Suzo Hickey
Mirificus, by Lizard Jones, curator.

causing wonder or admiration, wonderful, marvellous, extraordinary, singular, strange

I'll start with the name: MIRIFICUS.

It's Latin. I found it on the Internet, in the English/Latin dictionary. I was looking for a name for a group show with Persimmon Blackbridge, Suzo Hickey and Elaine Savoie that might mean some of the inscrutable wonder that I feel when I see their art. A name that might prepare you for how this art works together.

Latin invokes a cultural association of higher knowledge, of legal truth, religious ritual, and scientific terminology. Overtly, this show referenced the religious inference of Latin, but the other usages hover. I wanted the name to have layers of understanding, like the art does.

At the grunt, Mirificus was an intense physical experience, a cataclysm of colour and meaning. As you entered the gallery, to the left and right were walls of art, mounted salon style, often three pieces high. Facing you was a triptych like no other: three tall panels, one by each artist. And then, as one moved closer to the walls, complicated narratives emerged.

Elaine's work 'St. Jude, Patron Saint of lost causes' was on the left end of the triptych, a tightly painted robed figure with the head of an annoyed chicken, surrounded by Latin chalk writing, perched on bottle caps and shot gun shells, alluding to a personal story of child abuse, alcoholism, Catholicism, and the wild ways of a girl fighting back.

In the middle, 'Red Dad,' from Persimmon, held away frightening paternal memories behind scratched plexiglas, mixed skeleton and flesh, while three babies insist on life at his feet. On the right was 'Space, Time, and Spacetime,' drawing a line of light, from earth and rocks to space and stars, through a sacred heart twined with Christmas lights, as Suzo Hickey imagined new life for her son Marlon.

Mirificus was about the often literally awesome experience of art pieces resonating with each other, building layers of relation in a surrounding whole.

One might be taken deeper and deeper into one artist's work before taking a reckless leap across medium and subject to weave a thread with someone else. I watched as people walked around the gallery again and again, discovering.


Sometimes connections revealed themselves without asking.

In Mirificus, Persimmon started with family photos, and drew out their stories in a series of mixed media wall-mounted sculpture. Tough girls brandish toy guns. Men and women cradle bottles. Angels fly, boys hide. She says, "As these stories revealed themselves in art, they were not always what I might have expected. They were not about the pain of children as much as the strength. They were not about anger as much as some kind of redemption. The fires are not hell but transformation."

Persimmon's three dimensional worlds float easily across time, punching and punctuating. In this show, their strength was often an anchor, and sometimes a wing.

Suzo Hickey's work in this show charts some of her journey in the aftermath of the sudden death of her son Marlon, aged 24. He suffered an aortic dissection related to Marfan Syndrome.

Acrylic paint is Suzo's primary medium, but the works in this show build on the surface with wood, wire, photos, plaster, cartoons and poetry. The starting point of hearts and paint becomes a startling revelation of a story of personal tragedy, woven with memory, colour, anger and grief.

" My paintings for this show are intense devotional art, fueled by shock, anger at the medical system, grief and an overwhelming belief that Marlon is somewhere, safe and happy. The imagery is borrowed from Catholic iconography, medical texts, Marlon's cartoons, the autopsy report, and my head."

Elaine Savoie starts with paint, too, with a style of painting bounded by formal stricture. She embraces and challenges this formalism from the inside, to make impossibly heretical iconic objects. Her personal history -- descended from the family that built the first Catholic church on Hornby Island, where she still lives -- bursts from the work.

"My icons, while celebrating the richness and beauty of Catholicism, also intend to offer comic relief from the hierarchy, hurt and shame that accompanies this culture. My work incorporates personal symbols, or a small white church, which is the church Louis Riel held siege, and where later my grandmother was baptized.

"Louis Riel was a hero of my grandmother's, and the history she told me when I was young was my first concrete thread to my past and culture. I am still trying to understand what it is to be mixed heritage -- a little lost in either world, a bridge to both."

Each of these artists exploded the form they chose. The subject matter is all wrong -- too personal, too historical, too irreverent, too funny. These pieces take a deceptively accessible approach to heavy subject matter, pulling the viewer in easily, then refusing to shy away from difficult things. The result can be joyous, and sometimes heart-stopping. The devotional format became a way to look at difficult issues in depth, and acknowledged the profundity of the shadows in each of our lives. Sometimes the religious archetype lies before us in pieces.

Speaking its own truth the power of this show, the pieces in it, and the way it was installed went deeper than style, deeper too than the guns, hearts, family and flames in much of the work. Deeper than the iconography or resistance to it, from three directions, each artist looked at something that art can articulate even if words can't; Shimmering transcendent space.

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