Mio Reynolds’ fascinating art comes with layers of jubiliance and reverence, only matched by her impressive, varied journeys through life. From psychology student to peacemaker to mother and wife to teacher to CEO to artist, Reynolds’ story unfolds colorfully like the many petals showcased in her latest show, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone: Part 1,” which opens at Caprice Bistro on May 3.
“I have embarked on a new round of art work to declare what I strongly believe in,” Reynolds tells. “Up until quite recently, my philosophy was only implied in my work.”
As we stand in her living room, surrounded by a multitude of canvases of mother and children surrounded by fantastical earthscapes of nature or abandoned buildings on the verge of disaster, the ideology of which Reynolds speaks is life. She vehemently, lovingly and magically radiates compassion, hope and love—ideas she chooses to focus on and wants others to consider over war, combat and power.
“I have realized the urgency and the importance of sharing my strong belief in life with the younger generation,” the 77-year-old says. With the constant stream of news egregiously showcasing bombings and wars worldwide, Reynolds is reaching back into the anti-war stance she stood upon in the ‘60s when she still lived in Japan.
“I participated in the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations organized by the United Church of Japan,” she says, reminding me that less than 1 percent of the Japanese population are Christians (Reynolds, too, associates as Christian).
The artist moved to the U.S. in ‘67, and witnessed the teach-ins at the University of Michigan (UM) and at Berkeley in Californina. She and her husband settled in Ann Arbor and partook in demonstrations at UM, as well as in Washington DC. Though she was studying to receive her Ph.D. in psychology, Reynolds had been an artist since childhood. Her aunt encouraged her work at a young age, and when Reynolds met a student from the esteemed Musashino Art Academy, her foray into painting really took shape.
“I sat still and they painted me when I was 12 or 13,” Reynolds says, pointing to a cubist-like drawing stamped by the Emperor’s Year of Showa. It was done by one of the art students. “Then, the artists talked about communism, feminology, and I was absorbing it all and just listening to their ideas,” Reynolds continues. “It was fascinating. I would hear the professor comment on student work, and I walked around looking at all the paintings. I was fortunate to be around interesting people.”
Reynolds attended the International Christian University in Tokyo, with the intent to become a lawyer. Fate intercepted her studies after she took an intro to psychology course and had to do an assessment of her own personality. A chance meeting with one of Tokyo’s top clinical psychologists turned around her life trajectory. She was approached at 21 to write a book in English with this esteemed mentor at the National Institue of Mental Health in Japan; it was then she decided to change careers.
However, she always painted. When Reynolds arrived in Ann Arbor, she approached a professor about helping out with a march the students were going to attend in DC. She offered her artistic services, despite the professor’s initial naysay: “How can an artist be of help?” She convinced him he needed buttons and posters, and so she created an image of a Christmas-wreath-turned-peace-sign, as the rally took place in December. “They sold all of the buttons within the first week,” Reynolds tells, still beaming.
While at university, she audited art classes in between her Ph.D. studies. Reynolds graduated and taught at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, before leaving to eventually launch her own company—a research consulting firm in DC. Upon retirement, a divorce and rearing two children, she moved south to Wilmington, NC, a decade ago. Here, she has become a full-time artist—and still an ever-evolving student. No arts sector is safe within Reynolds’ grasp. She took ballroom dancing with a professional competitor while in DC and learned violin before her teacher passed. Today, she continues to contra dance, volunteers at Lower Cape Fear Hospice and takes courses in art, attending Cameron Art Museum’s life-drawing classes. “I would like to create art work which invokes a strong emotion,” Reynolds says.
The first part of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” will feature old and new works. Common subject matter revolves around mother and child, each piece dotted by a multitude of flowers. Mothers represent life, something that embodies Reynolds’ own exuberant embrace.
“My favorite piece is the painting that belongs to Dr. Mike Nichols and his wife, Oz, who kindly let me borrow it for this art show for one week,” she tells. It features their daughter, Lillie. “It is my favorite piece because I think I have captured the moment of unconditional love of mother toward her child and the strong bond between them.”
Another piece inspired by Lillie is a triptych, which features the child amongst an array of greenery and flowers, illuminated by waves of light. Robert Browning’s poem, “Pippa Passes,” became a focus in its creation: “The year’s at the spring / And day’s at the morn / Morning’s at seven…” “I just love his words,” Reynolds notes, pointing to the poem, which is surrounded by books of figures, like ballet dancers, which she studies to perfect illustration of movement and body form.
Reynolds intends for part one of her show to address questions like: “Why are we fighting? What results from fighting? Do we fight to for our material gains and control? To defend our own belief, nationality, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, and religious belief? Have we accomplished our goal through fighting, killing and destruction?”
A piece featuring two orphaned children, hiding behind a destructed building, one grasping at an oversized necklace with a cross, evokes fear, terror and sadness. It was inspired by a real-life occurence.
“I was under that carpet attack of B29s during the Tokyo air raid,” Reynolds describes. “This ardent prayer to stop killing each other is universal, particularly among mothers protecting their children. I was hiding behind a building, curled up, and in a dream I had, here comes a uniformed soldier who spotlights me. I can remember the face of the soldier to this day and anticipating death.”
After 9/11, that memory stirred something within Reynolds yet again. Many of her older works were painted in response to the towers falling, and the families and a nation coming together to grip the reality of lost life. Resurrecting the art and incorporating new works seemed fitting. Reynolds chose Pete Seeger’s famed song from the ‘60s as the exhibit’s namesake—a wish she hopes everyone can emboldenly grasp today.
“My prayer for world peace has been on my lips since I was a child,” she says. “Let us stop killing each other. Let us appreciate and celebrate our life. Let us relate with ourselves honestly, to be truthfully ourselves. Then, regardless of our differences, let us treat the world around us respectfully by being united spiritually. Do you think we can assert ourselves without killing each other? Let us do our best in teaching and guiding our children to live in peace and for peace.”
Where Have All the Flowers Gone
Art work by Mio Reynolds
Opening: May 3, 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Caprice Bistro • 10 Market St.