By Kerry Freek
Crystal Peel has been making art since childhood. “It just happened,” she says. “But it wasn’t until OAC art class that I really started thinking about what I was doing and began developing a style, which of course I’m still working on.” Last week we discussed mythology, Chicago’s Field Museum, and skeletons. You can find the results below.
MONDO: One of your most recent pieces is a drawing of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, as she catches Actaeon (also a hunter) spying on her while she bathes. Artemis was so angry she turned the dude into a stag — and he was killed and eaten by his own hounds. What’s the deal? Why do you use mythological women with such violent and/or vengeful stories?
Crystal Peel: I am fascinated by the vengeful woman/goddess figure. The woman who is wronged and reacts accordingly is a very common motif in Greek mythology… Clytemnestra, Artemis, Medea, Hera, even Aphrodite. It’s mostly an intuitive attraction for me. I like the darker side of things. But also, I think these stories stand out because when we think of women in folklore, the passive maiden type or the evil crone/witch often come to mind first. Characters like Medea are more complex and more passionate. It’s exhilarating to capture this side of women in mythology.
MONDO: You often draw (no pun intended) from Greek mythology in your art. I love the literary allusions, though, admittedly, I required a quick wiki-refresher to remember the story of Clytemnestra. What draws you to the mythology that surrounds beings like Clytemnestra, Artemis and Orpheus? Do you have a thing for tragedy?
CP: Mythology has been a love of mine since my grade four teacher did a unit on the Greek gods. As Joseph Campbell would say, it “hooked” me. Over the last couple years, reading works by Campbell and Carl Jung has given me a lot of insight into why mythology hooked me the way it did. Ultimately, myths are tools that help us explore our psyches, our own inner worlds; because they are so larger than life, I think making artwork inspired by myths helps me both personalize and externalize them.
And yes, I do have a thing for tragedy. There’s something about the way it hits you right in the guts. I guess if there’s no pain or loss, there’s no progress.
MONDO: I checked out your photos from the Field Museum in Chicago, and it seems you were taken with the skeletons. Your photos — of course, the subjects, but especially the contrast of slightly out-of-focus and highly detailed items in one image, plus the surroundings and eerie lighting — reminded me of someone like Floria Sigismondi’s work. Gorgeous. But let’s get back to old, rattling bones — why are they interesting for you?
CP: When I discovered room after room brimming with skeletons, I could hardly contain my excitement. I filled my camera with hundreds of shots. I love bones for aesthetic reasons, the sharp lines, the dark connotations, and the fact that they are usually hidden. But I also love their relative permanence. It’s just incredible to think that these gorgeous fragments supported the living body of a dinosaur a million years ago. It’s awesome in the true sense of the word.
Also, Floria Sigismondi is amazing.
MONDO: You made a lovely zine called Nine Drawings that paired your illustrations with stories written by your friends. Matching that stuff is a tricky business! What was your process? Were you pleased with the result?
CP: Doing Nine Drawings was a great experience and I am pretty happy with how it turned out. It felt great to work with other people’s creativity and use that to feed my own. My process was usually to try and focus on any visual imagery that was present in the written work. But if there wasn’t much of that, I would have to focus on the mood, and work with that.
MONDO: Whose art do you admire most?
CP: Some of my favourite artists are Klimt, Boticelli, Camille Rose Garcia, Audrey Kawasaki, and Sylvia Ji.
MONDO: Any future plans? (Exhibitions, experiments, etc?)
CP: I have lots of different projects on the go. I’m doing a series of paintings and drawings inspired by the Shadow archetype, (which can be construed as affecting all my work). I’m hoping to be able to exhibit them somewhere in Guelph once they’re finished. I’m also going to try and put out a couple more zines, maybe one with poetry and artwork, and possibly one with my mythological drawings, accompanied by flash fictions or poetry. I have a couple flash fictions written already — one about Persephone actually — but I haven’t done illustrations for them yet. Other than that, I plan to go to OCAD next fall for illustration.