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“Try to realize it’s all within yourself, no-one else can make you change
And to see you’re really only very small
And life flows on within you and without you”
– Lyrics from Within You and Without You by The Beatles
Steeped in fantasy, fraught with uncertainty and plagued by fear, it’s as old and natural as time itself – Motherhood. Iconized in every form of art, this common state is explored with uncommon beauty and nuance by Toni Pepe in her solo show The Second Moment – Installment 1, on view at Carroll and Sons in Boston’s SoWa arts district through June 24th, 2017.
Pepe’s imagery is at once ancient and modern. Using the stirring “chiaroscuro” lighting that characterizes many historic religious and secular paintings, Pepe has posed herself and her baby in a gripping drama of engulfing interdependence – staged, oddly enough, with a partially filled fish tank. As if immersed in an organic primordial soup, the two struggle to gain equilibrium against the elements in a churning body of water strewn with logs, branches, leaves and other matter representing the natural world. Their bodies twist and grope for safety, striving to endure the elements and one another. It is a tense and poignant dance.
Pepe tackles the colossal fight for survival with symbolic lyricism. We see a mother nurturing and protecting her child, but Pepe’s purposely tumultuous compositions disclose that each is also staking a claim on life and individual identity. This inherent conflict is gorgeously represented by water – the perfect symbol of a life-giving and life-threatening force. It recalls the amniotic fluid from which the baby has recently emerged even as its effervescent turbulence menaces that new life. The floating debris, too, signifies both the earth from which humankind arose and the obstacles and challenges faced in life. Pepe utilizes these symbols with aplomb, creating a sense of our primeval origin, our small role in the scheme of creation and and the enduring trials of motherhood.
Above all, Pepe’s photographs are humanistic. Her intense explorations of the overwhelming emotions that attend motherhood are as endearing as they are compelling. Pearlescent hands and feet have mesmeric cameos: entwined, tender, determined. The baby’s cherubic face and precious body reassert the universal appeal of Madonna and Child. Pepe amplifies the power of this legendary bond with compositions that contrast palpable tactility with obfuscated commotion, creating tension within her cropped frames, inferring mysteries beyond them. In her vivid imagery, Pepe expresses the renewal and struggle that accompany every generation in a unique and moving affirmation that life flows on within you and without you.
For more information about this exhibit, go to: http://carrollandsons.net/exhibitions/index.php
Feature Image: From the series The Second Moment – Installment 1 (Detail) by Toni Pepe (courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons Gallery, Boston).