Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Lewis Mallard Flies Solo- and Unmasked- In Latest Exhibit

Hamiltonian performance artist Lewis Mallard plans to unveil his human form at his upcoming art exhibit, hosted by FARSIDE bar.

Have you ever witnessed the six-foot mallard duck, with neon orange leggings and matching converse, waddling around downtown Hamilton? No? Well, you’re missing out.

Lewis Mallard, the performance art project of the anonymous creator behind his mask, has become a sort of urban legend amongst Hamiltonians. Known for showing up at large events and lingering amongst the crowd, or walking about downtown for any lucky passerby to spot- nowadays you can find his bill almost anywhere, from the Locke Street Donut Monster storefront, to murals painted by the artist across the city, and even on beer cans in collaboration with Merit Brewing.

For the first time ever, the bird will be unveiling his true form publicly at an art exhibit on Thursday, September 8th, 2022- about three years exactly since his original introduction. The duck was born from a mushroom trip in Gage Park, where the man behind the mallard laid in the grass to de-stress, and envisioned a large Lewis trapped underneath the grounds.

“It felt like a mental vacation,” said Mallard. “There was some sort of church gathering there, everybody was taking turns going up on stage and talking about how they found Jesus. At that point I was having auditory hallucinations, everybody sounded like Charlie Brown’s parents. It was a positive feeling, these were people who were trying to better themselves, and who found something that changed their life. I was looking at the stage, and I thought, “That’s an eye. That’s the eye of a magical beast who lives in this park, and it is trapped underground. I’m going to set it free.”

Although familiar with Hamilton for years beforehand, Lewis first moved to The Steel City between 2017 and 2018 to aid his sister in caring for their dying father. Right as Mallard approached his 40th birthday, the artist quit his full-time job in Toronto when the commuting became too difficult. When his father passed, he moved into a studio downtown, and began approaching art for the first time in eight years.

“When I moved into my studio space in August of 2019, I very much had Lewis in mind- although I didn’t have a name or a look for the character,” said Mallard. “I had planned to launch the project at Supercrawl, so once I moved in I had about a month to find the name, come up with the look, create the costume, I had a crazy month of work for myself. I think a lot of people who are in emotional distress tend to throw themselves into something, or else it tends to consume you, you know?”

Learning to Swim

His character’s name, Lewis Mallard, was directly inspired by one of the artist’s favourite Canadian folk art legends, Maud Lewis.

“I had been a fan of her work since I visited the East Coast and went to, I think, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and saw a show of hers and a replica of her house,” said Mallard. “This woman, the work she made, the lifestyle she led and her dedication to it was amazing.”

According to Mallard, he never quite took a liking to performance artists. It wasn’t an art form the creative quite understood- until he witnessed a performance at Nuit Blanche in 2011, the Toronto all-night arts festival.

“One time at Nuit Blanche, there were these two artists who did this tennis performance– they reenacted a famous tennis match between two famous tennis players (Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe).” said Mallard. “I’m not much of a tennis guy myself, but these were two very recognizable players. They (actors) were both rather good casual players, but they did this match like a play, and performed it many times throughout the night- they would go hit for hit just like in the match, all the same words were said, and that’s the kind of performance art I can get behind. Something so obscure with so much work put behind it, that’s interesting to me.” 

After practicing getting in and out of the suit, Mr. Mallard mustered up the courage to take Lewis to the streets, introducing him during Supercrawl of 2019.

“I would interact with as many people as I could, and kind of just see, alright, what were people’s boundaries?” said Mallard. “I would naturally try not to get too close to people, both for my own safety, but I’m also this big, giant thing made up of chicken wire and paper mache. I realized I was kind of dangerous too, especially to like, very short people, children, dogs. You know? If I turned around too quickly, or whatever. I would hit walls and stuff all the time and need to make small repairs, but over time I learned more spatial awareness.”

“It’s a wild ride in there”

Lewis Mallard

Walking around in a large duck costume tends to attract attention, and as Lewis has experienced time and time again, he attracts more than just positivity. 

