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The Mother Load of Art

While I have no burning desire for my four-year-old son or the sweet pea in my belly to be artists, I want them to know art, to feel art, to rely on art if they need to, to trust art when they feel they can’t trust humans, to mistrust art when their instincts tell them to, to crave art – more than salty or spicy thises or thats, more than chocolate – to find art and to allow it find them, to look for the chords, the dissonance, the obsession, the adoration and the repulsion, and the constriction and the breath in art.  I want my children to have the intelligence which will help them decide when an artist is being true.

My son Enlai and I have been to exhibitions aplenty.  There was the time we went to see Sigrid Holmwood at Annely Juda Fine Art, when Enlai in his baby carrier kicked his legs feverishly in front of one particular piece with fluorescent lemon yellow and lead antimonite among other media as I considered Van Gogh’s influence and started thumbing around my bag to find my sunglasses.  It was bright in the gallery during Holmwood’s occupation.

While we’re on Mr. Vincent V.G., there was the Royal Academy of Arts exhibition “The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters”.  Upon walking into the first room, with wall-to-wall paintings, drawings and letters, Enlai surveyed the space and in the same shouting voice he uses at the playground to get my attention when he is competing with the volume that accompanies after-school energy he declared, “Oh, great, I love Picasso!”  The gentleman a few feet away was not amused.  I was.

There was Cy Twombly at Tate Modern, when I did everything in my power to keep Enlai awake half the night – including cookie bribery, Tigger and Pooh impersonations, and building Play-Doh pillars as tall as the wee man – so that he’d sleep a better part of the next day, during our time at the exhibition.  I wanted him to see the Twombly tour de force, but I also wanted to view the works, as if they existed only for me, as if I had all the time in the world to view them.

And in keeping with the technique of the last chancer, Enlai and I ventured over to White Cube, Mason’s Yard to see the Christian Marclay show.  As to be expected on the last day of the exhibition, there was a long line outside.  Spotting me with the buggy and restless toddler, the gallery invigilator/saint pulled us out of the line and told us to follow her inside the gallery.  Oh, the daggers thrown at us by the sideline sufferers.  I still have scars from where the blades entered.  While watching Marclay’s The Clock, a 24-hour assemblage of time-associated scenes from movies, I could appreciate his concept and his obsessive adherence to his concept, but visually, watching the video for me became an exercise in “Oh, I know that film, that’s (insert title here),” and “Note to self, watch that film again,” and “Oh, what’s that actor up to these days?”  Enlai, on the other hand, was glued to the screen.

And lest I not forget our visit to the Hauser & Wirth space on Old Bond Street that the gallery shares with Old Master dealer Colnaghi, to see the Berlinde de Bruyckere/Luca Giordano show “We Are All Flesh”.  Bruyckere’s uncompromising talent, her haunting wax sculptures, her understanding of betweenness and the human condition is arresting.  As our eyes were on the deconstructed human figures writhing in contradictory brutal and sensual contortions – part orgy, part nude wrestling, and part massacre – Enlai looked at me and asked, “Why is this happening?”  And although he didn’t understand then, I hope that he will understand in the future what I meant when I told him that he needed to decide for himself why this is happening.

Just as I thought it an opportune time a couple years ago, I think this is another apt time with Mother’s Day (US) only over a couple weeks away to share with you a variety of artworks which depict a mother, commemorate a mother or were inspired by a mother.  I am captivated by the artists’ use of empty toothpaste tubes, vintage infantwear, ivory and formica, among other media in the pieces.  The perspective, the confrontation, and the meditation on family life evident in the works is deserving of our eyes and minds.

When I view the Seurat and Schjerfbeck pieces, I think of my own mom, who sewed my clothes as a young child, my outfits and prom dresses as a teenager,  and my wedding dress as an adult.  I owe my limited knowledge of silk dupioni, organza and bouclé to her, as I do my love of the sound of patterns being pulled out of envelopes.  I can still see her carrying bolts of burlap and lamé to the cutting table, and the woman about to cut the fabric asking what she planned to make.  My mom, motioning towards me, responded, “A dress for her.”  Perplexed, the woman asked, “With these two fabrics?”  My mom, somewhat embarrassed, shook her head at me, and told the woman, “I tried to tell her, but she insists this is what she wants.”  The life and times of a mother and a determined child.

Arshile Gorky
The Artist and His Mother, 1926-36


Frank Benson
Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, 2004


David Alfaro Siqueiros
The Artist’s Mother, 1950


Sher Fick
Portrait of Artist’s Mother as a Child, 2008


Georges Seurat
Embroidering (Portrait of the artist’s mother), 1883


Song Dong
Waste Not installation, 2012


Edvard Munch
The Dead Mother, 1899


Egon Schiele
Mother Sleeping, 1911


Thomas Seir Cummings
A Mother’s Pearls (Portraits of the Artist’s Children), 1841


Helene Schjerfbeck
At Home Mother Sewing, 1903

Category: Art, General, Reviews, This Parenting Stuff


One Response

  1. Liz says:

    I love the art pieces you have selected and of course the writing is as impressive.

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