Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Disturbing Beauty

As I write this, Alexandra Sherman is putting the finishing touches on the fall show in the Dadian Gallery, Strength and Struggle: Haiti Continued, works by Lavar Munroe. Alexandra has been working with Mr. Munroe for months, and knows much more about him and his work than I do, so I will leave it to her to write more specifically about the artist's background, concerns, and processes.

Lavar Munroe, Awakening Spirits,
acrylic and collage on paper
What intrigues me about Munroe's work, among many other things, is the juxtaposition of his lush color palette and impeccable composition with the disturbing nature of what is depicted. Glorious sprays of blue and green  that might at first be identified as bouquets reveal themselves as the carefully arrayed feathers of a bloody, partially-beheaded chicken. Elsewhere, a being with a bird's head, horse's hooves, and human hands, dressed in a patched yet flowing garment, leads a flock of bandaged, red-combed chickens that somehow also resemble a crowd of saints in some half-remembered, byzantine icon. A look at his website, http://lavar-munroe.com, reveals images that are even more disturbing, and equally beautiful.

Lavar Munroe, Thanksgiving, graphite drawing,
digital color, Ultrachrome K3 ink on velvet paper
All of this raises the question that I have, more than once, put to my students: What does it mean to make a beautiful artwork about something that is terrible to contemplate? Does the attractiveness of the image make the subject matter more horrifying by shocking us after inviting us to draw near? Or does our appreciation of  the delicate colors, fine drawing, and intricate composition inure us to the terror of what is depicted? Do the luxurious fabrics, well-muscled flesh, and intricate intertwining of arms, legs, and bodies in Peter Paul Rubens' Massacre of the Innocents invite us to identify with the burly soldiers, the screaming women and children, or the angels who hover above waiting to bestow flowery wreaths of victory on the innocent martyrs? What does a beautiful picture say about an ugly situation?

I think I'll wander back down the hall to the gallery, and see if the disturbing beauty of Lavar Munroe's extraordinary images offers any answers.

1 comment:

  1. The beauty of the pieces is like a force of nature. Like a thunderstorm the lightening, wind and thunder can be beautiful and terrifying at the same time. The beauty of the paintings draws me in and intensifies the horror of the scene. It gives me a heightened awareness and inspires me to do something. The beauty of the pieces also gives me hope that out of the horror there may be a remmant that can be used to bring something meaningful out of the ashes.