An interview with mask artist Lia Mesme on creativity

Originally published at The Creativity Toolbox

Lia Mesme is a Swedish mask artist, screenwriter, composer and actress.
Lia’s goal is to help fight against the stigma of depression and mental illness through art and has organised many exhibitions and workshops that focus on that goal.

Official Website:
Lia on Twitter

Could you briefly describe your creative process?

My creative process starts with finding a purpose that’s fuelled by passion.

I’m searching for different energies that are influencing my life at the moment, and that’s what I’m painting on my masks. Once I’ve identified that energy, it opens the door to the subconscious mind, and there’s the seed of an idea, the untold story I wish to bring up to the surface.

Then, I begin designing, and decide which colours and symbols I’m going to use that are related to the story I want to tell with my masks.

Who or what have been your greatest influences in your life in regard to creativity?

I’ve always been fascinated with masks, especially with the Venetian carnival masks. They conceal and reveal at the same time.

The more we want to hide, the more we expose ourselves.

When I understood that art was a way of self-expression, and through my art I could quiet my racing mind, I started working with two great forces, beauty and pain. I believe these two go hand in hand.

When you let the struggle inspire you, it turns your pain into beauty, darkness into light, and fear into freedom.

What are your greatest artistic challenges and how do you overcome them?

My greatest artistic challenge is fear of growing. My art is already carrying a deep subject, and I know I still haven’t reached the bottom of it yet, so there may be even deeper things that have to come up to the surface. The only way to overcome this is to keep pushing myself and stretch my boundaries, so my true self can shine through my art eventually.

I keep reminding myself that there is no right or wrong way in art.

Art is life; it’s an unstoppable process, just like growing.

My other big challenge is also related to growing. Many times we don’t want to step out of our comfort zone because everything is predictable and calm there. As an artist, I must step out because my mind is filled with so many questions that this usually results in insomnia if I don’t start dealing with them soon. To get rid of this restlessness, I have to dive into the unknown where I can start discovering and experimenting with new colours, shapes, and materials.

Your work deals with mental illness. Can you tell us a bit more about the ways in which art and mental illness are related and how you work to fight against the stigma of mental illness, particularly in relation to masks?

​I like to compare the connection between mental illness and art to the Hindu god, Shiva (the god of destruction and creation). I believe art is a form of therapy where I’m working with destructive forces such as depression, anxiety, and much more so that I can create something new that over-shines the darkness.

My art is a message to those who can relate and to those who are judging mentally ill individuals.

The stigma that surrounds mental illness is strong, and judgment usually comes from people who lack knowledge about this topic.

​If we think about Shiva again, destruction doesn’t have to be a negative thing. I destroy darkness with my art and bring the light to the surface. I try to destroy ignorance and stigmatisation of mental illness with enlightening people. If someone cannot accept that mental illness is real just because it’s invisible, I ask them to look at my masks. That invisible force, those destructive thoughts created them and made them physically real.

​How would you describe your development as an artist (e.g. finding your own voice, seeking new opportunities, developing working relationships, etc.)?

I’m always open to search for new learning opportunities. I’m a seeker, and I can find inspiration almost everywhere and in every situation. I’m not only a mask maker, but a dancer, actress, writer, and former therapist too. I’ve gained experiences through these fields, and it helped me to find my own unique voice.

I consider myself an introvert, but I’m pushing my boundaries and try to work in more extroverted fields as well, such as being a broadcaster and have my own talk show where I can connect with other creative, like-minded people.

Is there a vision/project you haven’t been able to realise yet due to thing like time, money, technology etc.?

Due to lack of time, I have to put aside a project for now. I would like to make an art book and showcase my work. Most of my masks have already been sold, so I will have to remake them for the photoshoot which is time-consuming, but once they are done, I can organise an exhibition too. It’s also possible that in the close future I will move to LA where I will find new inspiration, new vibes, and new ways in art, so there will be many projects I want to work on, or maybe even collaborate with other artists.

What do you love most about what you do? What do you dislike about it?

When working on a piece of art, I love the feeling of freedom. I stop existing in the present, and I end up being in a magical fantasy world where there are no rules, only colours, and pure feelings.

I never really liked reality, so I created my own little special world where I could refill my soul with sunshine.

I love to bring my masks to life. It’s wonderful to see how those white plaster of Paris faces begin to breathe when I start painting and shaping them. They are the mirror of my soul.

There are not many things I dislike about what I do. However, it’s disappointing when I get a vivid vision in my mind but I can’t execute the idea. Sometimes, I’m also impatient and I feel frustrated when I need to work on the details for long hours, but it’s always worth it.

No pain, no gain, right?

What advice would you give to someone who was unsure about how to or what to create?

My advice would be to forget about time. Don’t just live in the present. Search for stories, unanswered questions, and feelings from your past. See what energies your past can unleash. You don’t have to always find an answer to all of your questions. If you make your art there is your answer to the question. It’s a mirror of your soul.

Also, try to work at different times of the day. You will notice how different the morning vibes are comparing to the night vibes. For example, I love to stay up late and work on my art until early morning. The world is so quiet at that time, and I can hear the inspirational voices in my head much clearer. I feel a stronger connection to nature, and there is some sort of warm peace in the atmosphere at that time.

Do you have any quotes or a motto that you live your life by or think about often?

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” by Nietzsche.
I love this quote, and I can see this as a good way to describe artists’ lives. Those who are trying to stand out and follow their own dreams are often being criticised by people who don’t understand their true nature, and that’s why they consider these artists to be insane or sometimes even dangerous.

Favourite book(s)?

I love reading philosophy books. My two favourite philosophers are Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer.

I am also fascinated with Japanese culture, and the “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden will always have a special place in my heart.

Another one is “Veronika Decides to Die” by Paulo Coelho. It’s a wonderful story of a vulnerable young woman who fights her inner demons and becomes a real warrior. It’s a story of hope, and that’s exactly the same message I want to send to the world. ​