Artists examine their personal existence for inspiration and meaning, turning it into a representation that be not only shared, but can serve as a vehicle for others traversing emotional terrain. Death has its place there, as it does in all of life—it is inevitable; it is universal.
The new show at the Gays Mills Arts Collective Gallery, which opens on Friday, Aug. 30, looks closely at the process. The show centers on the exploration of the personal experience, as translated in the works of collective members Linda Kenzle and Chela.
The concept and title for the show, ‘Journeys: Life and Death,’ began with Chela, who created a series of etched prints many years ago after the slow loss and eventual death of her mother. This will be the first time the pieces have been hung in a show.
“When she finally died, I exploded with anger,” Chela recalled. The loss of her mother began as a teenager after a series of strokes left her mother disabled. Over the years, continuing strokes slowly robbed what was left of her mother’s identity and presence.
Funneling those emotions into her work, Chela developed a way to produce art, without seeing the product, as a means to channel the unconscious mind.
“It became for me a melding of art image and technology, forcing me into a new process and a new spiritual place,” Chela explained.
Listening to Chela speak of the pieces, Kenzle was drawn to the concept.
“I immediately said I wanted to be part of the show,” said Kenzle, whose husband died two years ago. “Art is therapy, it is a part of the grieving process. It’s not all sadness, because it’s also the memories, remembering.”
Kenzle had a show scheduled after her husband passed away. She kept paintings and because her show, at the Timberlane Café in Boscobel, was not constrained by a theme, she placed pictures she was currently creating on the walls.
“I didn’t realize that I was being bold,” Kenzle said. “People would tell me they were happy to see these paintings and then they would share their stories.”
“I didn’t feel so separate,” Kenzle said. “That is very important to healing.”
“It started to turn my life around,” described Chela of her experience with making art while grieving. “It gave me a new slant on my childhood.”
Both women have spent significant amounts of time living near the Mexican border and credit the exposure to that culture as profoundly affecting their views of death and life.
“The Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) is a huge celebration of life,” Kenzle said, describing the celebration, which decorates the graves of the departed with food, drink, flowers, candles, art, and whatever else holds meaning in the living memory of those no longer alive.
Both artists will show work that spans their lifetimes, and, in the case of Chela who currently makes botanical artworks with her partner Christine Peterson, includes collaborative work.
Several dates with planned activities are linked to the show, beginning with the opening reception planned on Friday, Aug. 30 from 6-8 p.m. Gallery artists, including Chela and Kenzle, will be on hand to meet with art lovers. Fellow artist Alvin Felch will provide music on his accordion. Light refreshments will be served.
On Saturday, Sept. 28, beginning at noon, a memory collage day will be held in the gallery. People of all ages may participate. Materials will be provided, though attendees are encouraged to bring personalized items to incorporate into the artworks they build around the memories of those they love.
On Saturday, Nov. 2, the gallery will host a fundraiser for the Threshold Care Circle, a Viroqua-based educational resource and support network for home burial.
we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph
and death i think is no parenthesis
- e.e. cummings
‘Journeys: Life and Death’ will run through Sunday, Nov. 3.
The Gays Mills Arts Collective is located in the Mercantile Center at 120 Sunset Ridge Avenue, Suite 107, Gays Mills. The gallery is regularly open Thursday through Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.