Beyond the surface: The work of Chantal E.Y. Bethel
Published: Aug 24, 2013
Chantal Bethel has developed a reputation for painting and creating from her soul. She is impassioned to express whatever moves her. Thus her art works carry a certain ineffable emotion.
This collection, “In the Spirit”, addresses the surprising and very Bahamian theme of flamingos. At first, the light colors, simple composition, and the well-known form of the flamingo, makes the work seem to be familiar Bahamian paintings, but something about the intriguing textures and almost obsessive use of crackle medium, hints at more. A second clue is her use of quotes from Rumi, (a Sufi mystic who, through poetry, offers insights into a spiritual life beyond this mundane reality). The quotes are not titles per se, but suggest at a relationship between his writings and Bethel’s paintings: a hint of something beyond the surface.
The work is incredibly charming, and it is easy to be distracted by their aesthetic appeal. The surfaces seem to crack open to light, and they successfully convey the essence of The Bahamas in their shimmering color range. Rich textured surfaces defy gravity and become about light. And yet, the crackle is still there. Coupled with the images of flamingos are flamingo eggs; whole egg forms covered thickly in gesso; large carefully cracked open “eggs” with inner Mandalas or sun designs; eggs neatly opened to expose personal myths. I am intrigued by the sturdy nature of the eggs. “Eggs are fragile and yet represent hope,” said Bethel. However, her eggs are unyielding. This produces an interesting tension between the highly crackled paintings that look incredibly similar to broken eggshells created into a collage. As if recognizing the fragile nature of the egg, Bethel inadvertently wants to protect it and hold it. Yet in intensified contrast, here are the flamingos: beautiful and insidiously broken.
One of the final pieces created for this body of work are real broken eggs, and following an inner compulsion by Bethel “…then I cracked one and the thought of light came to me, they needed light”, she brings a completion to the works by allowing the true nature of the eggs to reveal a deeper metaphorical purpose by allowing the cracking, or as Bethel concurs “…like your children, you always want to protect them but if you give them wings, they should be ok on their own”. The circle of broken eggs then becomes a necessary movement in the cycle of life. Fledglings leave the nest and things have to be broken in order for life to break free. And a complex story of being human with many paradoxical truths; brokenness and beauty; fragility and strength; profound and shallow, seem to be expressed in the hidden narrative of Bethel’s art.
“‘In The Spirit’ a mixed media body of work explores the idea that Love, Wisdom, Strength and Beauty are the primary attributes of spirit the very substance of who we are.”
Chantal E.Y. Bethel
Chantal Bethel works from a place of deep emotion to craft her artwork. No matter what the medium, Chantal’s work is to feel it so deep run the emotions from which they were created that Chantal’s collective body of work could be described, in her words, as “exhalations from the soul”. She believes that art is a powerful tool for healing. In 2010, she received the Award of Excellence from the Embassy of Haiti in Washington D.C. for her work about the earthquake in Haiti. Her installation “Poto-Mitan”/prayer for the healing of Haiti, which was exhibited at the D’Aguilar Art Foundation in 2012 has recently been accepted to become part of the permanent collection of the Waterloo Center for the Arts Museum, in Iowa. Chantal Bethel who was born in Haiti and schooled in Belgium has made The Bahamas her home since 1971. She studied art (painting and drawing) at Haliburton School of the Arts in Canada. Bethel has exhibited widely in The Bahamas, the U.S. and Canada. Her work is in private and corporate collections at home and abroad. She lives and works on the island of Grand Bahama. For a resume and full bio, please visit www.chantalbethel.com
Susan Moir Mackay is a professional artist with a B.A. Honours degree in Art and Design from Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland. She is an impassioned advocate of art’s benefit to individuals and communities and donates much time to art education projects as well as her own contemporary exhibitions.
• This article was reprinted with the permission of arcthemagazine.com.