Unsettling happiness

Exhibit at Cr8ery sees the light and darkness of motherhood

Michelle Place’s The Unsettling Happy Project opened at the Cr8ery gallery (125 Adelaide St.) on Friday, Jan. 25. The exhibit features an array of paintings, from landscapes to abstracts to portraits, all on the spectrum of light to dark in tone and theme.

“For a lot of years, my stuff was really dark, and so I wanted to title this “The Happiness Project,” but then when I started painting, different emotions came up. Some of the paintings are dark, and then it actually transformed into some lighter landscapes, and then some of my family and some of flowers, and then some of my dreams,” Place says.

“But the first few paintings were so dark that I was scared that I wasn’t going to be able to do the project itself. So I changed the title to The Unsettling Happy Project so that it gave me more room to grow.”

Place’s favourite piece, The Red Plaid Jacket, is about her happiness.

“When I am at my cabin, and I’m going for a walk ... I just always feel that peace. With that painting, I was able to show the view of what I feel when I look outside in nature. I did the sun a little differently. I did the light coming through the trees, and the red jacket is the iconic, Canadian red plaid jacket. I just wanted to have my own take on what nature is to me.”

The exhibit “has some really dark parts, like teeth and monsters and creepy people and beautiful trees, landscapes and a few flowers. She’s got a whole mix of dark and light in the show,” Jordan Miller, executive director of Cr8ery, says.

“At her emerging level, she is still trying to find her voice and her place in the art world, so she hasn’t come up with a unified style. Some artists will be strictly landscapes, but she’s got a mixture of landscapes, portraiture (and) little horror moments.”

Some of the horror comes from Place’s exploration of motherhood.  One piece, called The Shadow of Motherhood, depicts a ghostlike face.

“It touches on how (society) puts a lot of pressure on moms, (but) there is the other side,” Place says, “where the kids are crying all day, and they are sick, and they got an F on their test. (Moms) have to deal with all that, too.

“Later, as the paintings progressed, I did a couple (paintings) of my children. They’re more tranquil. (In this exhibit) I explored myself, my reaction to motherhood (and how I feel) about my kids.”

Cr8ery is a member-based gallery, Miller says. “The artists approach us, and we slot them in. We show artists of all levels and experiences.”

Place plans to sign up for another exhibit at Cr8ery in four years. “I’m going to continue to work on (themes of) motherhood and the next phase as my kids grow older and leave the nest.”

Published in Volume 74, Number 17 of The Uniter (February 6, 2020)

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