With Mother’s Day fast approaching, we’ve been reflecting on the loving, nurturing and protective nature of maternal relationships. Whether inspired by the nostalgic memories of their own childhood, or from the devoted perspective of a parent, our fabulous artists have created some stunning works inspired by their families.
The mother figure has long fascinated artists, with the first depictions of Mary dating back to Early Christian art, and continuing through the Renaissance period, with paintings and sculptures of the Madonna and Child being a core to Christian iconography. As artist, Dan Hiller, says: "The Mother and Child motif or theme is one of the most universal and fundamental symbols of the provision of life, care and nurture, of our relationship with our own mothers, and of the great Divine Mother, whether she’s Mother Earth, Gaia, Pachamama etc, or Mother Universe."
Fast-forward to our current creative landscape and we've found that passion for this subject is as strong as ever, leading to a litany of literal, symbolic, and bold artworks. So, read on to learn about our Mother’s Day selection.
Nickie Carlyon, In a Blue Cloud, from the series In My Mother’s Footsteps
The Series of paintings In My Mother’s Footsteps came from a series early family black & white photographs of my mother’s family on Vancouver Island Canada, where she was born. I used these photos to prompt her childhood memories of a precious and distant time that she remembered with incredible clarity. I recorded her narrating memories, laughter and tears, her recollections of neighbours, animals that shared this idle and tales of an extraordinary childhood. Every time we got the photos out, she remembered another detail, like the dogs’ name or the colour and texture of an item of clothing. It was a mind exercise to make her remember, stretch those memories as far as she could go.
The photographs gave me a rich source of inspiration for a series of paintings; they are my imaginings of the colour and world where Mum lived. They are between reality and a dream place; they are the past which I am trying to rekindle so Mum can remember. ''Memories are the loveliest thing; they last from day to day. They can’t get lost, they don’t wear out, and can’t be given away'' Anonymous.
That was 3 years ago. Elspeth is now 93; she has dementia and living in a nursing home. She has no recollection of time; she now lives in a dream space. I can’t express how fortunate I feel to have spent this precious time with my Mum reminiscing as so much of the detail is now lost but through the paintings, photos, and recordings it will be a memorial to a very happy part of her life.
Tim Southall, Bear Hugs
The inspiration for ‘Bear Hugs’ has been with me all my life, both in terms of the relationship I have with my own mother, and in the rich cultural depiction of the subject in art. This strong and fundamental connection between mother and child courses like a strong current and is something that touches people’s souls, something that everyone can relate to and make a connection with.
Like so many animals, historically bears have been mistreated and misunderstood. Consequently, I choose to depict them in a sympathetic and loving way. I often feature them in my narrative works where I give them emotions and a storyline and allow them the freedom to be themselves. And what could be better than a mother bear with her gorgeous little cub. Such a delicate thing swaddled in the immense strength and claws of its mother, and nothing is as comforting and reassuring than a protective hug from mum.
Mother's Day is a celebration honouring the mother of the family, as well as motherhood and maternal bonds, and this is not exclusive to humans. Maternal love extends throughout the animal kingdom.
Dan Hillier, Mother and Child
I have something of a fascination with iconography from various traditions and have long been especially drawn to the icon of the Madonna and Child, which forms the foundation of this piece, based on an engraving of a painting by Paul Delaroche.
The driving inspiration with ‘Mother and Child’ was wanting to depict that dual symbolism of the human relationship with our mothers who bring us into the world, and the human relationship with our Mother Earth from where we all come. I wanted to make an image that feels full of life and abundance and tenderness, that suggests the fertility of the Earth and the farther reaches of the cosmos, and which also has a sense of the reciprocity that comes with this relationship, both human and cosmic.
The child is offering a lotus flower to the mother, with the Om Mani Padme Hum – the Buddhist mantra alluding to ‘The Jewel in the Lotus’, the symbol of the awakening Buddha nature in everything that is unfolding, including us - written on its petals. The Metta Bhavna, the Buddha’s sutra on loving kindness, is screen printed lightly over the entire reverse of the print.
It’s a picture I gave to my mum to offer thanks and love for all she’s done for me in giving me life and supporting me as I grew up, and is meant for all mothers and children of mothers in that spirit.
Paula Wilkins, Mother and Child II
This piece forms part of my ‘Tracing the Future’ series which explores the movement of the image through time and technology, from the renaissance through to the present.
