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It’s All Part of the Process: Laura Erekson Atkinson, Pregnancy and Transformation

“Metamorphosis” by Laura Erekson Atkinson, mixed media, 2017

In her latest work, Laura Erekson Atkinson explores a very intimate experience in her life – pregnancy. “It’s a beautiful process, but it can also be hard, painful and difficult,” she says. “I wanted to explore all parts of pregnancy from the moment you know you have a baby all the way through postpartum.” In Metamorphosis, an exhibit that will be at Provo’s Writ & Vision during the month of May, Atkinson explores this process through a varied portfolio of prints, steel paintings, mixed-media pieces, and mobiles featuring pregnant women and children.

Some artists limit themselves to one type of medium and explore that extensively, but Atkinson takes a different approach, maneuvering through sculpture, printmaking and painting, and combining all of them to make her work. “When I was working on my BFA at BYU my workspace was in the sculpture studio,” she explains, “even though I was technically under the drawing, printmaking and painting section.” Continuing to use a wide variety of materials, Atkinson muses, allowed her to explore her pregnancy from different angles and forms, and gain autonomy over and appreciation for her body. “When you are pregnant, a lot of people comment on your body or even touch it,” she says. “Working with these forms is a way I have come to accept [my changed body], and really recognize the curves created by the chest and stomach as an incredibly beautiful form.”

Probably the most simple, but also most striking, of her recent pieces are the paintings on steel, which feature abstracted outlines of women interacting with their children on a clean, steel plate. Some are colored, others are only the outlines. Atkinson uses a corrosive material to create forms in the steel, “painting with chemicals,” then sometimes adds color. “I always use ink whenever I add color to my images. I guess that comes partially from my printmaking background.”

Sky Atkinson beneath one of her mother’s mobiles. Photo by Dave Carter.

Also made of steel, her mobiles reflect on the physical shape of the enlarged midsections and chests of pregnant women, creating a lopsided W shape. These moving sculptures work well for Atkinson because they are not as time-consuming as welding and also have the connotation of baby mobiles that hang above a child’s crib. “I think these are definitely something I want to explore more fully in the future,” she says.

Atkinson also has a unique method of creating highly textured paintings, covering the canvas with a thick level of gesso and pressing in various tools and objects. “A Mother’s Worries” features the outlines of tools such as knives, pliers, metal files and open safety pins, representing the various dangers from which mothers attempt to protect their children. “I was always around tools,” Atkinson explains. “I would even do handyman-type jobs to earn money in college. It’s an important part of what I do.” The process of pushing the tools into the gesso-covered canvas is also a reminder of the pushing while giving birth, creation of art and life through force that forever leaves a distinguishable mark.

Atkinson also has a unique method of creating highly textured paintings, covering the canvas with a thick level of gesso and pressing in various tools and objects. “A Mother’s Worries” features the outlines of tools such as knives, pliers, metal files and open safety pins, representing the various dangers from which mothers attempt to protect their children. “I was always around tools,” Atkinson explains. “I would even do handyman-type jobs to earn money in college. It’s an important part of what I do.” The process of pushing the tools into the gesso-covered canvas is also a reminder of the pushing while giving birth, creation of art and life through force that forever leaves a distinguishable mark.

The stages after the baby’s birth Atkinson explores in prints, both woodblock and lithograph. In exploring the postpartum phase, Atkinson created printing blocks in three sections, so the head, body, and legs can turn to create composite images of a woman’s body. The changes that continue to happen after pregnancy, Atkinson says, can create a sense of confusion or loss of self. Her whole exhibit, but especially these prints, are reminiscent of Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Documentation of 1976, where Kelly explored her pregnancy and life with her young child for six years, keeping track of everything from doctor’s handwritten notes to dirty nappies.

Artist Laura Erekson Atkinson and her children.

A deeply personal show, Metamorphosis attempts to universalize Atkinson’s experience, communicating a clear message of the value of motherhood she has seen in her life, and will continue to see through her current pregnancy and any later children (she hopes to begin incorporating some of her children’s art into her own, creating collaborative projects). The variety of materials, different processes, and exploration of texture create works that are interesting to look at as well as extremely tempting to touch. Pregnancy brings about an irreversible transformative process in the bodies and minds of women, says Atkinson, and those changes are what most intrigue her about the entire process. “There’s no going back once you’ve made that transformation – you are forever changed. The change might not always be easy every step of the way, but in the end, you have wings,” she says. “Every transformation should be celebrated.”

Metamorphosis, works by Laura Ererkson Atkinson, at Writ and Vision (274 W. Center St., Provo) May 5 – 31. Opening reception, Friday, May 5, 6 – 9 p. m.

Hannah Sandorf Davis is pursuing a degree in art history with a minor in visual arts at Brigham Young University. She is also a journalist for the BYU College of Humanities.

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