By Paul Gessell
As children, we all shivered with a mixture of fright and delight at fairy tales with such scary characters as The Wicked Stepmother, The Evil Wizard, or The Big Bad Wolf.
These archetypal characters resonate with us throughout our lives because this assortment of frightening evil populates more than fairy tales — they are also the main villains, in somewhat different guise, within all forms of literature, movies, video games, and other aspects of popular culture.
With that in mind, visit the newest exhibition, Wishes, Lies and Dreams by Ottawa artist Audrey Churgin at St. Laurent + Hill Gallery.
Using pastels, Churgin has created a series of life-sized gothic figures borrowed from fairy tales. This menagerie of princes, princesses, queens and, of course, a wicked stepmother, are portrayed in Gothic fashion. They all tend to be dressed in black, have a greyish pallor and appear ready to board the next train to Transylvania.
A quotation from some unidentified fairy tale is written across the canvas. The Wicked Old Queen says: “For the mirror always spoke the truth.” The Prince declares: “If you consent, I will bring you to great honour.” The Dear Little Princess carries these words: “The delight of a great king.”
So, what does this all mean?
“I didn’t work with fairy tales because of the horror or other nastiness in the stories,” Churgin said. “They did not scare me. I worked with real fears of mine based on real experiences and found solace in the depth of fairy-tale angst. Each character I’ve represented felt like a part of me while doing the drawing, expressing the intensity of the deeper meaning. The pose, the quote, the colour, surrounding, it’s all my own fears portrayed in their faces, through their characteristics. They are the container that now holds those fears. I do hope there remains some universality to them.”
Look closely at the faces of Churgin’s characters — they are far less frightening than one would expect for archetypes with horror-filled pedigrees or, to use Churgin’s phrase, “the container” for her own personal fears.
Frankly, the artworks might have been more successful if the characters were a little more demonic and capable of giving us all that childhood shiver of fright and delight. Instead, Churgin’s creations look like the people they really are — the friends and relatives who agreed to pose for the artist. They aren’t scary refugees from fairy tales but the very people we meet every day in our neighbourhood.
Wishes, Lies and Dreams. Until Oct. 5. St. Laurent + Hill Gallery, 293 Dalhousie St. www.galeriestlaurentplushill.com