Basic Boney Structure

The Grotesque.

The word “grotesque” comes from the same root as “grotto”, and is thus linguistically connected with the rites of deities that were worshiped in underground temples. Even today some of this subterranean connotation is attached to grotesque art. Though we acknowledge them less freely, we are still plagued with many of the primitive fears that afflicted our cave-dwelling ancestors. We have spread the light of our knowledge a little wider, but the outer darkness still swarms with dimly visioned shapes of dread. Grotesque art is a very human gesture of defiance, making faces at the great dark, thumbing the nose at the unknown.

There is a definite fascination in that which we fear. And in representing or contemplating the object of our fear in art forms we are able to obtain a release from its domination. Even the most determinedly healthy-minded of us are susceptible to the lure of the morbid: the unceasing demand for mystery stories proves this. The Grand Guignol theatre in Paris for years provided a steady diet of morbid shockers. Numerous modern artists have frequently expressed themselves in terms of the grotesque—Hogarth, Daumier, and Goya. In the field of black-and-white, Beardsley and Alastair found the grotesque their most natural and effective vein.

The grotesque is a field in which photography has done very little. Yet experiments in the grotesque may prove very advantageous to the photographer. The constant and hampering trend of his medium is toward excessive literalness. Work with the grotesque compels him to cast aside the props and crutches of similitude and likeness and give his imagination a chance. Even though he subsequently returns to the tight chamer of Things-as-they-are, he will find it occasionally thereafter pierced with windows opening toward the unknown and swept with winds beyond the stars.

The foremost exponents of the art of the grotesque make up are the actors of the Chinese theatre. The portrayers of villains and demons in the Chinese drama have developed a series of highly conventionalized patterns of face painting, magnificent and alarming in red, yellow, white and black. The designs are traditionally established, and many of them are centuries old. Similarly traditional, though much less completely conventionalized, were the make ups of the characters of the Commedia dell’ Arte of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries.

Collodion Make Up.

In the motion picture field the best known exponent of grotesque make up was, of course, the late Lon Chaney. Rather close association with him in two of his pictures palced me in position to speak with a certain amount of authority regarding his use of make up. He especially exploited the methods I am about to describe.

The collodion make up is a difficult process and should not be undertaken without due preparation and understanding. I described the make up for old age as a species of painting for three dimensional effect. The use of collodion takes us into sculpture. Hence its use must be based on a sculptural sense of structure. Chaney’s make ups were definitely structural in their conception. Thus, no matter how extreme they were, they gave a terrifying impression of reality, of flesh and bone. Never did they violate the admonition laid down at the beginning of this chapter that make up must not violate the basic boney structure of the face. To be sure, the structure was often tremendously warped or exaggerated; but it was never lost sight of or contradicted.

Rather than experimenting haphazardly with collodion make up, it is best to attempt a definite problem. Study the model’s face carefully in advance and visualize clearly just what is to be done to it. A grotesque mask or Goya illustration may serve as a starting point. It is also useful to experiment with sketches beforehand. Figure 177 was made under such circumstances. In these sketches, although you may improvise freely and fantastically, be careful never to lose sight of the basic skull structure. (162-164)

February 10, 2006 12:51 AM