A friend sent me a call to join Lenka Claytons project, An Artists Residency in Motherhood, and I decided to undertake the residency over the next year of motherhood, beginning today, on my son Abie’s 1st birthday, 17th June 2016.

 

Over the past year since Abie was born I have been working as an artist, but it hasn’t been easy to make time and space for making work, and for all the other aspects of being an artist. I currently work from a desk at home and a desk in someone else’s studio. I have 2-3 mornings a week to work on my practice. I have been to a handful of exhibitions in the past year and a handful of private views. I’ve applied for several commissions and got to interview stage, sent off work for exhibitions, and responded to lots of emails.

Since becoming a mum, I’ve made a film, produced a mobile museum artwork, co-designed a website, put on a one-day conference and 2 film screenings, tried to write up my PhD, read a few books and articles, done a few drawings, taken some photographs, and messed about a bit with clay.

I’ve also done a mountain of laundry, had 12 months of (very) broken sleep, made hundreds of meals, changed a lot of nappies, played with a lot of baby toys, spent a lot of time talking to people about babies, argued with my partner (and laughed a lot too), walked hundreds of miles pushing a buggy, drunk a lot of coffee and eaten a lot of cake.

I know lots of other people are parents and artists, and quite a few people are also undertaking the residency. So I am only going to be able to offer my experience, but would love to hear other’s stories of their experiences: what has been difficult, what motherhood has opened up as an artist, what has changed about their practice.

I am holding myself to account to write this blog and to keep practicing as an artist – and a mother.

 


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I’m my studio today finally going through all my project receipts, adding things up and reflecting on the 2 exhibitions I’ve just finished.


The last month and a half have been taken up with finishing and installing the project I was working on last year, firstly in a church in West London and then in my studio in Brighton for Phoenix Open Studios.


I gave an artists talk in the church which my family joined, including Abie. He enjoyed the attention but of course did not understand why I was standing up in front of a group of people talking, and I think he wanted to muscle in on the event so I ended having to pick him up while I talked. This was a good learning curve for the next event I did, the opening night of the studios, and I asked my partner to keep him busy that evening. They came along later by which time I had done my schmoozing.

I think Abie enjoyed riding his scooter in and out of the studios over the weekend as well as doing some drawing and bouncing on the chairs, but he didn’t understand the nature of the artwork and wanted to pick up the books I had laid out and put them on the floor.
I’ve just been reading an interview with Paula Rego where she describes working in studio after having children and how the children were never allowed in the studio. Its true that its become harder to work at home because there is always so many other things to do be done so coming to the studio feels like a space to focus, a space where you can forget all the other things (not that you ever really forget) but anyway just be an artist.

I feel like I need that space especially after two exhibitions in short succession. Its great sharing work but it is also pretty draining. At least Abie is sleeping through now. He is nearly 2 years old, so I’m nearly done with my year of having a residency in motherhood. Maybe its time to move on, but maybe I’ll keep writing anyway – as a musician friend with a small child said to me on Sunday, you have to find a way to be accountable to yourself, don’t you.


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We have moved house and this has shifted a lot of things. For example, we now have a carpet (circa 1965) which makes for a different kind of floor and I haven’t found a way to create drawings here yet. Instead we have been working in a new material, sticklebricks, and I have been documenting abie’s attempts at collages which look strangely like some kind of abstract paintings.

Tonight I’m watching Lynn Barber interviewing Philidda Barlow on Bbc 2.
Phillida Barlow says – having children is completely incompatible with being an artist (she had 5) – but then she managed to keep going, teaching and raising 5 children. And she talks about having a kind of perseverance of carrying on making art whether or not you have success.

This makes me think about success and failure. I applied for a bursary for some funding for ‘time out’ – childcare and costs to cover mentoring. I didn’t get it, which was disappointing. But I think as an artist you get used to a measure of rejection. Last year I remember going to an interview after being woken up 5 or 6 times by my baby son, and doing my best but being aware I wasn’t at my best. I think what I’ve realised though is that you just keep trying, you keep doing it, and its not all going to be successful but some of it will get there.

This is kind of the case in making the work as well; admitting difficulties to yourself, points in the process where it feels really hard, like it just won’t come together. I’ve been working on the installation in my studio now for months and its finally coming together, and will be exhibited in April, May and June.

I’ve also started a new commission which is for a public art work in Droitwich, based on its history as a salt producing town. This is exciting and I’ve been thinking about how I will research the commission, I love the wide open feeling of a new project.

Tomorrow is mother’s day.


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I entered my studio today and find an unfamiliar smell, which i discover comes from a baby beaker full of off milk. I vaguely recall bringing it in last week. It’s been another week of illness with Abie up most of most nights with a temperature and fluey symptoms. In this state its a toss up between what gets done and what gets left undone, so housekeeping takes a bit of a back seat both at home and in the studio.

A week after I wrote that sentence I am back in the studio, after being struck down with the bug Abie had. And then he got a vomiting and diarrhoea bug. So a lot of laundry and not a lot of sleep. Plus we are moving house next week, so there are boxes everywhere.

