“The story you withhold, becomes a centerfold. Waves of women, rippling revolution.”
– Meghan Spiro
Art can resonate in many ways, not only for the viewer but the artist as well.
And when that artist is Meghan Spiro — a Beacon-based commercial photographer, art director and designer whose personal work taps into her photographic skills to explore subjects close to her heart — that resonance goes deep.
Earlier this year, Spiro relied on her photography to examine concepts that included the harvest and nourishment, conservation and waste in the “Bella Monnezza, beautiful garbage” exhibition at the gallery at Hudson Beach Glass, also in Beacon. Her unique approach was front and center in the layered works that depicted Spiro’s turning compost, from food items to dried flowers, into still-life studies that went beyond the outward, surprisingly beautiful, aesthetic.
And that thoughtful approach will be intensely evident this month when Spiro exhibits a most personal collection of work exploring domestic violence at Beacon’s bau Gallery.
Spiro has written about her project by way of introducing this “autobiographical art show and book.”
To advance the collection of 23 self-portraits (photo-based mixed media works using digital compositing, painting, photo transfers on marble, gilding, collage and resin), complemented by her poetry, she writes:
“One in four women have been a victim of severe physical violence with (an) intimate partner in their lifetime, and I am one of them. For years, I spent my life in silence about the abuse, as it happened and in my attempts to recover. I found myself ill-equipped to handle my PTSD, my addictions and my self-loathing. It wasn’t until I signed up to write this story and manifest these self-portraits that I actually began my deeper healing, transmuting my suffering into wisdom and my loathing into love. These poems and artwork are my truth that I bare to all who have suffered in silence over their abuse. It’s time to face our shadows in full honesty and rise above our pain in full embrace of our totality so that we may finally live without fear and full of love.”
It is a show that will no doubt confront and perhaps disturb — but also enlighten and, as Spiro hopes, inspire and promote healing. Putting it together has been quite a process.
“It’s hard, where do you start the show, where do you end it — where do you start the story, where do you end it?” she says.
That it exists, though, is a testament to the power of art, says Russ Ritell. The Hudson Valley painter, featured in WAG’s January issue, is a member of bau Gallery and curated Spiro’s show, “Without Fear and Full of Love.”
Ritell shares his thoughts as the show’s Oct. 12 opening approaches.
“Meghan Spiro has a courageous story to tell,” Ritell says. “It is a story that is powerful in its vulnerability and its resonance across the community and around the world. In my opinion the basis of her narrative is the root cause of many of humanity’s worst moments — the story of domestic violence.”
WAG sits down with Spiro on a recent afternoon, when she shares her story, surrounded by pieces destined for the exhibition and a table filled with elements that show up in her work, from feathers to forms on which she will create headpieces.
A LIFE IN ART
Art has been in her life since her earliest days, her ideas for a career crystallizing when she began to study photography at age 13.
“I was lucky enough, I went to a college prep school in Atlanta, and they had a darkroom,” she says. As she began to learn more and more, she says she began to realize photography could provide a path to being “an artist who makes money.”
Spiro would go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in photography and motion picture sciences from the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California. She would make her way to New York, working as a television producer and coordinator for the Food Network and Fine Living Network, eventually transitioning into photography, design and web development. She worked for a year as a videographer with the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, a holistic-studies retreat center which, she notes, started her on a “deeper spiritual journey” that continues today.
These days, Spiro specializes in commercial photography and branding campaigns expanding her reach by collaborations with small businesses and food publications in the city and the Hudson Valley, as well as ongoing work with luxury brands.
She’s also a food stylist and photographer, tapping into another passion.
“I love cooking,” she says, adding with a laugh. “I always loved food.”
In her personal work, though, she explores many themes.
“I’ve always been into storytelling,” she says.
This show will also witness her powerful voice through a collection of work.
“My Realized Offering” sees Spiro in a goddess-like pose, an aura surrounding her, while “Freefall Until You Fly” is a quietly moving piece that features a peaceful-looking Spiro that upon closer inspection includes a figure falling into the scene. Others, from “Broken Rib” to “Vicious Circle” are perhaps more jarring.
“Some of the images are shocking,” Spiro says, but it reflects the nature of domestic abuse.
“It’s something that no one wants to talk about. It’s their dirty little secret,” she says, getting momentarily emotional when mentioning the domestic abuse suffered by the character Nicole Kidman portrays in the television series “Big Little Lies.”
It was, Spiro says, both traditional therapy plus spiritual explorations, including shamanic healing, that have helped her get to where she is.
That Spiro today stands with such a catalog of work has certainly impressed Ritell.
“It has taken Spiro nearly three years to manifest these works of art, and I have personally witnessed her progress,” he says.
A fellow artist, he knows how much goes into any work of art, let alone pieces as complex as Spiro’s, and thinks the exhibition will have an effect.
“Heavy in its message but beautiful in expression, this artwork will be a way for viewers to experience empathy for victims and aggressors,” he adds.
And it’s just the right time.
“Considering that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and knowing that Meghan needed a venue for this powerful and necessary work, I thought that the timing was symbiotic and invited her to install her work at bau so that ‘Without Fear and Full of Love’ might impact the community and gain traction to expose this important problem to a larger populace.”
As she looks toward the gallery show, Spiro says she is apprehensive of the reactions her work will elicit.
“I think I’ve had a lot of anxieties as I made each of these prints. It’s been intense, now that I am showing the world my biggest failures in life but (also) the lessons I’ve learned.”
Spiro says she has been encouraged, though, by words from fellow artists to friends with whom she’s formed a sisterhood.
“I’ve had people smile and hug me and say, ‘Keep doing it. Keep doing it.’”
And she will, calling the show “an act of self-love.”
She is, though, realistic. Though she has found a way to forgive her abuser, she knows the journey continues.
“To think that this show or this book is a resolution to my healing… it’s ridiculous to think that. It’s going to be an ongoing process, throughout my whole life.”
And it’s a life, full of so many twists and turns, trauma and recovery, that she could see on film one day.
“I have a treatment filed with The Writers Guild, but I won’t put it out there as a film unless I direct it. I have a particular vision.”
As creating her art has helped her heal, Spiro says she hopes “Without Fear and Full of Love” will help many others deal with a topic too rarely addressed openly.
“I feel like I have experienced all this because I have the tools to shed light on it.”
“Without Fear and Full of Love” will run Oct. 12 through Nov. 3 at bau Gallery, 506 Main St., Beacon. An opening reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 12. For more, visit baugallery.org. For more on Spiro’s work, visit meghanspiro.com and philasophia.com.