I got ‘Just Kids’ by Patti Smith for my birthday and I started to read it on the train this week. I also used my birthday book tokens to get a big fat coffee table monster called ‘Sanctuary: British artists and their studios’. The artists in the book are all very successful and can afford huge, beautiful studio spaces, and the time to make work. A couple of them do refer to being parents and how that has limited the time they can spend in the studio. Still, it is like a sort of fantasy brochure for a perfect artists life. Although I think the reality of being an artist is that all the in-between stuff you do is just as important to making work.
I got really engrossed in Patti Smith’s description of arriving in New York penniless aged 20 and meeting Robert Mapplethorpe and how they set up home together, and it was interesting how their domestic and creative lives harmonised, and they gave each other a place of safety while they were working out what kind of artist (and person) they were.
I made it into the studio this week for 3 hours, but I also made work at home, on the train, and with the group of women in the church hall in Ealing. This group is another place of sanctuary, I think, for the women taking part. While we work on stitching the words of prayers and poems, people exchange life stories, problems with pain, old age, and advice about children and more. I don’t know if it’s the making that makes them feel safe to unburden, but I often find that making together can be a way of entering into trust. Being alone is also a place of sanctuary for me, though, and a few hours alone in the studio a week feels luxurious.
At the weekend we went to Tate Britain and had the treat of an hour to see an exhibition while my mum and her partner took Abie for a walk. We looked round Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-79 and I came across Mary Kelly’s work ‘Post Partum Document’ (1975) in which she charts her sons development, noting his words, her thoughts and her later reflections. He later scribbles on these so they become ‘indexical traces’, implying a ‘physical immediacy … that contrasts with the perspectival model set up to denote distance and separation.’ (catalogue notes) This is very much how I feel about the artist/mother state, where you are constantly shifting between immediacy and distance.
I notice reading her notes the anxiety she feels about her child’s development and how it reflects on her. Her work is honest, and introduces the subjective into the conceptual artwork, despite its presentation as data. What is funny is to think of the space the work was made in (probably domestic, and messy), and then to see it on the walls of the Tate Britain, inner sanctum of British art. Afterwards we go outside and Abie takes a few steps on the grass, his first steps made earlier in the day.