Halloween is nipping at our heels, and kids everywhere are getting in the spirit with creepy masks, vampire fangs and maybe even a little fake blood. But a group of adult artists has a question: why should kids have all the scary fun?
Their answer is Freaky Fright Nights, a gallery show filled with monsters, zombies and ghouls. The annual event is unofficially lorded over by a masked artist known as the Ambassador of Halloween. I visited the gallery, Space 242 in Boston’s South End, during installation. And I just have to say I’ve never walked into a gallery to find its curator and artists — serious artists — discussing the most effective way to wear fake human ears.
“It’s so gross, they’re just gross,” said gallery director Ami Bennitt with glee. The spacious room is packed with art of the macabre. There’s everything from nightmarish dolls, to day-glo paintings of skulls, to a wooden checkers set pitting ghosts (or are they mummies?) against vampires.
Bennitt has been organizing Freaky Fright Nights for the past three Halloweens, and says the opening party is so popular she actually holds two.
“It's a time where all the freaks can be extra freaky,” Bennitt said, “where people who wouldn’t ordinarily wear costumes or blood or big ears will do so, all of the above. And mostly where the grown-ups get to be kids."
“I think Halloween is way better than Christmas," she added. "I don’t know how others feel.”
In this space at least, Bennitt is among kindred spirits, including the Ambassador of Halloween — aka Mr. Reusch.
“I loved Halloween, it was so much fun it was like my birthday and Christmas and the last day of school and New Year's Eve all rolled into one!”
Bennitt nicknamed Mr. Reusch the Ambassador because he lives and breathes Halloween, 365 days a year. His paintings, illustrations and masks are a consistent homage to all things creepy. Bennitt has known the artist for about ten years, and said she's seen candy corns falling out of his pockets. When she visited Mr. Reusch's house, Bennitt recalled it was like a museum of Halloween.
“There were masks and ghouls and toys and candy and just orange everything," she described, laughing. "Everything he has is just crazy orange and black!”
On the evening of my gallery visit the Ambassador arrived in one of his many, hand-crafted costumes.
“I’m wearing a humongous masking tape and wire mask of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, one of my favorite monsters,” he explained before telling me how he made it. “I bought a black turtleneck and black jeans and I painted them with the same acrylic and glow-in-the-dark paint. I have hands and feet — or claws and feet — but they match, too, so you don’t see any skin and it’s very convincing that even though I’m a guy in painted clothes it’s like I’m really the Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
To listen to him talk it’s hard to believe Mr. Reusch is 37-years-old. He is obviously obsessed. Which makes me wonder: how does one become the Ambassador of Halloween?
“When I was very, very little I saw a ghost come out of my closet,” the artist recalled, “and my dad loved Halloween and ever since then I’ve been crazy about Halloween. I used to watch Creature Double Feature on Channel 56.”
Mr. Reusch says a lot of the stuff that he loved as a kid never went away.
“A lot of kids love drawing, then they stop drawing. I actually quit little league so I could keep drawing. It’s just very very fun to have scary stuff all the time coming out of your paint brushes and all over your walls.”
Illustrator and sometimes commercial mask-maker Derek Ring agrees. He’s got a few pieces hanging in the Freaky Fright Nights show, and is a fan of Halloween — and of the Ambassador. Ring’s body of work includes countless zombies and a version of Mary Shelley’s iconic monster, Frankenstein.
“That’s the one that sticks with you,” Ring said. “It’s the big original zombie that’s made out of all the other zombies.”
Ring also says Frankenstein can look or be like anything, and that’s why the cobbled-together creature is so appealing to a certain set of artists.
“It could look like a total monster, he could have any of Mr. Reusch’s crazy heads, or a guy like mine who’s sort of stapled together and duct tape around the middle," Ring explained, adding, "Also, green skin and stitches are fun.”
Having fun with your inner-ghoul is the point of all of this art-making, according to the Ambassador, Mr. Reusch. In contemplating his deep connection to the scary side of life, he mused, “I feel like it’s very freeing to put on a monster mask and stop being yourself, and you can be that creature and run around and move like it would." Then, with a quick gasp Mr. Reusch added, "it’s exhilarating!”
I can't argue with Mr. Reusch on that point, because — in the interest of full journalistic disclosure, I admit — Halloween is my favorite holiday, too.
The exhibition at Space 242 is open now through Nov. 12. The second opening/costume ball is Friday night, 6-8 p.m. There's an artist talk next Friday, Nov. 5, and gallery hours Friday, Nov. 12.
This program aired on October 29, 2010.