Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Whistler's Mother Has Nothing on Them

Long Beach-based artist group for moms shows works in gallery

By Joseph Kellard

A print of Renoir’s "Child in White" on her bedroom wall served as the sister she never had while growing up in Indiana.

"Throughout my life, art has inspired me," said Sueanne Shirzay, the Lido Beach woman who last Sunday opened an exhibit featuring the Long Beach-based Artist Mothers Group at her namesake gallery, located on the second floor above Carpet Craft, at 4410 Austin Blvd. in Island Park.

While Shirzay hopes patrons will find their own personal "Child in White" to inspire them among the AMG’s works adorning her studio walls, she found that joining the group last year inspired her to open the gallery by year’s end.

"It’s really been a constant source of information," Shirzay said about the 13-member group comprised of artists who create in diverse mediums, from paintings to fiber to PhotoShop.

The exhibit, which runs until April 19, also features drawings, jewelry and decorated coffee tables, with paintings ranging in price from prints that go for $45 to originals that climb into the thousand dollar range.

Shirzay, a former advertising and publishing art director and mother of children ages 6, 11 and 13, exhibited her painting "Hydrangeas," featuring the flowers in a suspended glass vase. The painting shared wall space with PhotoShop collages that came from the lens of Denise Bory, a co-founder of AMG. The Lido Beach woman takes detailed digital shots of her subjects, including insects, flower buds and sunsets, and merges these components, usually around a portrait of a child or animal, to evoke a particular theme, such as tropical or seasonal motifs.

"I often change around colors," Bory said about the artistic side of her medium, which she dubs "digistration." "I may start out with something green, like a leaf, and change it to purple.” Bory, whose son is now 8-years-old, was living in Long Beach when she helped establish the Artist Mothers Group in October 2001. Among her cohorts is Lillian Gruber of Long Beach, who then had a toddler daughter and recalled that the idea for a moms-oriented group originated in a breastfeeding group. They found other women there had artistic sides that were inhibited by motherhood. The group would grow to include textilists, sculptors, ceramic craftswomen, and pencil and pastel artists, some of them award winners and others who’d worked for the likes of Hanna-Barbera and Disney.

"We found that it had all been some time since we’d done our art," Gruber remembered, "and that there was nothing here for women with children who could do art."

Some AMG members, along with Bory and Gruber, belonged to the Long Beach Art League, and found that people at that and other groups were simply intolerant of children around for various reasons.

Elizabeth Connolly of Long Beach, a textile designer before she had a child and joined the AMG, said people were mostly concerned that the children would disturb things, whether pieces of art or the calm of the class.

"With the Artist Mothers Group," Connolly said, "we were able to band together and make a place for ourselves, because having our children beside us is important."

At last Sunday’s exhibit, Connolly displayed her coffee table-type polyvinyl bowl, and on a wall hung one of her tapestries, called "Self-Preservation," which featured a canvas covered in layers of objects, including a bouquet of dried-up roses and lavender, a scarf-like fabric and filaments such as earrings and twigs.

Originally, the AMG met weekly at one member’s house, where a babysitter watched their children upstairs while the mothers drew or painted hired models downstairs. The next year, in 2002, the group staged its first show, and it received a grant from the Nassau Council for the Arts, and later was given the opportunity to hold weekly drawing sessions at the Long Beach Community Center, where the group operates today.

Members went on to hold more shows, and in March 2003 received an award from the Nassau Council for the Arts for an exhibit entitled "The Motherhood Experience." This show was held at the Long Beach Library later that year, which made the pages of Newsday, and since then the AMG has exhibited at South Shore galleries. And while the group’s exposure grew, so did its membership that started to include women who had older children.

Paula Gach Moskowitz of Long Beach joined the AMG as a mother of teenagers who needed a place to retreat to paint her portraits and landscapes. But that didn’t mean her children were no longer a distraction.

"When I go to paint, it’s like I leave the world," Moskowitz explained. "But once I had kids, I could never really totally relax like that because your life belongs to them, 24/7, and you’re always worrying about them, and it’s very hard to leave that space of anxiety, concern and vigilance to totally remove yourself."

Moskowitz — whose large painting "Long Beach Sky" is dominated by a dark-blue cloud that dwarfs the beach-goers below — said AMG is important to her because of the empathy they showed for her concerns with family.

"I felt that everyone was serious about their art," she said, "but had the same issue of having to choose between doing your art or taking care of the kids."

Jennifer Turturro of Baldwin got involved with AMG three years ago after her daughter was born, which gave her the opportunity to work at least one time a week on her art when once she had seemingly endless hours. The group also gave her the chance to be around women with the same creative needs.

Besides paints, Turturro works in wool, and one of her pieces on display at the gallery was a basketball-sized hibiscus, whose red, orange and yellow petals were needle and wet felted from a ball of wool. It took about 10 hours to create, but when asked if she did it in one sitting, Turturro laughed and said, "No, over days, because I have toddlers running around the house, and there’s diapers to be changed, meals to be made and toys to be picked up."

For information about the Artist Mothers Group, visit their Web site at artistmothersgroup.com, or contact the Sueanne Shirzay Gallery at (516) 241-5836, by email at shirzaygallery@aol.com or visit the Web site at sueanneshirzaygallery.com.

Joseph Kellard is a journalist and columnist living in New York.

Please post comments about this article. For inquiries about Joseph Kellard’s writing services, email him at
: Theainet1@optonline.net.

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