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Review: A Tribute to Motherhood @ S.P.A.C.E.
Atsuko Smith, 'Mother and Child: Two Artists No.1', oil and collage on canvas, 36" x 36", 2009

As Swiss Cardinal Gaspard Mermillod once said, "A mother is she who can take the place of all others but whose place no one else can take."

Mothers can adopt any form-cooks, doctors, teachers, artists. Yet they are often a forgotten whisper in the realm of art, represented with a passing glance and a pat on the head. Savannah Gallery S.P.A.C.E. explores the many hidden faces of motherhood in their latest exhibition entitled "4 Squared"-an exhibit featuring four mothers who use art as a way to examine and define their unique experiences of motherhood.

While each of the artists produced thought-provoking, visually appealing pieces, the works of one artist particularly stand out. Japanese painter Atsuko Smith's uses her oil paints to illustrate the relationship she shares with her only daughter.

Smith's eight square paintings are arranged linearly against a white wall all to themselves. In each of the paintings, Smith's daughter Mina is portrayed in action. She may be drawing, painting, or simply smiling at the viewer, but each portrait displays a cheerfulness and contentment seemingly exclusive to children.

Three of the pieces, entitled "Mother and Child: Two Artists" No.1, 2, and 3, incorporate her daughter's rough sketches as a collage within the paintings. Each of the works posses a joyful, light-hearted simplicity, a remembrance of the innocence and ease of childhood. While Smith's paintings are charming and realistic from a distance, their beauty is only enhanced when you step closer.

Smith's smooth brushstrokes are as affectionate and loving as a warm embrace. She caresses the canvas with her brush as if she were gently touching her daughter's cheek. Edges are soft and calm, effortlessly pulling the viewer from background to foreground, from skin to fabric. Smith's use of color is particularly striking. Her daughter's soft flesh is painted with bold greens, reds, yellows, and whites, all combining to dance in a rainbow of hues. The movement in her skin compels our eyes to travel leisurely from the bright white reflection of her cheek to the purple-black shadow under her elbow.

This movement within colors mimics the way Smith captures her daughter's expressions and posture. In one painting, Mina displays a modest, playful smirk, clutching her upper arms and tilting her head with the shy curiosity of meeting a stranger. In the next,she is depicted as an adventurous explorer, grasping her pencil and paper as if they were a ship and compass ready to take her on an exciting journey. Then she is suddenly calm and pensive, head dropped and hands clasped in a posture of prayer, her young mind deep in concentration.

This last painting, titled "Motherhood and Meditation," is perhaps the most appealing of the collection. It merges an exotic garden of colors with the quiet seriousness of a monk-- most adults struggle to achieve the wholeness and spirituality communicated in Mina's peaceful expression.

Large transparent bubbles rest in each of the four corners, each revealing a Japanese character hovering above a scarlet lotus. The circles add a sense of balance and airiness to the composition, emphasizing the relaxed mood. Mina faces a window of greenery and light, symbolizing God, nature, and everlasting hope. Viewers feel at ease, safe, and confident in a promising future.

Smith writes in her artist statement that her daughter "...represents the joy of capturing life as it is in this moment."

This sentiment is beautifully achieved, as she encapsulates an instant of time and invites the viewer to contemplate and appreciate it as long as they like. If only all mothers could record their fondest memories in eternity and view their children's smiling faces even when they are grown and miles away.

The cold, impersonal medium of photography fails to capture the emotional fullness achieved in painting, yet Smith's encompassing style allows other individuals to reflect on their own childhood and parenting experiences through her work. We are transported back in time, to sitting in the kitchen coloring, or tagging along with our parents as they go about their mysterious grown-up business.

In each of the pieces, Smith's warm, vibrant colors incur this mood of familiarity and affection. Mother and daughter are perfectly comfortable around each other and clearly share an unbreakable bond. Although the paintings are extremely realistic in proportion, it seems that Smith could have painted them miles away from her daughter. She seems to know by heart each crease and groove in her daughter's face, exactly how far her smile raises her cheek.

The way Smith integrates her daughter's amateur drawings inside her studied technique symbolizes the journey they take together. Neither mother nor daughter knows how each day will turn out but they share and create their future together. Smith does not see herself as a queen ruling over and dictating her daughter but as her equal, each with plentiful things to learn from each other. Their relationship is intimate and cherished, and the paintings welcome the viewer into this loving disposition.

Although each of the four artist-mothers present beautiful, intriguing works in "4 Squared", Atsuko Smith's collection makes the exhibition a must see. Her paintings are ripe with studied technique, calming atmosphere, and touching realism. She bravely experiments with color and medium in innovative ways, and the end result is truly lovely. Although Smith writes in her artist statement that her work explores various female stereotypes, the only one obvious in her work is the love of motherhood, of the female's ability to nurture, to teach, to love. The rewards of motherhood definitely shine brighter than the low points as we gaze into her daughter's happy, content smile.

Gallery S.P.A.C.E. invites viewers to reflect on happy memories through October 29 free of charge. Their location on Henry Street and off-street parking make the exhibit easy and accessible to visit. The works of Atsuko Smith and fellow artist-mothers Ashley Waldvogel, Melina Schawel, and Linette Dubois are available for viewing Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.