Using ‘The Madonna and child with Saints’ painted by Agnolo Bronzino in around 1540 as a starting point, I was interested to see whether the iconic motif could be transformed further and perhaps alter the narrative and allow it to be a universal celebration of motherhood.
The Madonna and Child are central icons for the catholic and Orthodox Church and relay to the viewer the Christs human connection to earthly beings, usually held in the arms of his doting mother Mary. The original painting is beautiful in its detail and includes John the Baptist and Saint Elizabeth My choice to remove them from the image was first alteration that changed the dynamic of the piece and went towards creating a more intimate portrait.
As the image evolved through the series of processes I use, it very quickly shed the static iconic feel of the time it was originally painted, and at once became an image both modern and timeless, and gained an ethereal quality that reflects the uniqueness and almost intangible relationship between a mother and her child.
Kevin Hendley, Mum
Most of my work is inspired by characters I see in the street. Although I work in rich oils in a very traditional style, the subjects of the work are always contemporary. Someone wearing an unusual coat, an eye-catching hat, or a particularly flamboyant pair of glasses can catch my eye and set off a narrative in my head.
Last summer I was passing a café in east London and a man in a white vest was sitting outside in the sun. He was covered in very aggressive tattoos saying death, hate etc. I liked the image but not the message and so thought it would be interesting to paint him but change the tattoos from their aggressive language to the most warm and loving word I could use – mum.
The final juxtaposition of this slightly shady looking bloke sporting a heart shaped mum tattoo made me smile - there really is enough aggression in the world at the moment, he needed to be a lover not a fighter!
John Kenny, Rendille mother and child
In 2011 I was travelling in the arid north of Kenya en route to Lake Turkana when I came across a Rendille settlement. It was a place that I knew from a previous trip in 2009 and so I stopped to see if I recognised anyone.
I found a young warrior that I had once photographed called Lityrian and we sat on the ground and talked through my interpreter. My eye was drawn to an engaging young mother with her baby. She worked industriously outside her home, collecting sticks for cooking and drying clothes on the baked ground around her. As she worked her child remained peaceful, almost conjoined, in rhythm with her every movement in his sling.
The portrait reveals the bond between mother and child that is cemented in our early years and evolves with time. It is not until adulthood that we gain a more rounded appreciation of the many roles that a mother plays. The mother’s hand on the child’s small toes also shows me that their love is mutual. The nurturing, protective love of the mother is the very essence and foundation that allows each one of us to become the people that we are.
Anne Gournay, A Mother’s Love
I have three children, and made special artworks to decorate their bedrooms when they were little. Each of them is highly personal, and linked to their personality and centres of interest. A Mother’s Love was inspired by my youngest daughter, Ambre, who was passionate about Africa at age 2. As any young child, she tended to be quite obsessional about her interests, and couldn’t stop watching Planet Earth and Africa by the BBC, as well as reading the same two books about African animals over and over again (many parents will relate to that!). I made this print for Ambre, and wanted it to be a reassuring image she could look at before falling to sleep. I used a very wide array of printmaking techniques, from soft ground to create the elephant skin texture, to hard ground to create deeply etched lines, including aquatint, to create tones, and soft ground again to create shadows. The plate could have gone awfully wrong at each stage, but miraculously came out as a beautiful celebration of the bond between a mother and her child. I guess the spirits of all the animal mothers Ambre admired were watching over me!
If this peek into our artists inspiration has whet your appetite, why not browse our curated collection of Mother's Day artworks and find the perfect piece. Giving the gift of art is sure to bring a smile to their face - no matter who they are.
Anne Gournay, A Mother's Love, 2011, etching, £250, ContemporArti.
Featured art from first to last:
Nickie Carlyon, In a Blue Cloud, 2017, acrylic, £400, Prince and Pilgrim.
Tim Southall, Bear Hugs (Gold), 2018, silkscreen print, £295, Wychwood Art.
Dan Hillier, Mother and Child, 2017, print, £850, ArtDog London.
Paula Wilkins, Mother and Child II, 2016, photography, £1,600, Degree Art.
Kevin Hendley, Mum, 2018, oil, £1,600, Cameron Contemporary Art.
John Kenny, Rendille mother and child, 2011, photograph, £795, Capital Culture.
Anne Gournay, A Mother's Love, 2011, etching, £250, ContemporArti.