Man of Many Faces

Man of Many Faces

Michael Gump disguise

It started as an exercise in artistic discipline in 2015. Now Michael Gump can’t seem to stop whipping up disguises.

Courtesy of Michael Gump

When I speak with Michael Gump, he sounds tired. He’s been working long days at his job as a prop master in Los Angeles, getting by on very little sleep. He’s making time to talk with me not about his professional life but about the avocation he’s devoted himself to every day for more than three years – creating a disguise for himself, snapping a picture, and posting it on social media for his 60,000 followers. Lately, he’s been working his way through the rainbow on a six-day schedule, doing six of each color. “I’ve always loved color, and to get really garish with it is just fun,” he says.

As we talk, he mentions that his chin is irritated from the glue he used last night, and this time, he swears, he’s really out of ideas. In a sense, he loves the project he started New Year’s Day in 2015. But it’s hard. “It might break me at some point,” he says with an uneasy laugh.

Why does he keep at it? Let’s hear it from him.
 



It’s late, and i should really be in bed. But never mind that; I’m stepping into my studio to create Disguise No. 1,277, which I’ll photograph and post on Instagram.

Why? It’s what I do; it’s been my daily art practice for 3½ years. Every night, religiously, I spend an hour or two – usually really late, when everyone who’s sane is asleep – making a disguise, using myself as a canvas. Then I snap a selfie, clean up, and drag myself to bed. It’s been forever since I had a decent night’s sleep.

Since January 1, 2015, I haven’t missed a 24-hour period. I make a disguise even when I’m exhausted or sick or stressed out. Even when I’m working 14-hour days at my job as a prop master and art director for various kids’ TV shows. Even when the experience is frustrating, because I don’t have nearly enough time to do something great, and I have to compromise. Even when things get really complicated: The other day, I was evacuated during a wildfire, and I still made a disguise in the wee hours of the morning. I make a disguise even when I’m camping.

This is not my first run at this daily art-practice business. About 20 years ago, I did a painting a day for a year. I cut these pieces of paper all the same size, and when I traveled around, I brought paint with me; at the end of the year, I made a big bound book out of the paintings. And I gave it to my grandmother, whose birthday is January 1. That was fun.

Then, in 2005, I did a mask a day, making and photographing 365 of them. It was more interesting than a painting or a drawing, because I was using my own physical person as a canvas, and that seemed to carry a lot of significance. Immersing myself in the materials had a very visceral effect. It wasn’t just the image; it was the event behind the image production that I found to be an intense physical experience. It was great.

And so it was, on January 1, 2015, that I felt like I should take on another daily art project. The first year making disguises flew by, and at the end, I still had a lot of gas in the tank, so I figured I would just keep going. Then a friend said, “You should publish a book.” And I said, “Yeah!” And then the friend said, “You could call it 1,000 Faces,” and I said, “Wait, what did you say?” That’s how that happened. I passed 1,000 months ago, though.

So why do I keep going, perennially sleep-deprived, often wearing remnants of mascara and green paint, and wandering down grocery store aisles, looking for something, anything, to glue to my face?

Well, there are the little benefits. I’ve got two kids, ages 7 and 10, who now believe that being artistic every day is worthwhile; they get a kick out of my art form. Also, I’m kind of a pack rat. And so, when I tap my collections of things and make a disguise out of them, I can let those things go, because they’ve fulfilled their purpose. Plus, ever since art school, I’ve been most interested in making work that sits between fine art and craft – between the gallery and utility. Here I am, doing that every day.

Finally, maybe this is just who I am. I’ve always had a certain creative restlessness; for me, making things is like breathing, eating, or sleeping. It’s necessary. And even though my job is creative, I’ve still got to make my own art. With my work, my family, and other responsibilities, I don’t have time to act on big, ambitious ideas. But I do have time – if I really stretch – for a disguise a day. The process is challenging, but it’s also quite satisfying. Creatively speaking, stretching is good.

I’d say more about that, but I’m running late. I’ve got to whip up something new in orange – maybe with orange peels or orange juice or those sickeningly sweet orange candy slices. Whatever. I’ll figure it out. It’s what I do.