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James McGann’s handmade Halloween masks. Image: Anneke Rautenbach

Some say the height of fancy dress was when the most famous architects of the New York City skyline came to the annual Beaux-Arts ball dressed up as the buildings they created. Well, local artist James McGann (a.k.a. Maskbread) is giving it a run for its money with his handmade, papier-mâché Halloween masks. In fact, it’s exactly the meticulous attention to detail that went into the homemade Halloween costumes of yore that inspires him. “Everyone spent so much time crafting these beautiful costumes and going out. The whole feeling of that time was something that really spoke to me.”

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James McGann models his dickhead mask. Image: Anneke Rautenbach

As for his subject matter – well, you’ve got your traditional pumpkins and ghouls. But you’ve also got lions, pigs, watermelons and human genitalia. McGann, who sells the masks on Bedford Avenue and in Union Square, says the public has been pleasantly receptive to these less traditional costumes. “I sold a white uncircumsized penis and a brunette bush together as a pair.”

Pointing to a black circumsized penis and a ginger bush, he says, “I made those two because I got such a good response. I was worried about people with kids saying I’m an asshole, but I’ve had people with kids come up to me and say these are beautiful, and say to their kids, you know, ‘That’s a girl’s parts and that’s a boy’s parts.’ Old women have come by and said they really love them. In fact, the most negative feedback I got was from young guys in Williamsburg.”

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The Union Square Underwear Man meets Maskbread. Photo: Dan Foley

McGann’s operation is informal and sporadic; he simply whips out his furry, dark-maroon mat when he has the chance and evenly spreads out his masks on top of it. This makes for some valuable chance encounters – most recently with performance artist Matthew Silver, otherwise known as the The Great Performer. But, says McGann, “you don’t have to be an artist to appreciate this stuff. Here in New York there are all these galleries and museums where all the walls are white and you can’t touch anything, and I think it deters a lot of people from wanting to get involved. On the streets people can come up and touch them, try them on. I think art should be for everybody.”

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Image: Anneke Rautenbach