(some reflexions from a visit in Greece)


by Riber HANSSON / Sweden

Riber Hansson / Sweden

Beyond an olive grove, framed against the misty blue mountains, stood an abandoned house surrounded by scorched and forgotten crops. The simple composition and the intricate colouring seemed tangible, like a taste or a voice. I was seized with a yearning to leave the coach, step through the dry and crackling vegetation, sit down, lean against the building’s yellowish clay façade and inhale the odour of the crumbling and fallen plaster. And when the wind came flowing down from the mountains like cool champagne I would first remove my mask of protection against the past and then my mask against the future, and bare my true face to the present.

A dream. Which is the genuine face behind all the miens, games and disguises we adopt in our encounter with other people or within the false countenance we don even when encountering ourselves? Just observe someone approaching a mirror and watch the way the mask is adjusted at the very moment their gaze meets their reflection.

It is harder to mask physical gestures, as body language reveals concealed facial expressions. The height of your shoulders and the way you hold your head, the angling of your feet, the movements and positioning of your hands – everything is a reference to your face. Actors know all about this, since facial expressions and body language are the tools of their trade. Experienced, successful politicians use the same tools, in response to which cartoonists use them as a way to reinforce the irony of their satirisation of them.


A common cliché for a cartoon bandit is a black eye-mask.

During the early days of photography an eager crime-fighting Englishman called Galton had the idea of creating a different kind of template in the darkroom to help the police force in their hunt for criminals. He copied and combined the faces of the country’s three worst criminals so as thus to create the archetypal physiognomy of a villain. With the aid of the photo, not only would the guardians of law and order more easily be able to trace suspects but they would also be able to use the image for preventive crime fighting. To his disappointment and surprise, what appeared in the darkroom trays was an engaging and harmonious face.

Beauty is also a mask: a compilation of borrowed fragments from those of us of lesser visual perfection. Nowadays, with the aid of a computer you can combine a large number of different everyday faces: thirty, sixty, or as many as you deem meaningful. The result will always be an attractive face.

Cynics will conclude from this that beauty is thus merely a kind of uninteresting, overvalued average appearance.

Draftsmen will see in this an explanation as to why it is so hard to caricature an attractive face. Anyone who has tried knows it is like trying to caricature a circle by making it rounder than it already is.

Personally, I would select another aspect of beauty. I like attractive faces because they bear the characteristics of everyone I love.


(author is renowned Swedish cartoonist)


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