There’s a darkness lurking beneath the colourful surfaces of the Yukon Arts Centre’s latest exhibit.
From the seven-foot-tall horse that is literally bursting at its seams to a quaint-looking house that has grown chicken legs and is running away, the pieces are deeper than they first appear.
Tucked away in a corner, viewers may not immediately see Veronica Verkley’s piece, Seam, but they will notice it as soon as they enter the gallery.
The sharp smell of wet, sheared sheep wool permeates the gallery and leads you to a life-sized horse painstakingly hand sewn from pieces of recycled leather.
The horse is standing on a carpet of dirt and wool and looks as if it has been caught in a rainstorm. Water drips from every surface of the horse and loose threads hang from its neck. Its head droops.
“Sometimes we try to hold everything in and we can’t, so we just burst at the seams,” said Verkley, referring to the liquids that people release, particularly tears.
The horse was built over several months in a rented hotel room in Dawson City’s infamous Westminster Hotel.
Working in a tight space – the horse literally filled the entire room – Verkley wound used hotel bedsheets, mummy-style, around a frame of bent willow.
Aside from being economical, using recycled materials allows people to imagine where these items may have been before they wound up in an art piece.
“They have so many stories, the lipstick smudges, the tools, the hands, the bodies that have rubbed up against them – they all bear marks on them,” she said.
It’s not the first time Verkley has used recycled materials to create animal forms, a horse made from salvaged scrap metal still stands in the atrium of the Yukon Arts Centre and Verkley is known for the dogs she fashioned entirely from plastic bags found on the outskirts of Dawson.
Verkley invites people to touch, to “let the work get under their skin.”
The resulting piece is visceral – visual, aural and tactile – and strikes right at the gut.
The same holds for Manitoba artist Chris Reid. Her Bunny Days also encourages people to get close to her work.
It’s not hard to do when there are hundreds of hand-sewn rabbits and cats dangling from the ceiling all begging to be touched.
However, her most interesting work is the intricately painted eggs and large pastel drawings featuring screaming toast, evil cats and houses that have grown chicken legs and are fleeing their owners.
It’s silly, but has a serious edge.
Drawing on “baba yaga” stories from her Ukrainian heritage, Reid shows houses that disappear from their owners when they aren’t home.
It’s a real-life situation Reid knows only too well. She works as a housing co-ordinator for homeless people in Brandon.
“One day your house and everything with it may just disappear,” said Reid.
“It makes you realize just how vulnerable we all are.”
Much of her work deals with power dynamics.
There are soft, furry, “feminine-like” rabbits being chased by houses, “phallic” planes and giant screaming toast.
But she often turns these power dynamics on their head, showing one of the aggressors under attack in the next drawing.
Her work is too frenetic at times, perhaps reflecting of the fact she considers art a “coping mechanism” for her stressful job.
But her outlandish characters have a way of bringing light to an old topic that most people shut out.
Perhaps most accessible of all the work on display at the arts centre is Lara Melnik’s Polychrome.
Melnik, who has showcased her work in smaller galleries and craft shows around the Yukon, takes the opportunity to experiment with different shapes and forms in this exhibit.
Large-petaled electric pink flowers, psychedelic fungi and bright orange and yellow landscapes are like a midwinter shot of espresso for the colour-starved Yukoner.
In one corner, Melnick displays a curtain of all the beads she has ever made, inviting people to walk inside and touch them all.
On a small table she has meticulously created about 50 little creatures in an “assent of polymers.”
The “gang of serious little characters,” moves around the multi-level display like parts on an assembly line. The piece is quirky and demands a closer look.
Forever Plus a Day is a particularly effective landscape of hers using 11 different panels to show the Yukon’s vast, changing landscape.
But not all of Melnick’s pieces work well with one another.
The Beadology display, featuring “specimens” of beads pinned into a box each featuring their own Latin name, seems more at place in a funky bead store than a gallery.
Moving into a larger space was a “challenge, but an exciting challenge,” said Melnick who spent about a year preparing for the exhibit.
Her thoroughness and organization shows, but her creativity comes out best in the improvised forms she is least used to working with.
The three exhibits run until March 13 at the Yukon Arts Centre.
Lara Melnik will be doing a live demo of her work. Call Jessica at the Yukon Arts Centre for future dates and times, 393-7109
Contact Vivian Belik at