Essay by Susan Moir Mackay, B.A. (Hons) MSc
An artist’s role in society is complex. Not only are they expected to produce pieces of aesthetic worth, but to challenge the viewer with unexpected thoughts or ideas.
What is paradise?
Living in the Bahamas this may seem like a redundant question; don’t we know and live with warm skies, endless golden beaches and the impossible turquoise of the ocean?
However, for artist Chantal Bethel, this is a valid question. On the heels of her piece “Agonistes” – an emotionally raw installation describing the turmoil during and after the last three hurricanes that hit The Bahamas, she felt impelled to balance the angst by exploring the light after the dark – “the calm after the storm” hence her question.
Posing this question, “What is Paradise?” to friends and associates, Bethel was given a diverse range of answers which she incorporated into her piece “Key to Paradise”. A hanging piece, written on the canvas is the replies she received, along with the image of a key, a heart and a face. A box, beside the piece has the “key” to Paradise.
For Bethel, through this rich body of work, she also explores her own value of paradise. “We need to find that inner space we call our center to give us strength to let go of pain and fall in love with the story of life all over again”, she notes.
For Bethel this place is in nature. Using her signature palette of vibrant, warm and rich colours “All is well” and “Paradise found” explore the relationship between woman (self) and nature.
“L’oiseau du Paradis” “Serenity” and “Morning Glory”, are worked in softer colours. Soft sherbet pinks, yellows, violets and blues, figures shift as light shadows embedded in the scene, becoming one with nature. These paintings carry an incredible sense of air, space, movement and light, yet have a clever sense of depth. They are truly magical, captivating and mesmerising.
The sculpture “Open your Heart.” It is a literal interpretation - a heart shape, skewed open, inciting us to follow, Chantal’s prescription to discover paradise within our hearts … our deeper self.
Other sculptures, “Welcome to Paradise” and “Follow me to Paradise” use the crown shaft of the Royal Palm to create two figures, embracing and encouraging us to find that place of sanctuary.
In collaboration with Dave Mackey and poet Marion Bethel, Chantal has created a new media exploration into this theme. Called Colors of Paradise, Bethel describes it as “a metaphor which led me to explore the idea of Paradise.”
The entirety of this work, offers a deep and contemplative review of the diversity of nature. At times nature can offer us moments to drop into a sense of ‘paradise’ at others she can be the embodiment of anger, tearing up lives in the form of a hurricane. Bethel explores this range with sensitivity and honesty. Her work is as diverse as the moods of nature - exploring colours, textures and form, to convey her ultimately positive view of life: A paradise that does exist on earth and