Neal Rantoul is one of New England’s most renowned photographers. Over his long career, he has created a large body of work with varied subjects and aesthetic strategies. But he is best known for his photographs of landscapes and architecture, rendered with exacting precision, luminous clarity, and crisp compositional order.
On February 5, 2014, the artist visited the Fitchburg Art Museum to update us on his recent work. On his way home, he stopped by the now-closed Halloween Costume World and Haunted Mansion on Water Street in Fitchburg. Intrigued by what he found inside, Rantoul returned on eighteen separate occasions over the course of a year to make a new set of work that could not be more different from his famous signature style.
In Rantoul’s Monsters, order gives way to disorder and reality yields to illusion. Colors are garish, even grotesque. The images are confrontational, with close cropping and an overall shallow, claustrophobic space. The artist’s emotional palette shifts from the calm contemplation of a stable world to a riotous celebration of terror, humor, and anxiety.
Rantoul’s photographic approach helps to underscore the uncertainty of his subject. Monsters are mythical creatures that appear throughout human history and culture, and always exist at the shadowy borders between waking and dream, life and death, attraction and revulsion, fear and wonder, the human and the animal, and the human and the divine. Monsters are symbols that help us to navigate unknowable and profoundly uncomfortable territories. Sometimes funny, sometimes familiar, they are always haunting. Rantoul’s images make us confront them, head-on, in all their power.
And in this Connector Gallery at FAM, the Monsters rightly mediate between a contemporary art exhibition focused on the creative potential of plastics, and a show full of African masks. While their materials are modern, industrial and familiar, their psychological and spiritual impact is universal and ubiquitous.
Nick Capasso, Director
Stephen Jareckie, Consulting Curator of Photography