Rhiannon Dark: A Positive Shock
By Autumn Steam
Rhiannon Dark is one of our century’s modern mythologists. Her psychological and sociological analysis of everyday life translates into tangible work of art that evokes strong emotion and thought to the viewer. From masks to avant-garde runway fashion, she mindfully uses her time to make and remake a piece until she is satisfied with it. Years of personal experience, school, research and observation are meshed with an incredible talent to make some of the most shocking dark art.
Although Dark is skilled in many different mediums, her passion is mask making. “My inspiration for masks is usually a combination of wanting to build a character or attain a feeling and the personality of the person who the mask is to be worn by. I want the wearer to feel beautiful and freed by the mask to behave in a way they might otherwise not feel comfortable to do. I also want them to have a sense of being a monster of a sort, and yet being accepted, praised, and causing shock in a positive way”, Dark said. The masks are rigid and sculpted from lightweight paper clay. They are not only custom to the persons face but to the perceived personality which comes out in the color and embellishments. Dark is not afraid to use color. She layers the acrylic paint to give the mask depth and exaggerate the fantastical features. The sculpted texture is enhanced by a mosaic of broken mirror, rusty nails, tacks, rubber hoses and other found objects. The result is a shocking piece of wearable art.
Dark began her journey painting on canvas. She is, “interested in recreating primal and mythical figures with my painting. It is a chance to give grand forms to these ancient subjects and place them in environments that I would be unable to create any other way. I try to give form to these characters in a way that communicates their overwhelming power to the subconscious, rather than trying to convince mind of a realistic physical existence”. Unlike painting, sewing has been more about the physical and translating a well built piece of clothing to follow a theme.
Dark explains, “As a child and adolescent, I was always intrigued by used clothing stores. I loved looking through the large ranges of fashion (and un-fashion.) I developed a knack for reaching into a pile of clothes and pulling out the one amazing designer or vintage piece.” She eventually taught herself to alter and sew clothing and applied her skills to create a look for her husband’s metal band, Big Hammer Theory. This exposure inspired her to participate in the Eugene Summer in the City Runway Show. Dark says she has, “always been involved in theater and [has] a taste for the power [a] dramatic costume has upon both the viewer and the wearer. In my design for fashion shows, I am looking to create that sense of awe and liberation for both the models and audience”. Fashion shows are relatively new to Dark, but she seems to take the logistics in stride and creates an impressive show out of chaos. “Before shows, I meet with my model and get a sense of who they are and how they see the world and themselves. This is important to me, because I want the design to be something that they will connect with and really enjoy acting out a character with, onstage. The costume is usually an extension of the mask. Sometimes though, it is the mask, like a bodice I built with a translucent pregnant belly and bust.” So much time spent with the models and meshing their personality with her vision is what makes Dark great. She is always looking for themes and connections from her psychological interests to a tangible conception. For example, “Last year's fashion show was a combination of many themes that interest me, I built a costume incorporating many of the dream-like themes of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. A couple costumes explored the themes of c-sections replacing natural birth and what societal effects that might eventually lead to. One costume was a modern mishmash of historic costume with paniers re-imagined as butterfly cages. Several outfits had obvious references to the inner body, such as veining, or in one case a giant plush heart artery for a shoulder strap of a dress. The fashion show was part of the avant-garde runway event for Eugene’s fashion week.
Currently, Dark is back in school at the University of Oregon gathering more skills in Theatrical Costuming, Sculpture and Fiber Arts. She has, “actively creating art for the last ten years, taking classes at various schools to learn different skills and teaching myself whatever I couldn't find an instructor for. I have always thrown myself into whatever interests me, learning through doing. She is spending most of her time in school, caring for her family and making an occasional mask. “All of my free time engaged in art in some way. I also try to live my art as well, such as in taking time to dress in a fashion that suits me or writing notes in a way that also takes into account the composition on the paragraph on the piece of paper. It is tiring, sometimes, but worth it to engage the mind as much as possible, even in menial tasks”. Her cognizant living and balance of school and family leave little time for maintaining an online presence. Instead she is more interested in meeting and sharing her work with other artists in her, “daily environment”.
Dark is completely focused on her, “technical development, like learning tailoring skills and mold-making techniques”. She still finds time to work on some art and is planning her next fashion show with the help of collaborator, “Tommy Harbour a local comic artist and silk screen artist”. He is printing most of her fabrics, “with characters from his comic books and drawings”. Besides collaborating, she gathers plenty of research on her themes. “For factual and historical research, I borrow books from the university libraries. I also try to let related professors and grad students know what I am doing in case they have a better idea of where I should look for information. For conceptual research, I am learning to work on samples and sketches in a sketchbook and to build maquettes”. Her combined research, collaboration, skills and talents will make her next fashion show a must see.
Dark’s work is hard to assign to one genre. She says she is, “irrationally resistant to the idea of genre and tend to stringently avoid easily recognizable symbols from established genres. I rely upon subconscious themes and symbolism in my art, which often lose strength when adopted into fads. Conversely, I feel comfortable in adopting items from various genres into my art when they strengthen my work in some way. Her conscious approach to every detail of her work makes her rise above the subject of genre to an influential artist ready to take the world by storm, one person at a time.