Thursday, March 29, 2018

Photo by Brooke Burton, 2017

I find myself sitting in the sun under a big blue spring sky. I am sitting on a wooden bench on the patio of Push and Pour coffeeshop, relishing the warmth and the buzz that is Garden City right now.  I hear nearby bulldozers and hammers and drills and builders calling out instructions. My tiny new studio is four blocks away. I have not written a blog post in two years. (because) I am the mother of a two-year old.

Just wanted to set the scene.

Impulses to write posts have bubbled up occasionally for me for the past couple years. But either they seemed too mother-as-artist focused - does everything really have to be about my baby? Or, too presumptuous - what new thoughts can I possibly add to the conversation of what it's like to be a mother and artist. And then again, too much about motherhood.

This unease about my voice as an artist suddenly intertwining with my experiences as a mother seems to be a common predicament based on conversations I've had with other artist-parents, and a few encounters I've had since my daughter Mairead was born. A submission to a local paper was rejected last minute because "we don't do baby stuff." My daughter had a huge "poonami" at one exhibition opening, and spit up all over my silk dress at another. I've gotten the stink-eye trying to meet clients with a baby in tow. It seems there is both external and internal pressure to insulate one's motherhood from one's professional life, even when, up til now, the inspiration for my work has been inextricably intertwined with my personal life to no great notice. To me, the creation of paintings of my daughter is not "baby stuff" - it's my life. I paint what is important to me at the moment. I am feeling ambivalent about "baby stuff." Time to get back to Real Work.

I wonder if this is a situation fairly unique to artists - to those for whom their work is formed directly from the fabric of their lives. For me the pressure I feel to separate work and family life has been countered by a stronger desire to merge the two (hence the entire book of portraits of my daughter I published last year). I have had many confusing moments where I was lovingly painting a portrait of Mairead while feeling simultaneously perturbed by my toddler pounding on my studio door, crying "Mama." Recently I've been pondering these polarizing feelings I've experienced as a mother.

Polarizing seems to be a fitting word for the experience of motherhood. I am chuckling to myself right now, just realizing how fitting it is to this blog post that an author recently asked permission to use the photo above of Raidy pulling on my arm as I try to paint as a cover image for her book about "Maternal ambivalence." Maternal ambivalence is defined by Dr. Barbara Almond in her book "The Monster Within: The Hidden Side Of Motherhood" as "that mixture of loving and hating feelings that all mothers experience toward their children and the anxiety, shame, and guilt that the negative feelings engender in them." 

This definition strangely fits the way I and other artists I've talked to often feel about our art. Creative energy and its offspring, whether human or not, seems to come with a whole lot of opposing emotions. In my artwork, I thrive off this tension - I enjoy every bit of the push and pull I experience in creating a work of art - the tension between visual elements, between the real and the ideal, between unbound potential and tangible result. I suppose my challenge at the moment is to find a sense trust that the tension between being a mom and being an artist will challenge both to grow.
Finding a place of calm and ease in a web of dynamic tension. And perhaps that is something that is not unique to motherhood, but for everyone experiencing the fullness of life.

Hopefully I'll check back in again before two years have gone by...but no promises!

"Mom and Raidy in the Cave" 2016 oil and wax on linen 24"x24" - From "Paintings for Mairead"