Xtra!

No. 521, Oct 14, 2005

The Dark Abyss

Amplifies Magic and Beauty

Toronto’s Shary Boyle is a multi-talented visual artist with a hand in nearly every medium available, from painting to performance art. Arguably, she is best known for her drawings, and her continual exploration of gender, sexuality and vulnerability. For her latest project, a book titled Witness My Shame, she teams up with publisher Andy brown, the fellow behind Montreal’s Conundrum Press. Shame is a feisty book (designed by New York’s Jason Logan) that stands in good company with the rest of the clever, and engaging Conundrum titles. In addition to all of Boyle’s precious drawings, the first 1000 copies of Witness My Shame are a special limited edition, printed with three different types of paper stock.

Boyle refers to Witness My Shame as a “’best-of’” collection. It is largely comprised of selections from sixteen of her mini book-works. It also includes images from Boyle’s regular art practice and part of a collaborative work she made with video artists Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby. Although Witness My Shame has almost no text, it would be wrong to suggest that it is an “easy read.” Boyle’s work propels the viewer through an ambiguous narrative journey. She takes a chance, letting her images speak for themselves. Boyle trusts her viewers, and suggests that people “read images as a language, the same way they listen to music as a language.”

The book works compiled in Witness My Shame were created while Boyle was living in Halifax. She says they are tied to a period in time when her peer group were all creating similar kinds of work. Creating small books were a way of communicating with one another, and were used as a form of social exchange. For Boyle, making this work was about “actualizing inspiration” as it came. This meant making a series of somewhere between 10 and 20 drawings in one sitting, working uninterrupted late into the night. She says the drawings had no particular deadline or expectation, but were about working spontaneously and immediately. Riding on impulse, Boyle says she let herself “draw badly,” which for an artist, is not an easy thing to do. The resulting roughness of certain sections in Shame that act as a delightful counterpoint to her more carefully crafted drawings and sculpture work.

Shary Boyle captures life’s abysmal moments with an alarming degree of accuracy (just have a look at the sections Homestead, Scarborough or Mommy, I Feel Funny.) At the same time, she never loses sight of absurdity and humor. Though her humour may be quite a few shades more black than most, the darkness helps to amplify the magic and beauty also present in her work. The section Someday I’ll Be Dead, made up of drawings depicting several possible death scenarios, includes a particularly haunting image of a pile of garbage sitting outside a Goodwill store. There is nothing too special about this drawing alone, but given the context, it is heartbreaking. Someday I’ll Be Dead is directly followed by a section titled Horny, a charming collection of drawings about female sexuality. Amongst this group is a ‘snapshot’ of a woman reading alone in a library. On its own the drawing is nice enough, but again. in relation to the others it becomes a great deal more interesting. Part of the magic in Boyle’s work comes from seeing it grouped together, and delving into the worlds she creates. This makes Shame a great pleasure to look at.

Although this collection is titled Witness My Shame, one would be hard-pressed to assert that these drawings start and end at the idea of shame. Much like any good work of art, Shame is about many different things, all at the same time. As much as the characters in Boyle’s drawings are strong and independent, they are also vulnerable. Though the two ideas may seem conflicting, Boyle makes it clear they are not. She says she is “interested in re-presenting vulnerability as one of the strongest positions we can be in.” By exposing struggle, these characters show “a courage and hope that they will be identified with, that they are going to be healed.” Boyle feels strongly that her characters can take care of themselves, saying that “if they are offering to expose their vulnerability, they can handle it as a choice.” As we bear witness to Boyle’s characters, we slowly begin to realize that weakness is only be a matter of perspective.