Chavigny’s Family Ties @ Mercury 20

“Not Knowing” (Photo: Margaret Chaviny and Mercury 20)


Currently exhibiting at Mercury 20—a collective gallery in Oakland made up of twenty “elemental” artists—Margaret Chavigny presents a show called Family Ties.  Employing zygomorphic shapes in mixed-media–layered formations upon one another–the large paintings hanging in the space have a warm, earthy, organic feel to them, while also embodying elements of randomness and depth-of-field.

Incorporating planetary and cosmic themes, like interlaced lightning bolts, clouds, tree limbs and leaves, the display radiates life as harmonious, yet far from homogeneous.

The exhibition runs through April 30th.

Chavigny says that in the work two images predominate—the mandala and the family tree.  “In this body of work I am investigating the undercurrents of connection that draw us to one another, that bind and nurture us” she says; describing the directive of the exhibition.

Referring to circular themes often used in her work, Chavigny informs in the show’s statement that “The mandala is a symbol of wholeness, its radial symmetry reflecting an integrated unity…a permeable container.”  Adding that “Each of our cells reflects the subtle variation of inner states of mind,” which she describes as “vulnerability, awe, loss, wonder, passage, memory and growth?”

Family is something very important to Chavigny, who has a daughter, Naomi, eight years old, and a son, Arkasha, who’s 5 years.   And in a recent impromptu chat inside the spaces of Mercury 20, while her son listened in, Chavigny spoke with about her curiosity in anatomy, her experiences with yoga and the nadis, as well as lessons she and her husband, Paul, learned through their grapple with family identity, spurred on in part from miscarriages and infertility.

Installation view (Photo: (ME):  So, about the mandala, why?

Margaret Chavigny (MC):  Well I noticed that I was interested in doing abstract paintings, one side reflecting the other…creating a symmetry, wanting to make order out of chaos.

ME:  And thus, when you talk about “investigating the undercurrents of connection”  that humanity and the planet-at-large experiences, what laid the foundation of that?

MC:  So originally I think it was from studying yoga, and I did a teacher training and all that.  Through this, one of the images that I found was a map of the nadis.

ME:  What’s the nadis?

MC:  It’s the energy channels of the body—it’s related to the chakras; all the way through the body and outside of the body.  So,  I found this really beautiful map with all the names of the different nadis.  I’ve been using that as a building block for my paintings for 4 or 5 years.

ME:  Interesting…

MC:  I’ve had a lot of injuries as well, like tendonitis, from physical activities.  So I’ve done a lot of drawings of Grays Anatomy; white on black drawings, creating them as celestial maps.

Because I’m an adoptive mom, it made me really think about, what are the connections that we have to one another, rather than through heredity.

In Chinese adoption there’s a fable that says there’s a red thread that connects the holder to the heart of the child that you’re bring to you.  There’s a reason why you’re connected to this particular person.

ME:  Yes, I understand that.  I’m an adoptive parent too.  And in so many ways, I felt like my son chose me to come into his life.

The red thread—that’s beautiful.

MC:  There’s a sense of renewed faith and healing–after all the miscarriages and infertility.  There’s a sense that we were supposed to adopt this child.

I didn’t want my art life to be so separate.  And so, in this body of work there’s all these ideas that have been there anyway.

Installation view (Photo:

ME:  Could you give an idea of how you started this project; how it revolves around mandalas?

MC:  My process is often to do random marks [on a surface] and play off of those.  One way is to reproduce a random mark over again to make a mirror image of it.  Then I thought I wanted to do that in a circle.  So, taking all these chaotic random marks and reflecting them.  And that brought me back to an image of a mandala—a yin yang idea, as a symbol of wholeness.

ME:  That’s beautiful.

MC:  I was thinking also of a family tree for my kids, but realizing that that doesn’t work the same way for an adoptive family.  Then realizing, I became aware that others were making family trees that were circular, as a way of including everybody.  I think I looked online and came across this circular diagram.   So that also fed into this idea that I can make my own family tree in my own way.  Our experience as adoptive parents came from the loss of fertility, and my childrens’ loss there original birth parents and culture.  Part of this is acknowledging this loss. And the mandala is sort of a healing image in my mind.

ME:  Thanks for sharing your story—your art and ideas.

MC:  You’re welcome.

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