Exploring the mystery beyond the masks
By Heather Killen
It may be a bit late for Mardi Gras, but a diverse group of artists has produced a carnival of work that celebrates the madness and mystery of love.
Love and Monsters, an exhibit opening in Bear River on Feb. 15, showcases the work of about 45 international artists. Ken Flett, artist and exhibit curator, sent out an open invitation last month for artists to produce a work that reveals something about the mysterious ways of the human heart.
Over the past few weeks, work has been pouring in from British Columbia, Germany, Holland, Montreal, Ohio and Nova Scotia. Canadian artists Wayne Boucher, Jeff Molloy, Miles Lowry and Susan Shulman are among those who have answered the call, he says.
The artists’ interpretations of Love and Monsters are as diverse as the mediums they use, resulting in an eclectic collection, ranging from the abstract to the erotic. Textile art, stained glass, mixed media and sculpture culminate in a rich collage of colour and texture.
The various portraits of love often describe a union of opposites with heart, mind and body not always agreeing with each other; or society’s ideas of what form the expression of love should take.
“Jeff Molloy’s work from B.C. was like unearthing an archeological piece,” he said. “It made me think of sacred rites and vestal virgins.”
Molloy, an award-winning mixed media artist based in B.C., sent an abstract piece boxed in a bed of dried rose petals. The work is rich in colour and texture, contrasting hard and soft, smooth and rough, brittle and strong.
Glass artist Tammy Lewis sent a stained-glass mosaic of a couple, a kaleidoscope of shapes, colour and contrast, perhaps implying that love is the bridge between the complexity of the individual and parts.
Like the B movie varieties, love’s monsters also come in different shapes and sizes. Love and Monsters’ darker works paint questions of morality, pain, obsession and lust.
Bear River artist Debra Kuzyk has produced a work that depicts the Hindu goddess Kali, or Shakti, holding down Shiva. Shiva represents the masculine energy of consciousness, while Shakti symbolizes the feminine energy of nature.
Monica Croese, of Holland, sent a series of self-portraits, depicting a woman in various poses of bondage, pain and self-possession. Wayne Boucher’s monster takes on a more abstract and patriotic love, with a playful foray into B Movies within Captain Canuck’s Revenge of the Cyclops.
Separately, the pieces speak to personal themes and struggles, but together, they produce a visual spectrum ranging from expressions of innocence, obsession, fear and desire. Flett said that what surprised him the most was that initially people weren’t sure how to approach the theme.
He says he thought it was obvious: that love, like life, is a mixed bag of dark and bright, pain and pleasure. It became evident later, when he started work his own piece, that the theme of Love and Monsters is actually a large and slippery thing to pin down.
“Many of them asked me what I wanted,” he said. “At first it seemed simple. But I realized when I started working on my own pieces how hard it really is. I was hoping people would spread themselves open, but the more I thought about it, I realized how tough it is. It’s hard to decide what you want to expose, you have to reveal parts of yourself.”
Maybe part of the inspiration behind the Love and Monsters theme lies in Flett’s early photographic arts background and the work of Diane Arbus. Best known for her often startling portraits of marginal people, Arbus contrasts the differences between what people want others to see and what others do see.
“Everybody has that thing where they need to look one way but they come out looking another way and that's what people observe,” Arbus once said. “You see someone on the street and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw.”
Fearing rejection, it seems we try to hide the dark parts of our natures from each other. We present our masks to the world in hopes of being accepted, but live in fear of the mystery and uncertainty these masks bring.
Soon the feeling becomes a rollercoaster peaking in the bliss of union and pulled down again between the warring extremes of fear and desire. The mix becomes more complicated as each generation’s popular culture molds it to taste through art and literature.
Joseph Campbell, American mythologist and writer, said that one of the goals of the human journey is for each to find a place of joy (inside) and that joy will burn out the pain. Love is an element of joy and part of the rapture of being alive. With the rapture comes the fear, as love creates its own monsters, through fear and uncertainty.
Underneath our various masks, perhaps there is a unifying truth; that our true desire is to simply to feel love and acceptance with our quirks and deformities. Campbell once said, “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”
Flett put it another way.
“There’s no right and left, it’s whole. It’s the mystery and madness of life, life is love.”
Love and Monsters opens at the Rebekah Gallery in Bear River at 7 p.m. on Feb. 15 and runs until Feb. 24. For more information visit: