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Cirque performers and employees hold art show

For mere mortals — those of us who can’t swing from a trapeze or balance on our heads — it’s hard to believe that someone who grew up as a circus performer was afraid of anything, let alone his own art, until three or four years ago.

But that was Sergio Kiss’s deal.

“Before working for ‘Mystere,’ or Cirque, I worked at a costume shop that built costumes for shows like ‘Mystere,’ I worked in the art department, sculpting, painting, airbrushing,” Kiss says. “But I never ventured outside of that as far as creating artwork. I think I was very scared.”

Now, he’s exhibiting a painting for the fourth time at “The Collective,” an annual art exhibition for Cirque du Soleil employees that’s been going on for 11 years. This year’s collection will be on display at EDEN Art Studio and Gallery in The Arts Factory, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., until June 14.

Kiss is a rigger for “Mystere.” He’s the guy in the rafters who coordinates the show’s various hanging components and ensures the performers are properly strapped into their harnesses before they fly across the stage. The bird’s-eye view he has every day on the job is a perspective that often appears in his paintings.

In his painting this year, tiny people, some holding tiny silver-screened phones, mill about. In the center is a black-and-white portrait of an Insta-famous fashion blogger who goes by the handle @vintagevandal. Kiss met her through the social media app and came to develop a relationship with her. In the lower righthand corner is a man in a hoodie facing the woman, who Kiss explains represents someone watching over the woman, who sometimes receives negative attention from her social media fame. It’s also — wait for it — himself.

“It’s more of a symbol than me,” Kiss says. “It’s not just me, overseeing, it is as well, but it also symbolizes whoever might be doing the same thing.”

At the exhibition, there’s also a forest scene crafted from laser-cut paper, complete with a grove of birch trees, deer and a flowing river, created by Elena Solodovnikova, a performer in “O.” And there’s the winged golden hat on a pedestal, submitted by “Michael Jackson ONE” wardrobe assistant Castille Ritter.

Overall, the employees’ artwork is no less impressive than the stunts and shows they put on nightly. Ultimately, it’s not that surprising that a group that creates fantastical scenes onstage, many of whom did stints at various art schools, pursue a variety of creative projects in their free time — and show huge talent.

Many pieces seem to revolve around the human body — the photo of a naked man floating in red light, the pencil and watercolor drawing of the inside of a hand, the oil painting of a wooden artist’s mannequin. Again, not surprising coming from a group of people primarily known for physically pushing and contorting their bodies for a living.

“Mystere” performer Kent Caldwell’s contribution to the exhibit is a wall-mounted diorama — a floating, multicolored mass with a 3-D-printed copy of his head in the center and miniature figurines standing around it.

“It’s really important, I think, to show my work because I do make it for myself, but I get a lot of energy from feedback that people have,” Caldwell says. “What they see in it, of course, is going to be different than what I see in it.”

And that’s exactly the goal: to provide the Cirque du Soleil artists with something that will improve their art, even offstage.

“Just stimulating and encouraging that artistic growth,” is important, says Brooke Wahlquist, project coordinator of community events at the resident shows division of Cirque du Soleil, “because as artists, no matter if you’re onstage or offstage, you’re continually emerging, and that’s important to Cirque to foster that.”

Contact Sarah Corsa at scorsa@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0353. Find @sarahcorsa on Twitter.

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