“It’s a wild ride in there,” said Mallard. “I can’t really see well, or hear well, and people bang on it all the time, and it scares the shit out of me. I’ve been hit with a stick once, had to repair the costume multiple times, but I’ve never been in actual danger to myself.”

Lewis Mallard in costume. Photo by Geoff Fitzgerald (@gfitzyphoto)

Children tend to cause a scene, encouraging Lewis to avoid them at all costs.

“Once they realize that you’re not going to do anything, they’re kind of free, and start recognizing the power they have over adults a lot of the time,” said Mallard. “When the parents aren’t parenting, my life’s a nightmare. I’ve been chased by a group of ten year-olds. They’re strong, they break my costume!”

It tends to get philosophical inside of that paper mache body, as Lewis began noticing the way strangers walked, talked, and looked at him differently.  

“It’s a weird way to observe people, because they’re not necessarily aware they’re being watched,” said Mallard. “All of a sudden people were looking at me in a way I’ve never been looked at before. People are inadvertently making eye contact with me, and I just kept thinking, “Wow, no one has ever looked at me like that before. It’s kind of therapeutic in a way.”

Unmasking the Duck

On Thursday, September 8th, 2022, Lewis Mallard will be unveiling his true form beneath the paper mache mass at FARSIDE bar on James Street. 

“It’s mainly for convenience: it’s terribly inconvenient to be anonymous,” said Mallard. “It makes a lot of work for me. Anytime I’ve tried to set up commerce for a booth or something, I basically have to have someone there with me to do all of the talking and the hand-to-hand stuff for me. I tried to do it in a hybrid costume I made, which was just like a head and a tracksuit, but it did not go well.”

Lewis will quit the quack at his art exhibition, and speak on his work as both a visual artist, and a performance artist- although you won’t find many glimpses of the pieces to be revealed online, as Mallard prefers online privacy.

“So little is a surprise nowadays, everybody shows everything on social media- and I don’t really like social media, but it’s also something I have to work with,” said Mallard. “I’m always struggling with my relationship with it; I spend too much time on it, I don’t like to do it, I feel bad for taking people’s attention. The only way I was comfortable putting myself out there was to stay private for a while, I feel like I’ve got a lot more confidence now.” 

Don’t take this moment for granted, however- as the duck will remain anonymous online. If you’d like to take a glimpse of the artist’s fleshy form, you’re going to have to show up to the exhibit. 

“I won’t be posting my face on social media or anything like that, I’m not nearly good looking enough,” said Mallard. “If you want to meet me, you have to come out to the show. There’s a lot of people I’ve met who have refused to look at me, put their hand up and look down at the floor, because they want it to remain a mystery- and I respect that.”

Want to see a different side to Lewis Mallard? The artist says his pieces on display at FARSIDE lean more serious, compared to the creative’s regular aliens, ducks and silly sense of humor. Don’t worry about cover, though- the event is free to attend.

“The work I’ve made for the show is a little different than the paintings I’ve put out there before, maybe sometimes a little more serious,” said Mallard. “I’m looking forward to seeing what people have to say about it!”

Event Details:

Who: Lewis Mallard
What: B.Side Gallery @ FARSIDE bar (288 James Street North)
When: Opening Reception with Lewis Mallard on September 8, 2022 from 8pm – 2am.
Exhibit Length: September 8 – October 11
For More Info: https://www.instagram.com/p/Chj4llFOdG2/?hl=en

Sarah Jessica Rintjema
Sarah Jessica Rintjemahttps://www.sarahshotspot.com/
Sarah Jessica Rintjema (she/her) is a music and arts journalist and live music photographer based in Hamilton, Ontario, and working within the GTHA. Besides running a Canadian arts promotional blog titled Sarah's Hotspot where she interviews local artists about recent single, album, and music video releases, Sarah Jessica hosts a podcast called HOTSHOTS where she dives deep into industry issues with local artists, which inspired her weekly radio show on Mohawk College's 101.5 The Hawk every Tuesday at 7PM, called HOTSHOTS On Air. You can contact Sarah Jessica through email, Instagram, or through the contact form on her website. Profile photo by Christopher Arndt.

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