WILMINGTON — Her personality was bright, playful and engaging, her talent ever-expanding.
Wilmington artist Mio Reynolds will be celebrated in a posthumous art show, “Peace Be With You,” opening this weekend. The 84-year-old artist passed away last month.
READ MORE: Dr. Mio Reynolds, 84
A group of friends have chosen more than a dozen paintings in a retrospective exhibit of works created between 2005 and 2015. It will be on display at Acme Art Studios through May 21.
“I use painting as a way to channel emotions, some of which are very violent and have to be released,” Reynolds said in a 2017 interview with the former arts publication encore; she was speaking in regards to the last exhibit she participated in at Art in Bloom Gallery.
“Sometimes profound sadness can be triggered by poems in order to release deep sorrow one has to express,” Reynolds continued. “I paint a painting and once the feeling is expressed, I feel peaceful.”
Though the impetus of her work may be based in complex emotion, the viewer is left with an uplifting take on the world. Reynolds’ blend of realistic imagery, surrealism and abstract painting highlights life’s illustrious beauty, graceful movement and insurmountable love.
“It’s magic realism,” friend and local fiber artist Fritzi Huber described of Reynolds’ aesthetic.
Huber and her brother, Bobby, along with Art in Bloom gallery owner Amy Grant and Reynolds’ long-time friend and local writer Joel Finsel gathered Wednesday morning to hang the Acme exhibit and price the works. All proceeds from the show will be donated to Reynolds’ estate, particularly so her daughters can transport up to 70 of Reynolds’ paintings and other personal belongings from Wilmington to California.
“We actually began planning the show a year ago,” Huber said. “Unfortunately, she won’t be with us, but we are seeing it through.”
Huber and Grant examined the paintings at the artist’s home last year to choose which would go on display, with Reynolds’ input.
“She sang to us the whole time — told us all the stories behind the paintings,” Grant said. “It was a really nice day.”
A classical music lover and avid reader, particularly of poetry, Reynolds’ inspiration always was fastened from another sector of art.
“Heidenröslein” for instance — a triptych, meaning three paintings created as one but can also be separately sold — was inspired by the music of Franz Shubert and the poem “Heidenröslein” written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It’s about a young man who picks a rose despite it warning him of its prickly stem, a parallel to his coming-of-age and the bittersweet end of youth.
“She would just meditate on the art,” Finsel said. “And then the image would come to her and she’d name the peace after the inspiration.”
The trifecta of “Heidenröslein” features a sunrise over the mountains with a stream below, and two women dancing on either side in joyous abandon. Upon closer inspection, a span of butterfly wings appear to cascade across all three pieces, creating a stained-glass look to the glowing sun’s rays and deep blue sky. The stream seemingly turns into ribbon.
“I really like the way she anchors you in reality, and all of a sudden you start noticing the shifts and the shifts are almost otherworldly,” Huber said. “And she keeps you between a sense of being in reality and in a dream state — or in an altered or preferred world. Yet, she never goes dark.”
Reynolds began painting in youth, while living a block away from Musashino Art Academy in Japan where she often modeled for artists. When she moved to the states, she became a translator for survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“Mio was always my most enthusiastic beta reader,” said Finsel, author of “Franz Kline in Coal Country” and “Cocktails and Conversations From the Astral Plane.” “She loved to read anything I was working on and gave the best feedback because she knew the English language better than most natives, since she had to study the idioms to pass grammar tests.”
Reynolds received her doctorate from the University of Michigan and worked in academia for years as a lecturer at Ohios’ Antioch College and New York’s Skidmore College. She later moved to Washington D.C. and started her own research firm to consult multinational companies and their American counterparts, primarily as a translator.
A survivor of a World War II Tokyo firebombing, Reynolds also was an activist and participated in the peace movement of the ‘70s while in Michigan. She contributed her art to create posters and buttons donned with a wreath she painted to look like a peace sign.
She told Finsel after her move to the capital she saw her buttons pinned on people’s clothes along the D.C. streets.
“She knew it had sort of gone viral,” he said. “And she was so proud of that.”
Finsel tried to commission Reynolds to recreate the work but it never panned out. Yet, one small piece still exists from that era: a peace sign with a holly leaf on it. It will hang as part of the exhibit, as will “Since September 11 — Enlightenment.”
The latter showcases a mother cradling her daughter; Reynolds painted it in the aftermath of terrorist attacks on the twin towers in the early aughts.
“I remember she was never quite happy with the hands on that one,” Finsel said.
The painting used to hang at the now-defunct Caffe Phoenix, where Finsel once worked and met Reynolds.
Finsel curated art shows at the restaurant and featured Reynolds’ work every December.
“Her color palette worked well with Christmas,” he said, pointing to a few pieces with deep reds and greens highlighted by golden hues.
“This one hung in the banquet room,” he said, pointing to “Dawning.”
It’s quite different from Reynolds’ other works, which often feature flowers, like camellias or dogwoods, and portraiture. Using pastels of pinks, blues and creams, it features a sailboat on rocky waters punctuated by a lighthouse faintly painted in the background near land. However, the dark underbelly of the sea and haze of the sky showcase a break in the horizon, created by a push and pull of light and dark colors, hard and soft edges.
“It’s a great painting,” Huber said. “It’s my favorite one.”
Huber met Reynolds at Acme years ago when Reynolds had a studio in the collective space. Over the last few years of her life, Reynolds often worked on her porch, painting plein-air. Huber’s brother, Bobby, would visit to cut back her brush and trees.
“I would bring boxes of raisins and we would feed the mockingbird, and sit out on her porch and have a glass of wine,” he said. “She was the most generous person.”
All were gifted bags of food frequently by Reynolds, who would leave them on their front stoops unannounced, always filled with fresh vegetables from her garden or fruits she loved. She was always cooking, too — a favorite dish, inari sushi, often brought to parties with joyous laughter and dancing.
Reynolds took ballroom dancing classes as well; the same elegance mandated of the dance was captured in her work, as seen in “Nikki.” The dancer, outfitted in a red, flowy dress, appears arms outstretched, perched on what looks like the top of a flower.
“This was inspired by more modern music — bluesy, melodic rock,” Grant said, who has been cataloging Reynolds’ work for the show. The artist often kept records about her paintings in notebooks or scribbled on the backs of canvas.
Dancing wasn’t only rendered in paint, Reynolds often took part off the canvas too. Huber remembered one instance when the artist offered to help her paint the interior of her roof lanai.
“She said, ‘You know, I used to be a dancer,’” Huber said. “And I said, ‘So did I.’ So we danced while we painted on the ladders and we were walking on the rails and singing.”
“Bobby was like, ‘Between the two of you —,” Huber said.
“Someone is going to fall,” Bobby finished.
“Mio was so many things,” Finsel added. “She was an artist, an intellectual, a great friend to talk to about politics and to cut up with. She always had an impish way about her. She will be missed.”
“Peace Be With You: The Art of Mio Reynolds” will have an opening reception on Friday, April 28, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., at Acme, 711 N. Fifth Ave. There will be a memento wall featuring clippings of news articles written about Reynolds and her dozen or more local art shows held since moving to Wilmington in 2006. Also featured will be hand-sketched notes of her works before they made it to canvas, her favorite dress and plenty of pictures. Roger Davis will perform live during the exhibit’s opening night.
[Ed. note: Writer Shea Carver, a friend of Reynolds’, was the former editor of encore and one of the last to interview the artist.]
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