Art Life - Susan Mackay
Ecstatic Shadows
By Susan Mackay
Apr 25, 2007 - 10:06:29 AM

It’s late at night and a friend and I are chatting outside the Sand Bar, as we walk to my car parked further down the road, I stop and point out the beauty of the night.   The street lights are glowing hypnotically through the trees and the yellow light has pooled onto the street.   The black night is cut through with telegraph wires that range from taut and high strung, to sagging wearily, almost touching the road.   The shadows caused by trees and foliage are dense, vibrating and compelling - contrasting with the crystalline night sky speckled by stars.


I am not sure that my ecstatic vision of that beautiful dark world was shared or understood by my friend!!!


It was another friend, Catriona, who told me that the line between ugliness and beauty is perhaps not as defined as we might imagine.   Something about the strength, solidity and truth of both ugliness and beauty can hold a viewers infinite attention.


“If we deny our ugliness, we lessen our beauty.

If we deny our fear, we minimize our courage.

If we deny our greed, we also reduce our generosity.

When we suppress any feeling or impulse, we deny its polar opposite.

Our full magnitude is more than most of us can ever imagine.

Our shadows exist to teach us, guide us

 and give us the blessing of our entire selves.”

–Debbie Ford, author of The Dark Side of The Light Chasers


We are constantly bombarded with images of perfection and ‘beauty’.   But so often the images are just that – images - something insubstantial and empty about our modern day comprehension of what is attractive.   Something ultimately fake and manipulative about what we nowadays are sold as ‘beautiful’.


“Natural beauty is essentially temporary and sad;

hence the impression of obscene mockery which artificial flowers give us”

– John Updike


If beauty is, as my friend maintains, the twin sister to ugliness, then what I see in the dark shadows is beyond superficial prettiness and is as valid as the more acceptable beauty of a beach scene.


True beauty and ugliness are compelling.   We have a morbid fascination with death and horror.   There is an accident on the road and everyone slows down to see…. It seems that horror films – a genre that reflects our inner shadow – are more and more popular.   Society’s obsession with pretty things is balanced by the ugliness portrayed in these films.   This inner shadow, as Jung said, is our dark aspect– that we are usually afraid of – and so, we suppress or project out onto people or situations, that unexpressed self. Watching a scary film is a ‘safe’ place for us to experience our inner shadow without actually ‘owning’ it!


In other films, for example ‘300’, the hideous adventure of war, is portrayed with a breathtaking beauty.   In this case, the use of aesthetics creates a sense that war and death for one’s country is noble and beautiful.

“An artist is an artist only because of his exquisite sense of beauty,

a sense which shows him intoxicating pleasures,

but which at the same time implies and contains

an equally exquisite sense of all deformities and all disproportion.”
Pierre Charles Baudleaire


Lucien Freud (b.1922) and Francis Bacon (1909–1992) are two British artists whose work cuts lines between beauty and ugliness


Freud’s work is figurative. He mainly paints portraits of friends.   The portraits are gripping by their almost gross close and analytical execution.   Freud explores the flesh of his subject like it is just that, flesh, not human.   There is something grotesque about the frank treatment of the paint and colour of the skin.   He is bold and unsympathetic.   Yet these are very real paintings of these people and there is something in his analytical, dispassionate treatment of his subjects that is stunningly beautiful.   And absolutely compelling.


Francis Bacon’s work IS disturbing, the distortion of his subjects are quite horrific.   One has a sense of being dropped into the darkest part of someone’s deepest unconscious and chaotic mind—a place on the cusp of insanity.   I think his paintings are beautiful in their brutal sensitivity.   The colours and dramatic interpretation of the essence of human psyche is striking in its disturbing truth.   As Nietzsche said “You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star”.   Bacon’s expression of that chaos is sublime.


This intriguing topic of the many different ways the world’s realities hold images of what is ‘beautiful’ and what is ‘ugly’, what is ‘positive’ and what is ‘negative’, will be explored in an art show titled Ecstatic Shadows on Friday evening, May 18th.   Five Grand Bahama artists—Dr. Kevin Bethel, Fred Smith, Loryn Blower, Omar Smith, and myself, Susan Moir Mackay—will offer our unique interpretations examining the unexplored beauty in life.   Held at Freeport Art Centre at the RND plaza, the show will present a variety of work on this theme, ranging from direct unconscious expression, the apparent insanity of the dream state, to a cynical look at the hidden, shadow aspects of society, and an individual’s personal journey through both shadow and light.


I hope you will join us on May 18th at the Freeport Art Center, from 5:30 to 8:30 pm, as we explore and celebrate the many perspectives of our “Ecstatic Shadows”.

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