Gladys Paulus’ base of operations is in the heart of Frome, an art-centric village in the UK’s south-west where vintage boutiques rub shoulders with galleries and studios displaying a broad array of art styles and mediums. Stepping through the door of the gallery space she shares with several other artists, you may not immediately realise that you are in the presence of an artisan mask-maker, but then you notice a huge, solemn raven watching you from a corner. At the back of the room a bizarre crayfish headdress looks like it might have been unearthed from some Atlantean temple: these are not your average masks.
Paulus uses wool to bring her creations to life, working the raw fibres until they become pliant and can be sculpted into her striking designs. Working in the medium since 2005, and originally self-taught, she prefers ‘local and rare wool breeds’ as well as ‘experimenting with growing and dyeing with plants’, a hands-on and eco-friendly approach both admirable and fitting for her subject matter.
The personal journey which inspires and informs her work is a multicultural one, taking various European and more Eastern influences and weaving them together with a history of both traditional art and – more obviously – theatricality. The result is a unique vision; an alluring and vaguely frightening world steeped in ritual and lore.
As with so much in the world of art, a photograph – no matter how skilfully taken – simply cannot do justice to the real thing. To hold these headdresses in your hands, to feel the weight and softness of them, and inhale that comforting, very earthy aroma of raw wool is to feel a kind of ancient, perhaps pagan magic; to wear one is to transport yourself back to a wilder time and feel momentarily like some feral warlord, tribal sorcerer, or an extra from The Wicker Man.
That said, there’s little doubt that these pieces exude a style and elegance that would not look out of place in a more contemporary setting, either, easily adding unfathomable character to any setting.
Paulus is an artist in the truest sense, drawing on a range of inspirations and unusual materials and creating something entirely new from them, something simultaneously primal and playful.
She takes commissions for work and hosts a number of different felting workshops both in the UK and her native Netherlands – more information about all she’s up to can be found on her website.
More about the artist:
Inspired by the alchemy of the ancient feltmaking process, Gladys’ work explores the notion of transformation. A self-taught feltmaker initially, she has in recent years been fortunate to learn from Fabienne Dorsman-Rey (the Netherlands), Judit Pócs (Hungary), Vilte Kazlauskaite (Lithuania), Chris Lines (UK), Sheila Smith (UK), Ruth Walker (USA) and Pam de Groot (Australia).
Gladys is a member of the International Feltmakers Association, Somerset Art Works and Frome Creative Network. Her work is part of a collective currently on display at the OWL gallery. She has been living and working in the UK since 1995 and currently lives in Frome, Somerset.
Credit for photography: Bella West