Persimmon Blackbridge, Suzo Hickey, Elaine Savoie
Curated by Lizard Jones
March 10 - April 1, 2006
MIRIFICUS brings together three artists, Persimmon Blackbridge and Elaine Savoie from Hornby Island, and Suzo Hickey from Vancouver, in a painting! sculpture exhibit that explores devotional art with passion, ir/reverence, and humour, through objects that are playful, disturbing, and strange. I (Emma Kivisild) will work as curator for the show.
Separately, Persimmon, Suzo, and Elaine are each tackling questions of worship, wonder and paradox. I want to bring the three of them together in a show because each of their individual work is illuminated by the other two. In some instances, it can feel like Persimmon arid Suzo's boxes complete Elaine's paintings, or that Elaine and Persimmon's work brings Suzo's into focus. It is a heady experience to see them together. They all approach heavy subject matter with a deceptive and accessible lightheartedness, while refusing to shy away from hard things. The result can be uncomfortable, and sometimes heart-stopping.
The troubling and slippery relationship between art and iconography has been the subject of much debate. Persimmon, Elaine and Suzo come at the issue from three differing places, each creating many leveled pieces that explore their own concerns Together, these three women's projects amplify each other, shedding light on varied facets of worship in art-making, and on the issues they investigate. From the Vodka Madonna to Chicken Icons to Catholic assistance in modern lesbian life, along the interstices of the sublime and the everyday.
Stylistically, the links are both obvious and shifting. In these pieces, Persimmon and Elaine have similar styles, rooted in stiffly formal Medieval European art. Suzo's work for this show is an anti-formal look at the same tradition. Persimmon's and Suzo's use of materials is similar, though Elaine and Suzo are both painters. And all three are willing to examine the borderspace between the sacred and the strange. When these pieces are juxtaposed, lines shift and rigid definitions are called into question.
Persimmon's art practice includes sculpture, writing, multi-disciplinary installation and performance. What connects these is an interest in a fractured, postmodern storytelling that is both accessible and multi-layered. Vodka Madonna is a return to sculpture after years of focusing on other media. It furthers the exploration of narrative and mixed-media wood construction of her last sculpture series, Sunnybrook.
Vodka Madonna is wall-mounted, low-relief, open-fronted boxes (and boxes within boxes) with cut-out figures and other objects seeming to float inside. Three dimensional space is played against shifting 2-1) perspectives. Figures vary greatly in scale, and seemingly unrelated 'scenes' are grouped in the same piece. The influence of Medieval European art is underlined by images from medieval painting within the work.
The theme of Vodka Madonna is multi-generational alcoholism, but it is neither moral tract nor sad confessional. Persimmon says, "The usual 'alcohol is evil' I 'alcohol is fun' diametric has little connection to my experience, or to many other people's. Alcohol and religion were complex, intertwined factors in three generations of my family. By juxtaposing disparate images and contradictory text, I hope to make evocative art without pre-digested conclusions."
Vodka Madonna has little text, and is photo-based, combining old family photos (late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries), photocopies of liquor bottles, anatomical drawings and medieval European religious art, with wood, scrap metal, plastic doll house furniture and other found objects.
The work-sometimes includes simple mechanical movement (turn the crank and the figures go up and down, etc.). This references toys of the same era as many of the photographs, as well as early web-based flash animation.
Vodka Madonna combines awkward movement and incongruous images with unstable perspectives, scales and points of view, to embody and reflect the content of the work.
Suzo Hickey's work for Mirificus comes from her work on the painting project Ripping Her Heart Out, about the powerful internal influence of personal relationships. Metaphor and allegory became central to Ripping, and as the allegorical images asserted themselves, Suzo began to use sacred heart imagery in the paintings. This led to the construction of shrines of a religious type, with hearts, reflective of appeals for help to certain saints in the Catholic pantheon. Originally, the shrines were designed to go with certain paintings -- as each saint's particular area of help is highlighted in a shrine, it is amplified in the painting and vice versa. Later, the shrines took on a life of their own, separate from the paintings, with shrines designed for a wide range of contemporary lesbian dilemmas.
Some of the saints are, for instance: Saint Jude, Patron Saint of Lost Causes; Saint Anthony, Patron Saint of Lost and Stolen Things; and Saint Rita, Patron Saint of Desperation.
Suzo Hickey says, "1 was raised in a Catholic family that relied on saints for many things. I have a long standing fascination with Catholic religious iconography, where hearts figure large, and it is no surprise that these hearts have finally found their way into my art. I like the saints because they are so specialized - saints for lost things, for safe journeys, for hopeless situations and lost causes, for artists, for musicians and hair dressers and carpenters, for back problems, for blindness, for gout. There are three patron saints for butchers, but only one for lovers, and no saints to help you with your sex life, or your divorce, or infidelity, or impotence, or orgasms."
Suzo Hickey's shrines incorporate woodworking, found objects, text, and painting. She says, "I love painting on wood, and the construction of the shrines let me join my religious fascination with a tactile artistic pleasure. I love working with the materials in the shrines, and with their inherently dramatic imagery." The shrines are intensely interior domestic spiritual objects.
Elaine Savoie's work emerges from a colourful family history of early settlers, farmers, church and boat builders. She paints and farms on part of her family's original homestead, on an island where roads are named for her ancestors, and the beams of the tiny Catholic church were raised by her relatives. Elaine Savoie is the rebel daughter of that history, painting elaborately robed saints with the heads of roosters, hens, crows. For Mirificus, her work is a series of 'Chicken Icons,' an unsettling examination of highly formalized imagery of saints. Combining gold leaf and stamped copper with paint on canvas and wood, her work is perfectly rendered with a richly intense palette of colours.
Elaine says, "The Catholic church is a culture that enshrouds the lives of its members. These sarcastic pieces are intended to offer comic relief from the hurt and shame that accompanies Catholicism and to depict the richness and mystery of that culture."
The combination of chicken heads with traditional iconography also explores the subordination of animals in the context of the male hierarchy of the Catholic church. The 'Chicken Icons' are hilarious, and otherworldly, with the slightly mad eyes of domestic birds glaring out from the ornate panoply.
Emma Kivisild is an artist, writer and performer living in Vancouver. In 2004, she participated in curating two shows: Ripping it Up at the Interurban Gallery in May was a collectively organized group show by artists with disabilities, protesting the provincial government's review of disability benefits; and Extraordinary Lives is the visual art component of the KickstART2 Festival of Disability Arts, at the Roundhouse in September. She is new to curating, but a very experienced collaborator and art group member (Kiss & Tell, Vancouver Association for NonCommercial Culture).