Richard Sturtridge is a behind-the-scenes kind of guy— perpetually covered in paint, paper mache and sawdust. However, his debut mask collection, ironically, broke the artist, woodworker, designer, photographer and art director’s anonymity. The artisanal disguises were the perfect excuse to pull back the curtain and step center stage .
In a neighborhood referred to by locals as the Nations, the Nashville, Tennessee artist works out of a renovated church. Art has always been his therapy, release and form of amusement. The self-proclaimed hermit loves nothing more than to hide away in his fortress dreaming up scenarios, characters and ulterior universes.
The cow, a recurring subject in Sturtridge’s work, is symbolic of his upbringing on a dairy farm. At age four, promptly after his parent’s divorce, his mother moved the family from Canada, where he was born, to her native Dorset, England. There, the young boy became smitten with the gentle, smart and strong creatures. His spirit animal would later grace t-shirts, paintings and coloring books in the form of a caricature.
During this time, with few electronic distractions, the budding illustrator began developing his drawing skills. A natural-born illustrator, he was fascinated by facial expressions, and modeled much of his early work after classic Walt Disney cartoons.
In 1989, after working as an art director and designer in Toronto for years, Sturtridge landed in Nashville with a country music singer. While he was managing her career at the time, the day after their arrival, her contract fell a part. He immediately began investing his creativity, time and energy into Music Row. In the world of number-ones, Sturtridge worked on campaigns and cover art for some of Arista Records’ most popular country artists including Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson and Pam Tillis. However, once he realized his run was up, he chose to set aside all technology and modernity to make things with his hands.
In 1996, Sturtridge and his second wife started Jalan-Jalan, an Indonesian import company for which he designed, refinished and rendered furniture. On a whim, they decided to ship goods back from Bali, get a warehouse and open up a public gallery. On that trip, Richard first realized that he was attracted to the dark side.
“In Bali you felt as though your life was in your hands,” he explains. “Animal slaughters and sacrifices were common sightings in that odd, dangerous and uncomfortable place.”
Sturtridge’s fascination with the sinister cultural traditions, and the couple’s mutual passion for their product, was fuel for the concept to take off. The experience eventually led to his own business, the Painted Cow Furniture, which carved out his woodworking niche—transforming original, antique doors into contemporary dinner tables.
In late 2014, he was invited to the Dark Arts Holiday Masquerade Ball at the Riverwood Mansion. For the occasion, Sturtridge assembled his first mask and straight away, the inanimate objects gained momentum. From “museum quality” to “squirm-in-your-seat creepy” every voyeur had a uniquely visceral response. It was the validation he needed to create a full collection for for taxidermy and oddity boutique, Hail Dark Aesthetics. The goal was to create art that was both wearable and display-worthy. “Unique, primitive and slightly imperfect, in a human way, is what I was going for,” he explains.
Symbolic of the pretenses we all put on, the masks change as lighting conditions vary. They are inspired by the artist’s belief that underneath we are all the same. If we tap into our sixth sense, like Sturtridge, we can see the essence of others. Our spirit can then dance on the surface.
He wants the masks to give others the strength to step out and be themselves—both on a creative and human connection level.