A tortured expression forever etched on its face, the winged creature stands stoically, head bowed, at the back of the Maple Ridge Art Gallery.
A small spotlight is fixed upwards onto its torso and powerful wings. The light casts an ominous shadow off the sculpture and onto the back wall to accentuate a daunting presence.
Consciously or not, entering the room, one is drawn to it, making it the centrepiece of sculptor Danielle Swift's eclectic Broken Narrative exhibit, showing at the gallery inside the ACT until Nov. 17.
Swift, who grew up in Maple Ridge and now lives in East Vancouver where her studio is located, said the harpy, Podarge, or "fleet-foot," was inspired by her own history and the history of harpies in literature.
The piece, made mostly out of beeswax and fabric, was two years in the making.
In Greek mythology, harpies devolve into hideous and filthy creatures.
"I was interested in exploring that evolution as well as bringing the harpy back to, or at least closer to, her original form - beautiful as well as powerful," Swift explained.
Once it returns to her studio, Swift will be making a few changes to the piece.
"I guess you could say she's still a work in progress," she said. "I didn't physically work on her every day for two years but often hit a wall and needed to step away and think about my next move before continuing."
Swift's exhibit includes a short video that profiles the artist in her Parker Street studio working with concrete, steel, and beeswax, the essential elements in her largely figurative oeuvre.
The 30-year-old has been pursuing the arts professionally for nearly seven years and her imagination comes alive inside the gallery. A graduate of the University of the Fraser Valley Fine Art program, Swift teaches art to young art students part-time at The ACT Arts Centre and Theatre.
She said the concepts for her pieces come from many areas of life.
"It could be advertising, literature, an experience or good story, philosophy or a stranger on the street," she said. "It is usually a combination of these things."
Swift said that's why she has a hard time verbalizing her work and the meaning behind it.
"I have many ideas from many sources that I put into one visual piece," Swift said. "It becomes too difficult to organize them into a single or linear train of thought. I guess that's why I had to pursue the visual arts and not the written."
The title of both the exhibition and video refers to the storytelling component exhibited in Swift's work, as suggested by the regular appearance of harpies and other semi-mythical beings.
The artist's imagination is woven into each piece on display.
Her "self portrait" is made from concrete with a steel armature. She poured the concrete in a very particular way to achieve the cracks that run over the surface. Concrete is traditionally an industrial material, used for its strength and durability, Swift noted.
"I like to play with that traditional use of it by making it look delicate and fragile," she said. "As with many of my pieces, the spine is exposed. The spine is so beautiful and delicate looking, yet it holds us up. It is part of our armature and I find it quite symbolic of strength."
Swift said strength and fragility are common themes that run through most of her work.
"We all have our strengths as well as our weaknesses which add a lot to who we are as individuals, as well as who we are as a collective," she said.
Bound Figure III is one of a small series. The piece is made of beeswax and tissue paper, her legs are made of rope, and she is tied to an egg created from concrete, paper, and wax.
"I believe it's one of the more complex pieces in the show," Swift said. "There is the idea of being bound to expectations of having children as well as the links to having been born and, as the skeletal portions indicate, death and our inevitable mortality."
By drifting through the skeletal, muscular, and dermal parts of the body, Swift said she was embracing what a person is made of physically "while symbolizing the emotional and mental aspects and, finally, our common beginning and end."
Also on view in the gallery are mixed media paintings by Ashley Paquette. Paquette's work was selected for its thematic affinities with Swift's work, and its inclusion in the show often works to extend the ethereal vistas offered by the Swift's sculptures.
Showing until Nov. 17
Times: Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and select evenings.
The Gallery will be closed on Saturday, Nov. 10 for the Remembrance Day weekend.
Place: Maple Ridge Art Gallery (at The ACT Theatre) 11944 Haney Place.