INTERVIEW: Park Pardon 'An enchanting series of masks'

The work of Antwerp artists Bloeme van Bon & Geran Knol, Park Pardon’s one-off works pull from drawing, publishing and sculptural mediums — both practicing illustrators, the duo began Park Pardon in 2012, a collaborative project that sees their individual styles come together to form a new narrative. From Park Pardon's most recent series "Schijngelaten" this ongoing collection of masks explores identity and the inherent use of masks in celebrations and commemorations across global cultures. Each mask is beautifully hand-formed using papier-mâché techniques and hand painted and no two are ever a like. We chatted with the inspiring duo about the creation of Park Pardon, their practice and working together. 

Can you tell us a little bit about each of yourselves, where did you grow up? Where do you live now? How did you meet?   
We both grew up on the countryside of the Netherlands, in small villages of a province called Friesland (in the upper North). We grew up only a ten-minute ride from each other, but only met during our studies in Zwolle, around 2010. We noticed a lot of similarities in our interests and became friends while in school. We decided to work together and started Park Pardon as our graduation project in 2012. A year later we both moved to Antwerp (Belgium) where we received a MA Degree in Arts at St. Lucas and we still both live and work there.

What's Antwerp like at the moment?  
During the pandemic it’s been very quiet obviously, at the moment museums are open but a lot of events are postponed. We like Antwerp for its historical buildings and character but wish there could be less cars and more trees. 

How did Park Pardon begin? 
When studying we began doing projects together, mostly drawing, but in our final year we decided to start Park Pardon. For our graduation project we created several publications paired with a number of life-sized paper-maché dolls. We wanted to interpret our drawings into sculptural pieces and that was definitely the starting point of everything that came after. At the time we were both fascinated by the movies of Jan Švankmajer, who used a lot of doll-like and fascinating characters with a dark undertone. Our first sculptures had actual hair, sourced from hairdressers in Utrecht where we lived at the time. They were much more human-like, and throughout the years we developed a different approach to where it is less about a human interpretation and more an abstract take. 

Why did you choose to work together? How do you’re individual styles compliment one another?  
We always felt like making things together over time. For us it happens quite naturally while also being best friends. Our process comes down to making everything together, discussing every aspect, making compromises and having fun meanwhile. When working together we try to push each other into making something we wouldn’t or couldn’t make ourselves, and it’s a good way for us to let go of personal restrictions.

The series of masks — how would you describe this body of work? 
We have a joint and ongoing fascination for faces and characters. The possible variations of masks for “Schijngelaten” are so wide that we can keep on taking different takes and approaches to a face. Even if we make them in a larger quantity now, they’re still handmade and have a certain tactility, which we definitely want to keep. 

 What does “Schijngelaten” mean?   
“Verschijning” literally means appearance, and “schijn” can also be translated as “phantasm” or “appearance”. “Gelaat” is a face. So it’s an unreal appearance sort of; we thought of it as a suitable synonym for mask.  

Can you tell us more about the processes involved? 
We use a cellulose-based pulp that dries and acts like a kind of clay. It’s being applied to a mould, where we already apply some facial features we want on the mask. This is all very intuitive, and we usually make around ten to fifteen at a time. When dry it becomes as solid as a rock almost, then the painting process starts. A mask usually gets several layers of paint before we decide it’s finished, and every mask has been painted by both of us, until we are both satisfied. The painting is intuitive as well. We try to always have a wide variety of faces and a lot of masks are gender-neutral. It’s not something we actively try to do but rather something that happens naturally. We don’t sketch out ideas, but sometimes a mask can have a completely different base we started with before it gets varnished at the end.

What influences and inspires you the most in your work (regarding the masks)?  

We usually work off of each other’s ideas. It can be a certain colour that’s been applied that indicates a certain brushstroke and at the same time we reference a lot of different things but at the base of the project we are mostly inspired by the wide cultural history of a mask in its different descents, meanings, shapes and sizes. How they were used worldwide to celebrate and used during rituals, going back in time in several different cultures. We both are also very inspired by primitive folk art and the direct approach and the certain urge or need the artists felt making their work, usually without any reference or context but rather the love of making.

How do you balance your individual work with your collaborative work? The best thing about working together?  
For Park Pardon we usually work in periodic phases, depending on what we’re working on. Now that we’re working on Schijngelaten the past year(s) it has been challenging to find time to work on our individual work, but it’s a matter of good planning. Even though there are similarities in our individual work we both make different choices in our artistic approach so it’s really fun to bring those together in Park Pardon. Having fun was the reason to start this project and will always be the most important aspect going forward.

What are you listening to at the moment?  
We have made some radio shows together, they can give a good view on the music we listen to:

Favourite object in your house or studio right now?  
We both have an eye for antique / vintage furniture and peculiar (handmade) objects. Geran has a collection of hand-carved wooden heads he found throughout the years, Bloeme recently found a second hand Martin Visser for Spectrum sofa from the 1960’s.

And finally, what’s next for Park Pardon?  
We try to not plan ahead too much, and will continue ‘Schijngelaten’ while also exploring new views and takes on it. We recently did a collaboration with Objects & Sounds, a mood-based record store from Ghent for which we created eight masks that instead of being hung on a wall can act as a support to hold records. We would love to one day gather all the masks we ever made and present them altogether in an exhibition but that might be impossible to achieve.