Patrick Riley sees the world through different eyes. And often, it’s through the eyes of one of his intricate masks.
“You look at our own faces, we are a mask,” he said as he wore one of his colorful leather masks. “I see some of the kids I’ve taught at schools, and the only part you can recognize as they get older is the eyes. The rest of the mask is always changing.”
His decades of experience in mask making have turned him into one of the region’s renowned artists in the medium.
Riley is part of the Oklahoma Arts Council’s Artist in Residency Program and has more than 30 years of experience in making masks. He completed his Master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1971. At that time he primarily worked as a metal smith and designer, working on projects that were physically much larger than the masks that would become his specialty after he became more interested in working with leather.
His art regularly has combined with other arts. In the 1970s, Riley created a set of masks for an Oklahoma City Ballet performance. He’s also made about 100 masks for Prairie Dance Theatre in Oklahoma City.
He created a show and exhibit in the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. that led to an opportunity working with an African dance company in Washington. He also had a gallery in New York in the 1970s and has traveled the world giving exhibitions and finding inspiration for masks.
His travels to Arizona and New Mexico brought Riley into contact with the Navaho and Hopi tribes, where he got a new look at the relevance of masks in those cultures.
“I became very interested in the whole concept of the mask as a spiritual kind of a guide,” he said.
He’s most noted recently for creating a mask used by Lady Gaga during a 2011 performance in Oklahoma City.
“That was fun, I would like to do another mask for her,” he said. “She’s like a lot of other people, she’s created a character and plays it well.”
Riley also spent 10 years as the fine arts director for Oklahoma City Public Schools, where he was instrumental in the launching of the Classen School of Advanced Studies, an arts-focused school for students in grades six through 12.
Some of his larger work can be seen in Shawnee in the form of three relics in front of the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art at St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee. The designs are made out of thick leather and have held up well for more than three years.
Today, when he’s not working on his own projects, Riley spends time conducting workshops and residencies for school districts.
“I tell my wife, I’ve done about everything I could possibly do, so I guess I’ll just go out and keep doing what I’m doing,” he said.
His efforts leave him working with eager audiences or all ages. “I’m truly amazed by the imagination of people,” he said of his workshop participants.
In his tour of hometown libraries this summer, Riley will work with teens to help them design and decorate their own leather masks to take home.
Participants in Riley’s workshop will leave with their own leather mask. The artist will bring a variety of shapes of leather masks to each programs, with participants painting and adding their own design touches to personalize them. He also will give a lesson in how he makes his masks.
Supplies will be provided but are limited in number, so each of Riley’s library workshops will be limited to 20 participants each.