What if a son could speak to his mother from the other side?
What if a son could speak to his mother from the other side?
About Son of a Ghost
In this thought provoking and intergenerational collaboration, Robert X Fogarty explores his complex relationship with his late mother Mary Beth Fogarty.
Son of a Ghost’s pieces have been called “mesmerizing, riveting” and “unlike anything the art world has seen before.”
When Mary Beth left earth by suicide after a short battle with cancer, she left behind more than 1000 original works in 2002. X was 18 and just finished his freshman year at university.
“For more than a decade, I’ve wanted to collaborate with her, “ Fogarty says. “I never knew it would turn into building an entire space to tribute her and creating an entirely new body of work, together.”
Son of a ghost is represented by Martine Chaisson gallery and a portion of sales will go to commission other artists to create works celebrating that it’s ok to make work and talk about mental health and wellness.
The Mary Beth Hotel will be home to the first body of work from the project, “Son of a Ghost.” Coinciding with the construction of the hotel, Robert selected 11 of his mother’s paintings and embarked on a journey to collaborate with her work. Alongside designers and fabricators Maya Pen and Mitchell Richmond, Robert wrote a series of letters exploring his relationship to his mother. These letters were then encased in epoxy and surrounded with the visual elements he associated with her work, acting as a top layer to her paintings. The outcome of this deeply personal journey, entitled “Son of a Ghost,” reflects Robert’s complex relationship with his mother, his understanding of success, and his pursuit of an authentic grieving process. The Mary Beth Hotel will be imbued with the conversations this work inspires, and as the space evolves guests will be invited to participate directly with its themes.
The myth of Mary Beth as interpreted through her work, journals, and the memories of her loved ones is a paradoxical journey into the mind of an artistic powerhouse. She was as praised as she was criticized, as prolific in her field as she was inconsequential.
For years, while developing his own relationship with the arts through his photography practice and storytelling platform “Dear World,” Robert pondered what it would have been like to collaborate with his mother. He wondered if, had she been alive, they might have experienced the creative process together, merging their skills, discussing art, and embracing their differences. Several years ago, as he sifted through the hundreds of paintings she left behind, the realization dawned on him that a collaboration might still be possible.
The romanticization of Mary Beth’s death and the admiration of her life in the years following her passing were absorbed by Robert, as he tried to appear well-mannered in the face of tragedy. But having been 18 years old at the time of her death, he never felt the permission to have his own relationship to her passing. Much of the decade prior to her death was observed by Robert as a child, and left an impression of distance and fear in their relationship, where so many others lived in the memories of her warmth. For these reasons, Robert embarked on this project with a profound sense of resentment and distaste towards Mary Beth and her artistic practice. The assumptions he grew to form over the last twenty years about her character and her perceived lack of success were steeped in criticism. “Quote from Robert.” The early letters in this work centered on these resentments, shining an unfiltered light on the injuries he felt and his judgments of her behavior.
“We have the right to own the faces of our grief,” the creative director of “Son of a Ghost,” Maya Pen, urged Robert to remember during a writing retreat preceding the construction of the pieces. “You deserve to meet your grief authentically, as the person you are today—no matter how angry, ugly, or unexpected that meeting might be.”
As the project evolved, the team saw a sincere and organic shift occur in Robert’s dialogue with his mother. Through spending time with her work and talking to her friends and loved ones, the tone of his letters moved into a space of curiosity–who was Mary Beth as a young woman? What was it like for her? Had he been too harsh? In opening a portal to these conversations with Mary Beth, Robert’s transformation surpassed the entire team’s expectations. He found himself challenging his own entrepreneurial sense of what it means to be “successful.” He approached a more balanced view of her worst moments. Some of his harshest criticisms of her character were confirmed, yet he also welcomed a profound admiration of her into his heart.
This body of work builds a bridge to the artists, parents, and offspring who observe it. It challenges us to reinvestigate our perception of those closest to us, reminding us that it is never too late to start conversations with the ones we love, no matter the barriers– death, distance, or darkness. It is a daring display of honesty that encourages viewers to invite their ghosts into the room, and sit through the transformative discomfort their presence brings.
About Mary Beth Fogarty and Robert X Fogarty
About Mary Beth Fogarty
B. 1943 D. 2002
Mary Beth was born on February 19, 1943 to German immigrants Dorthea and Emil Schmidt. She grew up on her family farm in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, where her mother ran a cake shop, and her father worked as a farmer.
She lived on the farm until attending university for art practice and education in 1962 at Stephen’s College, Missouri. She went on to get a bachelors in art education at San Jose State University in California, and years later in 1984 completed an MFA in fine art and sculpture from the University of Nebraska.
She rose as a working artist in a space and time traditionally coined “a boys club.” She was an inspiration to other women trying to find their place as artists in the midwest. Her struggles with mental health–while often undetected outside of her work–created a strong dichotomy: there was the Mary Beth who laughed and played, and the Mary Beth whose dark figures and depressive episodes shone light onto a pain unseen.
About Robert X Fogarty
Robert X Fogarty, Mary Beth thought the X would look good on a campaign sign who is a photographer, advocate, and volunteer organizer. He facilitated evacuation landmarks called Evacuspots in New Orleans and started the “Dear World” storytelling movement.
More than 1,000,000 people have participated in one of Dear World’s storytelling methods since its founding in New Orleans in 2011. He’s a member of the University of Oregon’s school of Journalism Hall of Fame and his work has been published in more than 30 countries and been featured in or on L’Express, the New York Times and the New Orleans Times Picauyne.
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