Coming to the studio feels like a space to breathe. I’ve been reading about the installation artist Ann Hamilton’s work, trying to trace the evolution of a practice. Today someone knocked on my studio door to borrow my key and we ended up having a conversation about how to define your practice. She had also worked with installation but had found it difficult to find the right opportunities so was turning to working with groups and on public art projects. We talked about how to tread a line between defining yourself too specifically as an artist and thereby missing out on opportunities, but also the need to have a recognisable practice. Working thematically is one way of negotiating this but its often hard to link everything together until after a piece of work has appeared. I don’t feel like being a mother defines my practice, but it has brought new aspects to both the way I make work and the ideas I’m interested in, not least feminism.

I’ve finally got an exhibition date for the piece I’ve been working on since last year, its going to show in April at St Thomas’s Church in Hanwell, the place we met the group and which was designed by Edward Maufe, whose wife Prudence Maufe worked for Heals and through her contacts brought in many well known artists and designers of the time to contribute to the church, so it feels like quite an honour to show the work there. I found a fascinating article she wrote for the spectator in April 1923 entitled ‘Married Women and Work’. Here is a brief extract:

“should she wish to start independently the greatest difficulty is to find a position in which she can organize her own time. As an employee she will find this almost insuperable, for in nearly all professions open to women there are certain fixed hours which have to be observed, and experience teaches that if these hours are really hard and fast, a married woman with children cannot fulfil her obligation in the treble life she is undertaking. But directly she herself becomes an employer, or can afford an assistant, she can undertake many responsibilities which would otherwise be impossible. Every married woman knows of the many serious and absolutely imperative occasions when her obvious duty is at home—in cases of sickness, &c.—so that if she is bound by some eight hour contract she cannot conscientiously do her job at home, but if she is allowed to arrange her own time, by organizing her work in advance, and doing much overtime herself, these emergencies can be met.”

Prudence goes on to explain how she developed her own freelance career as an interior designer while juggling childcare, household and getting paid help when she could. Its pretty amazing to think that almost 100 years later, some things have not really changed that much.


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Recently this blog has gone from being a once-a-week posting to once a month. Its been hard to find time to write, as  I’ve been juggling my job with looking after a small person and a big one, as theres been a lot of illness at home. Plus I’ve been juggling deadlines and fitting in making a new piece of work for a show that opened last week.

My practice has been increasingly mobile, as for the past 2 months I have been without a studio, so I’ve been working in cafes when Abie is napping, or on the sofa after he’s in bed. At a family gathering I was making an embroidery piece sat on the sofa and a relative remarked how I looked like a ‘prim and proper lady’. This made me think about how certain traditions of crafting are viewed as typically feminine by others (men) and as somehow inert, and how in fact they enable you to sit there overhearing conversations and thinking improper thoughts.

I’ve thought again about the quote about the pram in the hall being the enemy of good art and have recently read about how what makes people ‘great’ artists is being able to be focused and not get distracted. It is hard for me to find focused time but when I do have time I use it in as focused a way as I can. And I’m also trying to work with the distractions.I realise increasingly how much time and space to work are privileges.

Abie’s playing has expanded beyond the field of the playmat, so I decided to draw the scattering of objects across the whole of our downstairs. He’s been really into displacing objects, shoes, bottles, spices, whatever he can get his hands on. This week he found a box of tea which he deconstructed, scattered and ate through the tea bags resulting in an interesting pattern of leaves. Now it looks like we are moving house in the new year, a further displacement is on the horizon. I’ve also got a new studio space. All this feels both unsettling and also exciting: the process of sorting, clearing, packing and moving opening up new spaces and possibilities.

 

 


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I haven’t written this blog for over a month. The teaching term started, and I’ve been sucked into a vortex of emails, admin, studio teaching, not to mention childcare problems, and other juggling acts.

We just got back from Barcelona which was a conference trip  plus student field trip with my partner and Abie in tow. One of the things I’m learning about parenthood is that what sounds fine on paper is in reality a lot more challenging. Travelling with a 16 month old, a buggy, 2 suitcases and several bags (not to mention a partner too) requires a lot of patience and not to be in a rush. Arriving in a flat in an unfamiliar  city, the first thing we do is try to find the nearest playground and a shop selling nappies, having thought it a good plan not to bring any.

The conference presentation about the project I’ve been doing in Ealing goes well, and its really fascinating to sit and listen to geographers talking about art and artists talking about geography.

Later that day we meet the students and take them to see some Barcelona buildings, and while at the Foundation Joan Miro me and Abie sneak off to the roof and enjoy playing with the sculptures. The next day though I think we drag him around one too many architectural masterpieces because he has definitely had enough and runs off trouserless onto the nicely sloped concrete patio of the Vila Casas Foundation Can Framis Museum. Travelling longer distances with a baby/toddler in tow makes me aware both of the limitations of motherhood but also the way it completely alters your experience of a place. Everywhere becomes a potential place of play.

The final day, we do a transect walk across Badalona with the students, getting them to record maintenance and lack of maintenance. This reminds me that I’ve kitted out the pushchair at home with a portable playground maintenance kit, including dustpan and brush, squeegee, bin bags, rubber gloves and duster. So far its mainly been used on slides (see picture) but I plan to open up further possibilities of acts of maintenance. Although I thought of this as an artistic intervention, ironically I got a survey from the Council asking us to recommend how they could save money on the parks of Brighton. Options included local park users carrying out the maintenance themselves.

 


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