Liz Sexton

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Marine Animal Masks by Liz Sexton Spotlight Beloved Species in Lifelike Papier-Mâché

April 28, 2023

Kate Mothes

A lifelike walrus mask.

All images © Liz Sexton, shared with permission. Photography in collaboration with Ben Toht

If you feel like a fish out of water, the saying goes, then you’re probably feeling a little confused or uncomfortable. St. Paul-based artist Liz Sexton gives the simile new meaning with recent marine-themed additions to her ongoing papier-mâché masks series, highlighting the distinctive faces of familiar creatures like walruses, manatees, and polar bears that find themselves out and about on dry land.

Sexton enjoys papier-mâché for its versatility and accessibility, using additional readily available materials like cloth, wire, and acrylic paint to build up each animal’s unique textures, patterns, and colors. Comprising her upcoming solo exhibition Out of Water at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, the lifelike wearable sculptures draw attention to a variety of beings that rely on aquatic ecosystems for survival. Barnacles and belugas are photographed in atmospheric settings by the artist’s partner and collaborator Ben Toht, who captures each animal’s unique details and expressions.

Many of Sexton’s sculptures portray species that, in their native habitats, are under threat as they increasingly become entangled in nets and suffer the effects of the climate crisis. The delicate and often awkward balance between the human-made environment and natural ecosystems is highlighted in photographs of the masks in atmospheric settings by the artist’s partner and collaborator Ben Toht. The portraits playfully juxtapose the creatures with unusual locations like a grocery store freezer aisle, a campground, or a laundromat.

Out of Water opens May 6 and continues through September 3 in Winona, and you can find more work on the artist’s website and Instagram.


A figure wears a lifelike anglerfish mask.

A figure wears a lifelike barnacles mask.

A figure wears a lifelike beluga mask at the edge of a swimming pool.

A figure wears a lifelike marine iguana mask.

A figure wears a lifelike polar bear mask.

A figure wears a lifelike sea turtle mask.

A figure wears a lifelike trunkfish mask and waits at a train station.

A figure wears a lifelike manatee mask in a laundromat.





Papier-Mâché Masks Crafted by Liz Sexton Bring Animals to Human Scale

February 11, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images © Liz Sexton, shared with permission

Rejecting anthropocentrism, Liz Sexton wants to break down the boundary between human and animal life. The Minneapolis-based artist creates large papier-mâché pieces of foxes, owls, and other wild animals designed to be worn by humans, creating a hybrid being that she often situates in non-natural environments, like a rat near the subway lines or a porcupine fish out of water.

Sexton began making her facial masks a few years ago after constructing a couple of Halloween costumes, although she’s worked with the versatile paper material for many years. Made of brown paper, paste, and paper pulp, each piece takes a couple of weeks, if not months, to create. The artist tells Colossal that her “hope is that the viewer gains not only awareness of the animal but a sense of kinship and empathy.”

I often work on species facing existential threats, such as marine life, though I suppose this uncertainty applies to most animals at this point. Photographing the animal heads worn out of their natural habitats, and in our immediate world, highlights the displacement that many creatures experience. I also enjoy working on animals that likely live very close to us but we don’t necessary see. Bringing them out into our human habitats, on a human scale, they become neighbors, commuters, a visible part of our community.

When not being worn, Sexton’s masks rest flat on the floor, appearing as a bust and adding to the reverential quality she hopes to inspire. For more of the artist’s animalistic projects—and to see the miniature rhinos, bears, and zebras she recently created for The New York Times Style Magazine⁠—head to Instagram.