Last Friday, the Brantford Arts Block held an opening reception for its latest exhibition, “Rabbits and Other Issues,” created by artists Heather Verplanke and Dwayne Mahoney as a way of showcasing their pieces over the next six weeks.
Having never gone to an art opening before, I nervously threw on the most hipster outfit I had, slung my camera around my neck, and deemed myself worthy of fitting in with the arts crowd.
However, I had barely made it five feet into the gallery until I felt extremely confused and out of place. I sunk a little lower in my phony artistic outfit, and shifted uncomfortably back and forth, while staring at the bizarre art hanging on the wall in front of me.
What appeared to be a metallic mask in the shape of a rabbit’s face stared dauntingly back at me. This definitely wasn’t the friendly Easter bunny or the cute face of Peter Rabbit that I had become accustomed to in my childhood. This rabbit had empty eye sockets, long sharp fangs, and two horns protruding from its forehead. If Satan had a pet, it would probably be this rabbit.
Confused (and admittedly creeped out) by the rabbit masks, I hunted down the artist, Dwayne Mahoney, to hear the inspiration behind these odd creations.
“It’s a bit of a long story,” Mahoney said. “There used to be an ongoing joke that I thought bunnies were the devil. And then one day we were going to have a party around Easter, so as a joke my wife said ‘How about an evil bunny party?’ I took that and just ran with it. I made my first mask and we even had a ritual…,” he said, trailing off.
I stared at him with a confused expression, waiting for him to further explain his Easter ritual.
“I don’t really know if I want you to write about the ritual,” Mahoney laughed after some time. I suddenly felt relieved to see him smile, because until this point in the interview he had remained stone faced, somber, and frankly a little eerie. “Let’s just say the rabbit masks were created as the finishing touch to our ritual,” he said.
Having to end my interview quickly with the busy artist, I ventured to the opposite side of the gallery where Heather Verplanke, the other featured artist of the night, had her acrylic paintings and papier-mâché sculptures on display.
As I stared at a massive papier-mâché piece of steak mounted on bloody styrofoam on the wall in front of me, I could barely refrain from touching it. The Arts Block must have put up the “Please do not touch the art” signs for amateurs like myself.
Looking around Verplanke’s side of the gallery I noticed a beautifully detailed painting of a little girl, which seemed to clash with the bloody steak hanging in front of me. Even as an art amateur, I could tell there were definitely two different sides to this artist.
“I’m bipolar, so I can have really high times and I can have really low times and I think that between the two poles, this is the art that comes out of me,” explained Verplanke. “Sometimes my art might portray something that is depressing or something that is hyper. That’s kind of where it comes from, depending on where my emotions are at the time. To me it’s whimsical, it’s sort of dreamlike.”
After admiring several of Verplanke’s other pieces- including a painting of a deer smeared with blood- I wandered back over to Dwayne Mahoney’s side of the gallery where I bumped into Chris Blenkinsop, a friend of Mahoney’s for over 20 years.
“The masks Dwayne creates are actually for a big Easter party he puts on every year. It’s an interesting thing, and I’m one of the rare few that are privileged enough to see them in action,” Blenkinsop said.
There it was again, talk of the strange Easter ritual that inspired Mahoney to create these fantastic rabbit masks. As I pressed Blenkinsop further, I made the mistake of saying that Mahoney wouldn’t reveal any details about their ritual.
“If he’s not going into detail, then I probably shouldn’t either,” Blenkinsop said with a laugh.
Leaving the gallery later, I felt satisfied that I had definitely seen something quite unique. As mystified as I was by both Verplanke’s and Mahoney’s artwork, I had to admire how brilliantly created they were. With Halloween around the corner, I would definitely recommend stopping by the Arts Block to see their certainly unusual pieces. And if you do get a chance, be sure to ask Mahoney about his mysterious Easter ritual, because I’m dying to know more.