Atlantan Tori Tinsley uses art to cope with the slow loss of her mother to dementia

Her works will be featured at the Zuckerman Museum of Art’s Racecar exhibition starting June 3
Tori Tinsley “Forest Hug”
“Forest Hug” by Tori Tinsley. The figures are meant to represent the artist and her mother.

Painting by Tori Tinsley, 2016. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

Two bubblegum-pink blobular creatures stand in an unfamiliar woods in Tori Tinsley’s six foot-by-four foot acrylic painting, “Forest Hug.” One reaches toward the other, who looks away without reaching back. The eye-popping work may look cartoonish, but it’s an artistic expression of Tinsley’s grief. Creating her Hug series is a method of coping for the Atlanta artist, who for the past eight years has been slowly losing her mother to a form of early onset dementia called frontotemporal degeneration.

Tinsley was an art therapist when her mother was first diagnosed, and afterward she often longed for the comfort of her mother’s physical touch. It’s an emotion that permeates the Hug paintings, which impart a sense of deep yearning and loss. “One hug represents me and the other is [my mother],” says Tinsley. “They’re trying to hold together as one slips away.”

The work caught the eye of curator P. Seth Thompson, who chose to include it in the Zuckerman Museum of Art’s Racecar exhibition that opens this month. Some of the 11 featured artists have been working for years on their respective projects, artistic obsessions that explore themes of identity, memory, and family.

Tinsley isn’t ready to let go of her series yet, even as her mother enters the final stage of the disease. She hopes to make the canvases bigger and create more animations and sculpture. “I am always mentally preparing myself for her death, and I don’t know how the work will change after,” she says. “But I have to keep making it. It’s how I understand her.”

Tori Tinsley’s “Hug no. 4”
Tori Tinsley’s “Hug no. 4”

Painting by Tori Tinsley, 2015. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

At Racecar (June 3-July 30), a mixed-media exhibition, nearly a dozen artists, including Tori Tinsley and several other Atlantans, will explore the theme of escapism.

This article originally appeared in our June 2017 issue.