For centuries, artists have crafted external validations of their most intimate and loving relationships, with examples ranging from the colossal Taj Mahal to the traditional "Whistler’s Mother." Alongside such grand gestures of affection, artists often capture the tragic effects of loss and longing.
While art is frequently thought of as an escape from the trials of daily life, at its most powerful it can transform and relate to these experiences. The loss of a parent is at once a relatable and dreaded experience. In a new exhibition at the Granary Art Center, Montana-based artist Elizabeth Stone uses art to devise a touching tribute to her mother’s final months of life.
The exhibition, titled “40 Moons,” is named in accordance with her mother’s last 40 months. The artwork dominates the upper floor of the Granary, a historic building located on Ephraim’s Main Street. After ascending the wide staircase located in the center of the gallery, visitors encounter a dramatically lit row of horizontally configured prints. Each modestly sized print contains a circular moon in its center. The prints follow the viewer’s line of sight, beginning with bright blue moons on the left that gradually fade in color, detail and intensity as one pans to the right. To Stone, this measured decay in vibrancy is a metaphor for her mother’s deterioration.
“My mom had Parkinson’s disease and dementia associated with this illness,” Stone said. “Her disease progressed and, like the cycles of the moon, waxed and waned. As her death neared, she reflected more light. It is my hope that she reached a level of acuity and peace with her final breath.”
To create each print, Stone photographed remembrances of her mother’s final months, including daily records, journals and notes written by her caregivers. This information is then carefully integrated into each moon, existing as a backdrop for geometric abstractions. From afar, the prints are captivatingly modern — similar to abstract works one is used to seeing at a major museum. The prints are even more visually mesmerizing upon closer inspection, where their texture and nuance is perceptible. Small words from Stone’s source material radiate within the circular moons, telling a captivating and tragic story of the many minutes and hours that coalesce to form a life.
As such, each moon lovingly captures both the minute and the collective. The words contained in each moon, Stone said, “describe the gentle patterns of (her mother's) days, punctuated with laughter, hallucinations and worry.”
Stone’s narrative builds upon the conceptual framework first advocated in second-wave feminist art. In 1976, artist Mary Kelly debuted “The Post-Partum Document,” a six-year examination of motherhood. A decade after feminist art first challenged traditional artistic representations of female identify, Kelly created a truly unconventional, albeit moving homage to motherhood in six parts: an installation compiling ephemera of her son’s development, including articles of clothing, stained napkins, diary entries and infant scribbles.
Just as Kelly artfully captured the joys and challenges of bringing a life into the world, artist Stone uses similar conceptual and visual strategies to express the loss of life.Comment on this story
Indeed, the sadness of "40 Moons’" subject is balanced by its relatability, specifically for the caregivers of elderly parents and those for whom the sensation of loss is quite familiar. There’s something uniquely touching about Stone’s visual statement, that in the face of something so enormously painful, art manages to capture the quiet beauty and potency of life.
If you go
What: "40 Moons" by Elizabeth Stone
When: Through Jan. 27, 2017
Where: Granary Art Center, 86 N Main Street, Ephraim, Utah
How much: Free and open to the public
Scotti Hill is an art historian based in Salt Lake City. She has taught courses in art history at Westminster College and the University of Utah, and currently works as a writer and curator.