Paintings are an expression of frustration

Allyson Smith's art relates to same-sex marriage debate

April 13, 2004|By K Kaufmann | K Kaufmann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore artist Allyson Smith was furious when President Bush declared his support for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage earlier this year.

A lesbian mom who's been with her partner, Nancy Langer, for more than 20 years, Smith quickly vented her frustration on canvas, creating a stark and provocative image of gay brides with guns.

The picture, Banned from marrying (they took up arms), is now on display - along with several other paintings by Smith - as part of an exhibit of student work at the Meyerhoff Gallery at the Maryland Institute College of Art. The show runs through Sunday. Smith will discuss her work as part of an artists' talk at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow at the gallery.

An eclectic mix of styles, from 17th-century Dutch realism to the neo-expressionism of the 1980s, Smith's work focuses on the incongruities of her experiences as a one-time activist and filmmaker turned soccer-mom manque in Ruxton. In one picture, Dyke Boots, a well-worn combat boot collides with an image of a woman breastfeeding her child. The woman washing her SUV in Baltimore Summer, is, Smith says, a sly comment on the illusions of normalcy.

"[It's] sort of like me," she said, "in my Volvo with the baby seats and milk in back, musing about the costs of two Vera Wang wedding gowns."

Marriage is, of course, very much on Smith's mind these days. She and Langer met while both were students at New York University in the 1980s. It was, she said, "love at first sight," and while the two women have exchanged rings, they have yet to have a commitment ceremony.

The couple moved from New York to Los Angeles, where Smith worked as a documentary filmmaker and Web designer. They relocated to Baltimore two years ago, when Smith decided to go back to school for an MFA in painting, a medium, she said, that allows her more "emotional expression."

Smith sees current opposition to gay marriage as an attack, not only on her and Langer's relationship, but on their two sons, Samuel, 4, and Jacob, 5.

"I need to get married for my children's sake," she said, citing the legal protections marriage provides for children.

The boys already think she and Langer are married, Smith said. The two women plan to explain their relationship to the kids when "they're older."

Like the gun-toting brides in her painting, Smith said, she and Langer are not willing to compromise, and they don't want to go out of state. If and when they marry, it's going to be in Maryland.

"We're holding out for legality."

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