Motherhood painting by Dusti Bongé

It can be easy to forget artists are real people. They have mortgages and rent. Responsibilities. Families. Kids. Their astounding creativity makes us want to place them on a higher plane of existence, but for the most part, they’re pretty regular people.

Dusti Bongé was a brilliant, groundbreaking painter, and a mother. In this painting, we see her exploring the mother-child relationship through the artistic language of Surrealism. Analysis of the artwork comes from Dusti Bongé Art Foundation Executive Director Ligia M. Römer.

Dusti Bongé, Mother and Child, c.1945, oil on canvas, 20” x 26”

Dusti Bongé celebrates motherhood by depicting it in her most unusual way.

Dusti and her husband Arch had one son, Lyle, who was sketched and painted by both his parents when he was young. Dusti did a few realist studies of him through the years, but her works where she captures the mother-child relationship are patently surrealist, as you can see in this painting. 

This work was created in the 1940s at the height of her surrealist period when she sought to express the inspiration she got from the subconscious, irrational part of her mind. 

In this painting we see a female figure seated at a grand piano, in a long white dress, and on some kind of wicker chair. She has her arms outstretched towards the piano keys, around what appears to be a little baby in her lap, or possibly in her womb. There are red ribbons tied in bows around her wrists, one of which seems to tie her to her baby. This so far presents a very tender, serene image of a mother and child.

But then, there is another baby featured more prominently in the picture. This one is floating above the lid of the grand piano holding on to something tethered to the piano. It could be the child is holding a snake, or an umbilical cord, or that he is grabbing hold of the bridge of the piano, yanking it out of the soundboard. 

Whichever it may be, this kid is portrayed as the quintessential screaming, crying, disruptive, attention-grabbing, little creature that all babies are known to morph into on occasion. As such, Dusti here brilliantly juxtaposes the emotional extremes one is likely to face in early motherhood, a long, strange ride of tender moments with perfect little angels peppered with exasperating interludes of tormenting creatures.

Note: Dusti did in fact have a piano in her studio, which she played to clear her mind, allowing her imagination to flow freely. Her time spent in the studio was sacred; she was not to be interrupted while painting.

Also know that when this was painted, Lyle was no longer a baby, but a teenager.

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