Masquerade: Where bizarre meets femininity, opening Friday at Leon Gallery

Leon Gallery strives to bring in artists with unique concepts -- from Jimmy Descant's crutches sculptures, commissioning street artist Impossible Winterbourne to make their door sign, to the live circus opening of The Mad Tatters' surrealistic Cirque Voltaire show. This Friday's opening promises another dive into a fantastical realm with "Masquerade," and this time the work of co-owners Matthew Buford and Eric Robert Dallimore will be featured alongside artist Chris Guarino.

Friday's opening features an actual masquerade ball, another experiment in Leon's performing art openings, which Guarino expects it to be a worth-while spectacle. And, if you choose to dress up, you won't be alone.

"A lot of people are excited about dressing up and wearing masks," he says. "Especially all of our friends. I came home yesterday and one of my friends was already wearing their costume. I was like, 'You know it's not for another three days, right?' But really, enough people know about it and our group of friends is large enough, where it will definitely be a full-on masquerade ball."

The ball compliments the theme of the show, which will feature five hand-made masks, posed on mannequins, perched on pedestals, as well as another five-foot mask mounted on the wall. Aside from the masks, photographic pieces by all three artists will also be on display. Guarino says this show has been a vision of his, Buford and Dallimore for the last four years.

"Eric came up with the idea to do this mask show, so he came to me to make masks," he explains. "Then I realized that I wanted to shoot them, too. And then Eric and Matt wanted to bring in their own styles, so we decided to do a collaborative show. We've been waiting for the perfect place to do it, since we need an entire gallery space, and Leon is the perfect place."

Each artist has their own photographic style, says Guarino, and that's what gives the show such an interesting texture. Guarino manipulates his images digitally to get his desired effects, Dallimore uses darkroom techniques to make black and white silver gelatin prints, and Buford uses a solar plate and printing press process. Gaurino explains that although the different styles are striking, a common theme ties all the works together.

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"The whole project is about the juxtaposition between female beauty on one hand, and the bizarre fantasy world on the other," he says. "I know an influence on my art is that I've always liked fairies and the fantasy art realm. That's where 'The Root Fairey' comes from. 'The dragon' was a mask I made before the project, and then I added horns to the model and gave her larger eyes to add softness and keep her femininity. So, you see the balance between both."

"Masquerade kicks off at 7 p.m. this Friday, and runs until 10 p.m., at Leon Gallery (1112 E. 17th Avenue). The show runs through May 3. For more information, visit Leon's Facebook page.

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