Darkness abounds in Coquihalla Middle School art teacher Fame Mackney's exhibition at the Olde Courthouse Arts Centre, both in terms of the subjects she tackles and the paints she uses.
For example, Heroine depicts a vampire trapped inside a syringe and being crushed beneath its plunger, a comment on drug abuse. Mackney points out that the vampire is consuming itself in desperation.
"This is a form of self-cannibalizing insanity.
"Here's a vampire that's already eaten its own fingers."
Another painting, Addiction, shows a figure with two pupils in each eye amid ghostly shadows. Here, too, a syringe floats above the figure.
"Many, many years ago, I had a loved one who was addicted to drugs, and it was so wrenching to watch someone you love become increasingly insane with each day," says Mackney.
"In my mind, I was trying to save him, and all I was doing was enabling him to use more successfully," she recalls.
In Addiction, the dual pupils represent the figure's possession, she says. A small, bright star in his chest represents what is left of his former self.
"He was a marionette for a darker force."
Mackney says she hopes her artwork can help others understand what it is like to love a drug addict and also show addicts what they will become.
Mackney has lived in Merritt for the past decade and taught art at Coquihalla Middle School for the last four years.
She majored in art while studying at the University of Victoria, but Mackney says she was interested in painting long before that.
"I caught the bug early—the moment I picked up a red lipstick and improved my parents' virginal white walls."
A knack for painting runs in the family, Mackney adds. Her great-grandmother, Clara Pottinger, was also an artist, who studied with Emily Carr, the artist, not the school, she notes with a laugh.
Although many of the pieces showing at the courthouse gallery centre on dark themes, others explore happier subjects and emotions, like love.
"What I try to do with my show is run the gamut of human feeling," says Mackney.
One painting shows rabbits in a variety of absurd situations, such as a class of bunnies learning to jump out of a top hat at magic school. Another, Unnatural Beauty, gives a jaguar the pattern of a peacock's feathers.
"Why do things always have to make sense? They don't," says Mackney.
Mackney says her work is very autobiographical and has shifted to lighter subjects and a whiter palette in recent years, reflecting her own brightening mood.
Still, many of Mackney's paintings still feature liberal use of black.
"Why would you put a pearl on black velvet?
"It's a beautiful contrast to the colour and it stands out," she says.
Mackney's show at the Olde Courthouse Arts Centre, Whet Your Palette, ends this weekend.