BFA exhibit of artwork by Cyndi Merrill
by Amy Lambert
With age and challenge comes perspective, and Cyndi Merrill has a great deal to share. Her recent exhibit “Octopusification: the Strife of the Sublime” shines a spotlight on her struggles as a woman managing disability and surfacing as an artist.
Cyndi Merrill is a transplant in Peoria, arriving to the area when her Husband was assigned through the military. She grew up in Lake Geneva, WI, on a small non-working farm, to a family of builders. While she enjoyed art, it was not an occupation that her family wanted her to explore and led Cyndi to focus on engineering. “My mom never wanted me to get too involved in art – she was afraid I wouldn’t be self sufficient. Looking back, the suppression of art in my life caused me to have some major issues with depression and my perception of my self worth.”
In a decision that returned her to school in 2006, Cyndi took a class at Illinois Central College with Jennifer Costa. While Cyndi was still fighting away from pursuing art, the class – 3D Design – enabled her to keep the mindset of an engineer while introducing creative aspects of art. She found it fun and Professor Costa encouraged her to use her problem solving skills in an artistic way. “It was as if a light switch had been turned on and I could see what I was supposed to do with my life.”
After graduating from ICC in 2011, Cyndi commuted to attend ISU for Fine Arts. In December, her “Octopusification: the Strife of the Sublime” show capped her portfolio, earning her Bachelor in Fine Arts degree from Illinois State University. Her artist statement for this show is outlined below.
My body of work is a conceptual message to our younger selves. Marine animals are used to represent the idea of becoming other. Other is something that is different from our own traditional existence. Other in this case means damaged; through age, injury, disease, or even mental illness. The choice of using marine life stems from my experience with water therapy to help me cope with my own physical damage. Through an arduous and twisting process, often occurring while I was physically in water, I associated crabs, snails, and yes, octopuses, as symbols for what I was physically and mentally feeling or longing for.
Applying the aquatic symbolism to sublime, perfected, idealized forms creates a dichotomy for the viewer to interpret. The carefully crafted object, in wood, metal, or clay is now laden with a portion of something strange and awkward. This creates the communication of how the concept of other can affect us at any moment.
My work changes the troubling idea of other into a humorous context, so that it is more readily accepted than dark or tragic works. This use of humor facilitates the message in reaching a broader audience. When we are younger our heads argue with our perceived body image. When we are older, the aches and pains of our bodies contradict our minds which may not have aged as rapidly. One day you wake up and realize you are not young anymore. Youth has escaped you. It can be a very shocking and traumatic experience. My work is intended to prepare those who have yet to experience this, and create camaraderie among those who have.
The show, mainly focusing on her ceramic creations, shared works that illuminated her long time struggle with peripheral polyneuropathy. Cyndi continually manages an exaggerated pain response. In particular, her striking “Delectable Disco Damsels” series spotlights the pleasure and joyful indulgence of movement that one is denied when disabled.
Within Central Illinois, Cyndi is a proud and active member within Central Illinois Artist Organization (CIAO). Often showing her work through the Annual Clay and Fiber show at Bishop Hill and The Atelier, Cyndi is active in CIAO’s First Friday Studio Events. Cyndi says Peoria offers a great community of artists, all working together to further the arts and individual artists. “The group has really helped me gain exposure and make lifelong friends.” Next month, Cyndi will also participate in the show Cats & Dogs at the Jan Brandt Gallery. Online you can see her portfolio site at www.thecrabbyrabbit.com.