AHHHH – Shay Lhea! I remember clearing taking my seat at my first Vancouver Alternative Fashion Week (VALT).I noticed her right away. She was tall, beautiful and had a unique style all her own. She had presence. Accompanying her was another striking woman who I later found out was her mother – Suzann Kingston of Touch The Art. Obviously great genes!

My memory is a little hazy but I’m sure I saw them both for part of the evening wearing these truly unusual masks. I am always drawn to the unusual and Shay was definitely in my sights as someone I wanted to connect with. Then came the surprise when took her bows at the end of the Oculto Mask show. I had no idea she was one of the designers showing that night.

If you’ve never had a chance to see one of Shay’s amazing creations, you’ve missed something very special. Sold under the label Oculto Masks, the pieces she creates defy description. Each is a wildly creative wearable objets d’art, with no two alike. While she is most known for her masks, this self-taught artist also offers a line of unique hats which she encourages clients wear on a daily basis.

This interview has been a long time coming. I’m so glad the day finally arrived. Enjoy!

8Q Spotlight Shay Lhea

What is your current career(s) – paid and unpaid?

I’m currently a masquerade mask designer! I launched my own business several years ago and sell my creations online which gives me access to the global community, as opposed to limiting myself to a storefront, in just one city.

Can you share an interesting thing (or two) about your journey to reach this moment?

One thing I never took into account when creating Oculto Masks, was that so many people around the world would be wanting masks for so many different things! When I started, I only really had masquerade parties in mind, but now I’ve sold a collection of masks to a rock group in Denmark who wanted to change their band’s look, opera singers and performance artists, several couples getting married who decided to make their weddings masquerade-themed and even a Reiki Master who plans to wear a mask during the classes he teaches. People are incredibly imaginative, which in turn makes me want to create even more.

What 3 things would you like people to know about you to give them a sense of who you really are?

I think people would be best off if they knew these three things about me –

  1. I may look sweet on the outside, but I’m actually more like that insanely salty dutch black licorice on the inside. Kind of a shocking, unexpected, acquired taste one wouldn’t expect to encounter when looking at me.
  2. I think my masks provide a startlingly accurate picture of how my mind works. They’re heavily detailed, meticulously constructed, dark and bizarre (rather than whimsical and playful), and genderless in their construct. I use glass, leather, suede and steel on many of them, giving them an untouchable, inhuman feeling. That’s me in a nutshell.
  3. I hold myself to incredibly high standards, but strangely I don’t expect this of others. I’m able to live and let live very easily without impressing my values on everyone around me, which makes me easy to be with… once you get past the salt licorice.

Highest moment so far?

I’m not at liberty to speak of it freely or in great detail, but if it comes to fruition, my masks may be used in a highly anticipated Hollywood production sometime next year!

What are you working on right now? In the next 6 months?

Right now I’m currently working on adding more high-end pieces to my couture mask line, which may hopefully (in the future) be shown in galleries and in various art installations around North America. Although, it does seems to be a never-ending goal, at least I’m not short on creativity!

Who and/or what inspires you?

Primarily film inspires me. I’m a cinephile. I love criterion films and unusual fantasy or horror-based pictures like The Cell, Tarsem Singh’s The Fall, Session 9, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain etc – films heavy on mood and visually-stunning metaphor.

How do you personally define success?

Success is being able to do what keeps your soul buoyant and get paid for it so you’re not restricted to eating grass because you spent all your money on your passion… and now buying food isn’t an option. Success is also about inspiration – not only my own, but the people who wear my work as well. I would consider myself successful right now, because I know that I’m inspiring others to be more creative and engage their imagination when they wear my masks.

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to embrace this career?

My advice for someone wanting to embrace this career… or ANY career in The Arts is this: Do NOT think about how many other people are doing what you’re doing. Do NOT compare your work to any other person’s work. Your expression is yours and it’s purest when it’s not influenced by anyone else. Do NOT think that you’ll never make it. Why? Because there are over 7 billion people on this planet. If you can find one person who loves your work enough to buy it or hire you… you’ll be able to find hundreds, if not thousands. It just takes perseverance and wanting to do things for yourself instead of waiting for others to hold your hand and help you. You can totally do it. I promise.

Links –

Website – www.ocultomasks.carbonmade.com/