Mothers’ art will satisfy even picky eaters

Exhibition dishes up bittersweet emotions


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A new visual art exhibition at Mentoring Artists for Women's Art (MAWA) begins with the question most mothers dread: "What's for Supper?"

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/05/2015 (2759 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A new visual art exhibition at Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art (MAWA) begins with the question most mothers dread: “What’s for Supper?”

“Oh, how that question strikes at the heart,” Katy McKelvey writes in her artist’s statement. Just in time for Mother’s Day, 20 members of the MAWA Artist Mothers Group have created works that look at the tasty, tricky junction of mothering, food and art.

“This ain’t the 1950s,” the show’s intro reads, “but moms still carry a lot of responsibility for food. From bag lunches to bake sales, family dinner to TV dinner, coupon clipping to foodie blogs, comfort food to soul food, from the breast-or-bottle debate to happy-meal shame, food is often how we are judged as good or bad mothers.”

Brenna George�s oil painting No Money for Supper, above, takes a poignant look at hunger.

This is the seventh group show from the Artist Mothers, which started in 2010 with only two people and has grown to 20 members. The women gather once a month to share ideas and inspiration and to discuss the dual challenges of mothering and art-making.

“We usually work together on a project,” explains Sandra Brown, a mother of two who has been with the group since its inception. “Moms need time to make art.”

“And time to talk to other artists,” adds Sharen Ritterman, a mother of one son who came to the group because she wanted to be with “people who ‘get it.'”

The group often looks at mothering flashpoints such as schedules and social pressures and the endless accumulation of kid-related stuff. As an artistic subject, the daily struggle to get supper on the table offers all kinds of possibilities. Food can be a powerfully positive force, representing love, caring and the sharing of family traditions. But it’s also a magnet for guilt and doubt. Many of these artists approach the loaded topic with a little sweetness, a little spice and a dash of humour.

Carolina Araneda ingeniously spells out food-related words using only noodles and push pins. Rose Montgomery-Whicher records the lives of her growing children with intricately beautiful line drawings of their meals.

Jocelyn Chorney uses watercolour and mixed media to affectionately document the challenge of preparing food for picky eaters: Eggs, for example, are acceptable only two ways: “Dippy eggs (a.k.a. sunny-side up), consume only yolk; Hard-boiled eggs, consume only white.” There are additional, hilariously specific notes on serving and standards.

Leigha Phelps’s photo-based works, which concentrate on young and old hands doing kitchen tasks, demonstrate how cooking expresses warmth and nurturing through the generations. Ritterman’s art depicts old 1950s kitchen appliances and a classic Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook in pieces that look incredibly painterly but are actually digital images manipulated with a photo app.

Brown embodies motherhood as a brightly painted wooden cupboard, which you can open up to view “preserves” of mothering notions from years gone by: “Withheld Affection” from 1929; “Respect for Authority” from 1963; “Undivided Attention” from 1996; “Screen Time” from 2009. There are small containers of “rage,” “guilt” and “regret,” balanced with big jars of “patience,” “humour” and “unconditional love.”

Other works examine difficult issues surrounding food. Brenna George looks at hunger, in a beautiful oil-on-canvas painting that presents the ugly reality of families who face a financial struggle to get food on the table. Yvette Cenerini examines the ethics of factory farming with an unsettling image of dairy cow, graphically pulled between its human-directed functions of lactating and birthing.

What’s for Supper, like other Artist Mothers exhibitions, also brings up conflicted feelings about the work of mothering. This isn’t the Hallmark card version of Mother’s Day. “We’ve had people crying at shows,” Brown says, “because they see that someone understands what they’re experiencing.”

For artists who are also mothers, it’s often hard to combine creative work with the constant domestic to-do list. But the experience of motherhood can also have positive effects on art-making. “It brings patience to pursue it and perseverance,” suggests Ritterman.

Brown found her calling as an artist when she was a stay-at-home mom, spending a lot of time in the house with young children. “I had to confront myself,” she relates. “And I realized I was a creative person. My kids brought that to me.”

There’s a lot of food for thought at this group exhibition. There might even be a few ideas on what to make for supper.

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Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

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