A TEAR AND A SMILE
By: Lisa Codella
Just as one would never notice the light if we did not know what it was to have been in the dark, in her latest body of work, A Tear And A Smile, Chantal Bethel uses the weight of her compelling talents as a visual artist to point out to us that in many respects, we can only fully appreciate joy when we enter it through the doorway of our most painful experiences.
“The body of work is about healing,” says Bethel. “It’s about that space where you have the pain and the tears and then there is a transformation where you’re going from negative to positive.”
A Tear And A Smile, juxtaposes those two places on the map of our emotional well-being that at first glance appear to be polar opposites, but are in fact two ends of a line that curve and ultimately unite to form the circles of our most pivotal experiences.
In this latest display of Bethel’s artistic expression, tears are a conduit through which we arrive at healing, and are far from being a sign of a weak or broken spirit. In fact, they are essential to the process of healing, and for Bethel, it is important to note that she indeed looks at healing as a process.
In two pieces, “Gratitude” and “Steps”, her signature use of the crown shaft of the royal palm tree invites us into the moment of healing when expectation and hopeful supplication meet. In her unique way, Bethel has coaxed the images of two women who are actively engaged in seeking answers to their pain. In fact, the mixed-media piece, “Steps” reveals the five steps she feels are essential to making the progression to healing: believe, forgive, hope, release, and surrender.
Quite telling throughout this body of work, is the absence of any depiction of hopelessness in the midst of pain. Undoubtedly, this can be attributed to Bethel’s personal philosophy toward navigating Life’s painful experiences. “For me I always see the positive. The tears are beautiful in a way because they take you somewhere that is better.”
Ultimately, that is the axis upon which A Tear And A Smile turns. In Bethel’s world, tears are not a sign of liquid weakness, but they are an essential step in the process that moves us from pain to power.
In several pieces, the images are so subtle as to draw you in to hear them ‘speak’ to you. Bethel’s use of vibrant hues to convey private moments of vulnerability compels the viewer to engage in an inner dialog. The net effect is that one often connects intuitively with the artist’s images through the filter of one’s own personal experiences.
Such powerful connections with works of art are rare and moving. It is safe to say that A Tear And A Smile belies its simple and inviting name to take one on a journey that is moving, enriching and enlightening for anyone who has had cause to shed a tear.
In each of the faces encountered in A Tear And A Smile one feels a visceral connection to the pain, the serenity, the elation or surrender of the subject. Again, this speaks to another power found in tears: the ability to create bonds within a community. Your pain, is my pain. Even in the moments when we do not understand the reason behind them, our first instinct is to extend a sympathetic shoulder, or warm embrace to someone in tears.
In “Metamorphosis”, Bethel captures the instant one moves from the emptiness of hiding behind a mask devoid of expression, to reveal the true self. A vulnerable moment indeed, but truly liberating as the striking clarity of the eyes that stare back at you from the canvas create a connection that was impossible through the-about-to-be-discarded mask. “This is when a change takes place from the mask to the real you,” says Bethel. “To remove the mask you must have courage and acceptance if you want to move forward in a positive way. Until you accept the way things are you cannot change them.”
We all need healing, but do we embrace or resist it? Do we realize we are partners in our own healing? That healing is a process that we can and must participate in fully if we are to benefit fully? “I still don’t know that I’m a “healer”…I think I am a healer for myself,” says Bethel, “but I don’t know that I am for other people. I would always encourage people to explore art and creativity as a means of expression to find their healing. Because the process is simple: first you face the truth, once you face the truth you have to believe that there are steps that you can take to get better, and then you surrender.”
Perhaps the essential message that echoes throughout Bethel’s canvases in A Tear And A Smile is that healing will come when we find trust. Trust in ourselves, in the process, and in the beauty that will unfold along the path. “Whenever I approach a canvas, I intend to do something, but as the work progresses, I just let it go and this is usually when “it” happens. When you’re in that space where you want to be, and then something totally unexpected and beautiful happens. This is my instinct and intuition — we all have it and need to trust it more. In the studio, I’ve learned that when I’m being led in an unexpected direction, I now go with it. The same is true in everyday life. Sometimes your head gets an idea and it’s not always the final idea. I’ll follow it until I see a fork in the path that leads me elsewhere and then I follow that.” Fortunately, for us, Bethel followed the path that led to A Tear And A Smile.
About the writer
Lisa Codella is a writer and studio potter making functional and sculptural ceramics from her studio, 143 Pottery, in The Bahamas. She is dedicated to encouraging everyday people to approach art without fear and to connect with their own creativity.