Exhibit preview: Artists contemplate love and marriage in “Happy Together”

From the April 17, 2014 edition

Marriage is different for everyone. Some view it in the more traditional sense, some are fighting just to have it (legally) and others see it as an archaic institution that’s simply not for them. Whatever marriage means to an individual, it’s essentially an extension of love.

When local artists Adam Brouillette and Meghan Kwast get married (and celebrate their love) in late May, it will have a specific meaning encompassing both their personal and professional passions.

The couple, who met in 2009, has curated an art show featuring more than 50 artists conveying their interpretation of marriage or life-long commitment. The exhibit at the Cultural Arts Center, which opens to the public this Saturday, will also serve as the setting for their ceremony and reception.

“It started as a conversation about what kind of wedding we want. What would we want our family to experience? We’re part of art shows, in the art community and around artists, so we said that should be part of it,” Brouillette said during an interview last Sunday at Tacocat, where the couple has studios. “I did a piece a long time ago about the two of us, so we thought why don’t we ask people to make art, their versions of the same thing?”

“This is a way of showing our out-of-town family and people who know us who don’t come here, to see what our lives are like on a regular basis,” reiterated Kwast.

While all couples have keepsakes and/or memories from their weddings, and Brouillette and Kwast will in the quilt piece they collaborated on, the couple is hoping to take away some wisdom from “Happy Together.”

“Along with the artwork, we’re asking the artists to write a narrative about what their piece represents in accordance to lifelong togetherness, happiness and marriage,” said Brouillette, who founded Tacocat last year after the closing of Junctionview, where he was the manager. “The viewer will get the image or artifact and a description of what [the artist was] thinking. And that’s what we’re looking at as marriage advice.”

Therefore the exhibit is as much about presenting the creative process and ideas as the art work itself. Art always has multiple interpretations and themes, but here attendees can read the artists’ message.

Brian Reaume, a mixed media artist whose Birchwater Studios is located in Tacocat, created a piece about an artist’s individuality remaining strong in a committed relationship.

“This is all about the individuality of self and the coming together of being married … two people [forming a union] but maintaining their individuality,” Reaume said. “So I wanted the two separate houses … they each have their own shelter. The red thread is this idea of connectivity, being that there’s something that connects everybody that we meet and love within our lives.”

Kwast immediately fell in love with Reaume’s piece, partly for its aesthetic but also because it reminded her of her own childhood, growing up, like Brouillette, a child of divorce.

“I had to do a drawing of my family [in kindergarten] and I drew two houses next to each other with a tunnel [from] mom’s house [to] dad’s house. And that little string reminds me of that. My dream wasn’t to have them living in the same house. It was just to have a tunnel between them. I knew two houses was the reality,” Kwast said.

Since Brouillette and Kwast had similar childhood experiences — not bad ones, just not the best examples to follow when it comes to maintaining a marriage — they looked to these artists for guidance. There are pieces created by couples, singles and even divorcees.

“There are a couple divorced people … and we asked if they could make work about lifelong togetherness and happiness. They were like, ‘no, no, no.’ But no, we want that. What went wrong and how would you have made it better,” Brouillette said of the diversity of artists and their relationship histories.

Catherine Bell Smith, who’s been happily married for 27 years and serves as a role model for Brouillette and Kwast, created a beautiful and massive installation piece using wood and a mirror. Smith will also officiate the couple’s ceremony.

“It’s about the mirror for the person you’re in the relationship with; to present the cleaner part of you and then you have all of this other stuff that’s behind you. But when you come together, you try to be the best you can be,” Smith said. “[The rings represent] that you’re building layers to your relationship. You can’t just think of it as a line, because you’re actually adding material, [like] a tree grows.”

A good example of a relationship not following a linear path is Brouillette and Kwast’s. Their first date, a “really nice” walk together, happened only after Brouillette “got up the guts” to ask her out. (He’d seen her often at Adriatico's pizza, where Kwast worked and he was a regular customer.) But after that one date, Kwast informed Brouillette she was moving to Cleveland.

A year later Brouillette called Kwast around her birthday and the romance rekindled. Weekend road trips were the norm for six months, until Kwast moved back to Columbus and the couple was able to be (happy) together.