Remembering mothers, capturing motherhood: Stella Tooth

Remembering mothers, capturing motherhood: Stella Tooth

Joining our occasional series on motherhood and creativity, artist Stella Tooth shares how her art links to her experience of mothering, and talks about her upcoming group exhibition "Motherhood".

The exhibition takes place at the Chelsea Library in London from 20-30 March, featuring all of the portraits of mothers she shares below, and many more.

I am a mother who often communicates with her children through art.   When my son had his nose broken - and the surgeon's realignment was unable to straighten it out completely without leaving a bump - I reached for my paintbrush to record his new image. 

It was almost as if I was willing my paintbrush to put right what the surgeon couldn't.   But, being a figurative artist, who specialises in portraits, I can only paint what I see and, as I looked, I realised he was the handsome, loving son I knew, but with a mark of life on his face that added character to it.

Then, as my mother aged, I found myself, near the end,  stepping in and out of the role of a daughter and, strangely, that of a mother - caring for her as she had always cared for me. 

When she died, I turned again to art - this time to help supplant the last images I had of her in hospital. 

Mum left me a hand-held projector and family transparencies which evoked memories of a happy ‘60s childhood.  The colours, back-lit, seem almost to vibrate in glorious technicolor.  Mum wears a full skirted Chanel New Look dress which banished the austerity of the post war years and a smile dad mentions in a poem about her: “that enthralling smile that lights your face”.

Mum and I by Stella Tooth - Motherhood exhibition/book

She stays, in the present, with the viewer forever, where I can be seen in background seeking adventure.  In painting from this reference photo, my training as a figurative artist in working from life helped me remember and capture, in the face of someone I had observed over a lifetime, the varied expressions that denoted her character and personality.  

'Mum and I' (seen above) will be on show as part of 'Motherhood' - a Chelsea exhibition and book celebrating mothers, for Mother's Day, by the Lots Road Group of artists.  The free exhibition features 16 portraits by figurative artists, many of whom are mothers and fathers themselves, who met when studying portraiture at The Heatherley School of Fine Art in Lots Road. It runs at The Chelsea Library, Kings Road, SW3 from Thursday, 20 March until Mother’s Day (30 March).

Four Generations of Mother by Colleen Quill, Motherhood exhibition/book

Viviana Macchi di Cellere - Standing before me - Mother. Motherhood exhibition/book

The book contains all the portraits featured in the exhibition which are executed in a variety of media from oils, acrylics and pastels to print.  Some were completed from life, others after death from studies and photographs.  One - called Four generations of Mother - (by Colleen Quill, shown above) shows clearly the bond we have with those we were once a part.

It also provides a fascinating insight into the craft of portrait painting: from the artist who set aside her oils for speedier pastels to portray her mother with life-long back problems, to another who describes the quick work required to capture the likeness of a mother-in-law, suffering from Alzheimer’s, who would ‘forget’ her presence, to another who listened to the music she used to share with her mother to help her complete the portrait begun before her death. 

It also features a foreword by Heatherley’s Principal Emeritus, John Walton RA, who writes about the portrait he painted of his own mother. Motherhood is available price £16.69 here.

The Lots Road Group was established to facilitate camaraderie and provide a platform for exhibiting and maintaining professional networks.  In 2014 they have come together to create this tribute to motherhood.

For updates please visit us on facebook and our website.

Sharon Low - Storytime, Grandmother and Grandchildren - from Motherhood exhibition/bookArtworks above:

Katherine Firth - Annette - MOTHER
Stella Tooth - Mum and me - MOTHER
Colleen Quill - Four Generations of Mother - MOTHER
Viviana Macchi di Cellere - Standing before me - MOTHER

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more inspiring posts on motherhood and creativity here.