For this special day, honoring Motherhood, I thought to look at how some artists have depicted their own mother or an archetypal mother.
The artists’ real mothers are displayed as persons with their own life. She is an individual with a personal life and character as is witnessed by her child, the artist.
By painting his/her mother, child – mother relationship is revealed by the fact that the artist paints his mother and how she is depicted.
In contrast, the ‘mother and child’ images are simpler and softer. They symbolize the child’s innocence, mother love and protection.
Finally, there is the mother as ultimate source.
This difference can been quite clearly in two paintings by Picasso, that were made almost in the same year.
In 1922, Picasso painted this lovely symbolic painting of Mother and child. Mother with Divine light in her heart, and the baby painted in Divine & innocent blue. The whole painting is lovely, gentle, and nurturing. Displaying the delicate growth of nature.
In contrast, in 1923, Picasso painted his own ‘Mother’. She’s placed ‘backwards’, almost black and white, not facing the viewers, she is strong, dignified, emotionless.
The Mother as Birth-Giver & Nurturer
1938, Paul Klee made his ‘Mother & Child’ in watercolors.
She tenderly cares for her baby.
Social Activist, Keith Haring, painted ‘Mother Holding Baby’, in 1986. The child is colored innocent & Divine. The mother is the strong, happy protector.
The Mother as The Artist’s Mother
The photos here are a ‘before’ and ‘after’. The first image is a thumbnail of an early painting of David Hockney’s ‘My parents’ (1977).
Hockney usually gave hints to the sitter’s character by depicting them in their normal environments. In it, his devout mom in in Mother Mary’s holy blue. She’s smiling contently. Her husband is in the room with her. She’ll level-headed and has her two feet on the ground.
My Mother, Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire Nov. 82
In this photo collage of his mother in 1982, Hockney clad her head-toe in a bluish rain coat that resembled a bag for a corpse, and made her lean against a tomb stone on a graveyard. It’s dreary weather, and she looks away.
Actually, Hockney portrayed her on the day of her husband’s funeral. In doing so, he created an image of unveiled human suffering, a moving and outstanding testament to both of his parents.
In 1985, three years after her husband’s death, David Hockney made a still-scattered mom in his photo collage.
A few years later (1988-1989), David Hockney painted his ‘Mum’ again, now in a tender portrait. While she looks straight ahead, she is not really looking in your eyes. Her eyes look like two globes, who have seen it all. However, the pain of losing her husband has dulled. This painting is made with love.
In 1629, Rembrandt painted his own mom with utmost detail.
He made this painting in the transition from religious-themed scenes towards portraits of the wealthy & the noblesse.
He painted her twice in the span of just a few years.
In 1888, Van Gogh painted his happy, sweet mom to look like this (painted in oil on canvas).
Made in Arles.
The Mother as Omni-Presence
In my study of artists and their mothers, I discovered a third, interesting angle: the archetypal Mother as ultimate source and omni-presence.
Early in his career, in 1950 Rauschenberg created this conceptual ‘combine’ collage/painting called ‘The Mother of God’. Whether you take the title to be ‘the ultimate source of the Divine’ or an exclamation in the face of the extreme, the painting is great, strong and meaningful. The ‘negative’ space around the large disk (source / sun ) is made up of city maps. You can choose the painting to mean that the God-Mother’s saving white light is omnipresent, hanging over the cities and being right there for anyone who lives there, but many other readings are possible. For example, the circle could also be read to be the womb. And it could be seen as a void, representing the unknowable nature of God.
Dubuffet choose to paint the symbol ‘The Mother Goddess’. To me, she is the Earth Mother, in her black and red tones. In this as in his other paintings, Dubuffet focused on the essential expressive factors of painting, gesture and color, and broke with aesthetic conventions. Interestingly, she is only painted till the waist, even though the womb and the lower chakras best relate to Mother Earth. The emphasis is on her mouth and eyes. She looks … amazed, shocked, violated ?! Certainly not a happy princess.
By Astrid Lee ~ copyright 2008