge when I was offered to work alongside a designer. Working with Philippe was a great incentive, an honour and a significant experience. We managed, in the best way, to transform two typical masks from a very ancient Venetian tradition, into very up-to-date, modern masks, the Plague Doctor and the Moretta. They have become eight futuristic masks, and I am proud to have shared this project with my brother and our workshop, and happy about creating a new mask.
Yours is a most varied and multi-faceted clientele: from Hollywood's stars to the Vatican, from Europe's aristocracy to film productions. How do you combine your clients' requirements with your concept of a mask?
Usually, our clients choose finished masks, complying with our taste. The real challenge starts with the theatre and the film-makers' or screenwriters' requirements: the crucial issue is understanding the soul of the play and interpreting its staging. I love collaborating with diverse art forms.