BEYOND THE SURFACE
BY: SUSAN MOIR MACKEY, B.A. (HONS), MSC
Chantal Bethel has developed a reputation for painting and creating from her soul. She is impassioned to express whatever moves her. Thus her art works carry a certain ineffable emotion.
In a recent conversation with the artist in her studio, she explains that after working in the dark subject matter of the Haitian tragedy for a couple of years, she is ready to embrace beauty again—to "exhale from the soul".
This collection, In the Spirit, addresses the surprising and very Bahamian theme of flamingos. At first, the light colours, simple composition, and the well-known form of the flamingo, makes the work seem to be familiar Bahamian paintings, but something about the intriguing textures and almost obsessive use of crackle paint, hints at more.
A second clue is her use of quotes from Rumi, (a Sufi mystic who,
through poetry, offers insights into a spiritual life beyond this mundane reality). The quotes are not titles per se, but suggest at a relationship between his writings and Bethels paintings; a hint of something beyond the surface.
The work is incredibly charming and it is easy to be distracted by their aesthetic appeal. The surfaces seem to crack open to light and they successfully convey the essence of The Bahamas in their shimmering colour range. Rich textured surfaces defy gravity and become about light. And yet, the crackle is still there.
Coupled with the images of flamingos are flamingo eggs; whole egg forms covered thickly in gesso; large carefully cracked open 'eggs' with inner Mandalas or sun
designs; eggs neatly opened to expose personal myths. I am intrigued by the sturdy nature of the eggs.
"Eggs are fragile and yet represent hope", says Bethel.
However her eggs are unyielding. This produces an interesting tension between the highly crackled paintings that look incredibly similar to broken eggshells created into a collage. As if recognizing the fragile nature of the egg, Bethel inadvertently wants to protect it, and hold it. Yet in intensified contrast, here are the flamingos: beautiful and insidiously broken.
One of the final pieces created for this body of work are real broken eggs, and following an inner compulsion by Bethel "...then I cracked one and the thought of light came to me, they needed light", she brings a completion to the works by allowing the true nature of the eggs to reveal a deeper metaphorical purpose by allowing the cracking, or as Bethel concurs "…like your children, you always want to protect them but if you give them wings, they should be ok on their own".
The circle of broken eggs then becomes a necessary movement in the cycle of life. Fledglings leave the nest and things have to be broken in order for life to break free. And a complex story of being human with many paradoxical truths; brokenness and beauty; fragility and strength; profound and shallow, seem to be expressed in the hidden narrative of Bethel's art.