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.


My week has been spent on trains: I’ve been to London twice, once to be in a panel discussion and once for a workshop. The train is a good place to work. Yesterday I spent 5 hours on trains and did a lot of stitching. We also took Abie to on the train to Gatwick Airport for a meeting (a mid-way point between collaborators) which was a strange experience, there wasn’t really a contained public space to sit and talk while he could play so we arranged club chairs at Giraffe into a circle and he crawled around and fed and napped while we talked.

I’ve been working in the evenings, making drawings and doing preparation for the workshops with women in Ealing. It’s easier to work at home after Abie’s in bed, and I rearranged the furniture to use the dining table as a base for the map – tablecloth piece I’m working on.

Today I am in the studio reading a book a friend gave me called “Invisible Spaces of Parenthood” (I have had it for months and am finally getting round to reading it). It is making me feel both glad and angry – glad to find other artist mothers talking about the issues and frustrations which I recognise, such as trying to find or set up childcare, and crèche facilities in order to study, practice or visit exhibitions – but angry that these are clearly such common problems for women who are mothers and try to continue their practice.

It’s inspiring to hear about projects like Culture Baby and Crib Notes where women have set up groups in galleries so you can go and hear talks and tour shows with your baby. But I am not in London and therefore cannot access these things and its difficult to get to see exhibitions if I add on the cost and additional time of going to London and back, so I only go for paid work.

In the book, Martina Mullaney talks about her campaign group ‘Enemies of Good Art’ which came from a quote: “There is no more solemn enemy of art than the pram in the hall.” She quotes Maureen Paley gallery at a professional practice seminar at the RCA saying that if you don’t hit it and make your name by 30 forget it. So where does that leave space for having children? The discussion also points out “the changing economic climate has been felt much more acutely by women than by men.”

This is in 2012, and 4 years down the line, things are getting worse if anything, as the Government continues wholesale with austerity. Reading an article in Art Monthly by Morgan Quaintance about the corporatisation of art institutions this week (Illiquid Assets, AM398) it seems recent much-touted prizes for women artists might come with an unsavoury private finance association. The question is, is it better to be visible or invisible?


Its been a strange week again, both good and bad, with birthday parties amidst the wreckage of British politics (and football). I didn’t get into the studio, So I am writing this on Saturday morning while Abie (and his dad) are having a nap.

On Wednesday it was my partners birthday and we went to the De La Warr pavilion in Bexhill. We spent most of the time by the Lego table in the café which Abie really enjoyed. I noticed a few pieces of Lego that had been left behind on a plinth. I decided to try and draw the remains of the day on the playmat at home each evening.

On Thursday I had my first workshop in Ealing with a group of women from different faiths, who all brought along their textile work. It was both lovely and moving to hear them tell their stories, which often involved leaving their home country and leaving behind a lot to come here. We also laughed at the subtle domestic protests made through needlework (“Kitchen is closed due to Illness: I’m sick of cooking”) and some of the women described how needlework was something they had to do for their dowry as young girls. It’s interesting to be working in this medium at this point in my life, as it’s been associated with female oppression and domesticity. But it’s also been one of the few avenues for women to express their creativity.

Several of the group had unfinished projects – one woman said she’d been doing the same piece for 11 years. As I was writing this Abie woke up and I am coming back an hour later to finish it, and in fact posting later on in the evening, so I’ve been thinking about motherhood and not finishing things. Time is very fragmented. I think I’ve been reading the chapter of the same book for 2 months.

I was supposed to be taking my piece ‘Brixton Museum’ to the Radical Histories conference at Queen Mary University this weekend but the logistics of getting it there, getting us all there from Brighton, managing accommodation, childcare and invigilating and participating on a no-budget invitation proved impossible. I feel sad as I think it would be a good place to be at this moment in time, but I’m learning what’s manageable and whats not.

On the plus side, I got the news yesterday that I have an interview for a commission I submitted earlier in the week. And I’ve had an interview published online for the Axis website ‘Artist of the month’ feature. A good end to the week despite the uncertainty around us.

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