The stories behind the paintings: Susan Makara’s new Masks book

“We all wear masks,” says Susan Makara. “Our true feelings and thoughts are not always revealed for others to see.” In 2010, the artist began developing this intriguing premise into paintings that infused masks from various cultures with a passion for symbolism and fantasy. The resulting series has beguiled visitors to Makara’s studio—and earned her the distinction of Torpedo Factory Artist of the Year in 2012.
Just in time for the holidays, Makara has gathered her Mask series into a gorgeous 68-page book that features all 22 paintings, as well as behind-the-scenes stories, sketches and ideas for future works, and a look at how she turns ideas into finished art. From clashing Japanese Noh theater masks and political disguises to fishy women and mythical beings, Makara’s paintings have prompted strong responses; one even sold when it was unfinished on her easel.

“Reaction to the series has been powerful,” she says. “Sometimes people say my work should be in Hollywood or incorporated into characters in video games. Just this week I was interviewed seven times by NOVA students. These paintings are powerful magnets.”

Makara’s love of storytelling recently gained her a weird and wonderful commission: several paintings for Legend of the Bunnyman, a rock opera based on the tale of an ax-wielding figure in a rabbit costume who reportedly threatened locals in Fairfax County in 1970. The show is currently being performed and recorded by the Mantua Finials; Makara’s paintings each represent both a character in the story and a member of the band.

“I’m the witch,” she says with a mischievous smile, pointing to a photo of the band showing off their portraits during their Halloween gig at the Torpedo Factory. Little wonder that Makara took so strongly to a show that envelops audiences in mystery and myth. All of her recent work shows the timelessness of costumes and masks in myriad forms—and the secrets that hide behind each work of art.

Meet Susan Makara and purchase copies of Masks at the Torpedo Factory in studio  335. Check out more of her work at, and support her friends the Mantua Finials by checking out the Legend of the Bunnyman page.

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