Maternal Matters Essay

It is with pleasure and pride that I find myself writing this essay about Maternal Matters. As a fairly new mother of a two year old and a second on the way, I have managed to find a balance (so far) between motherhood and my art practice. As it turns out, I could have spent the past decade focusing my thoughts on other things rather than debating, worrying and putting off starting a family due to fears of loosing my productivity as an artist and thus my career. Reflecting upon this fear, I realize that the stigma which motherhood carries in the art world is still pervasive today.

Grateful to have overcome this long inner struggle, the reality of Motherhood has presented itself with other unexpected challenges. For one, parenting can be a lonely affair, while the life of an artist can be equally as isolating. Whether it is giving all of one’s attention to the needs of a child day after day, or the quiet hours alone in ones studio, both can leave you feeling alone. As a full-time mother, I have to admit that the time which I do get to spend alone in my studio is a true gift, but non the less I found myself craving dialogue with other artists and mothers who could relate to all the struggles which arise from this dual experience.

Out of this desire, I decided I would find these woman. And when I did, we formed our group- Maker Mamas. Our intention is to create a community of mothers who are also artists, in order to help balance a life where child rearing and domestic life are constantly juxtaposed to the demands of making ones own art. We meet monthly to share about our different creative processes and to discuss various topics that explore creativity and motherhood. Most importantly, we have a built-in system for childcare in exchange for studio time.

Out of our meet ups, the idea of an exhibit, Maternal Matters came to fruition. The double entendre speaks to both the issues of motherhood which the work deals with as well as the affirmation of motherhood as a relevant topic in art today. Our collective statement about the exhibit affirms our purpose:

“Babies, boobs and breastfeeding we are mothers delving deeply into what it means to birth humans as well as artistic expression. Our intention is to make the unseen work of Motherhood and Women Artists visible. Our vision is explore the intersections of art, poetry and motherhood. Cameras, keyboards, and canvases are tools we use in the midst of nap, play, and dream time, Mothering our children and our creations.

The artists participating in the show include Jacquelyn Krieger (Video), Lucy Robinson (Poet), and Danila Rumold (Painter). Each artist is examining the effect of motherhood on their work, both in celebration and exploration of the complex and ambivalent emotions associated with motherhood.

In Jacquelyn Krieger’s work she celebrates Motherhood and focuses on the realm of play. Becoming a mother has shown her how children harnesses a communal spirit and bring out the best in people in what krieger calls, “schoolyard earth.” Inspired by her family, juicing for health, and yoga, Krieger uses the fertile grounds of mother earth as a metaphor for Universal Motherhood. Krieger is interested in creating a more peaceful, fun, and forgiving planetary experience for all.

About Krieger’s piece, Fruitful (Video) she says: “having created a juice cleansing program, I’ve spent a lot of time in kitchens large and small with fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, and seeds. When I became pregnant and began reading about the size of the being growing inside of me relative to various produce, I decided to document the growth of my belly alongside chia, beets, onions, melons and other “Fruitful” fare. A considerable portion of each day is spent at mealtime with our daughter Iris so playing the video atop the Little Bean’s high chair seems appropriate.”

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Another video included in the exhibit is, Slideshow. About it Krieger says: “I’ve never spent so much time in playgrounds as I have since becoming a mother. It has been a gift to witness the interactions of children and caretakers, the testing of boundaries, and development of bravery.  And oh the pure joy Iris feels on a slide when surrendering and letting go! Slipping down slides…with grace, giggles, fumbles, flops, on the back, on the belly…makes me think of the literal birth canal as well as the birth canals we each go through every day as we face challenges, greet tenderness, learn lessons, and move forward into the unknown. SlideShow takes place in playgrounds from San Francisco to Paris, Asheville to Brussels.”

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Krieger’s say’s about herTimeless Clock (Wall Installation) that: “Years ago on a magical road trip with my husband, seeking and delving into what we value, the Timeless Clock was born. Rather than numbers, infinite concepts of love, truth, peace, dreaming, creativity, beauty, joy, balance, generosity, healing, knowledge, and courage serve to remind us of what is important. Becoming a mother also rearranged my priorities and relationship with time. Instead of 2pm, it may be Time For…Peace.  And that may come in the form of a fresh strawberry or a fresh diaper, a nap or a hug.”  

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In Lucy Robinson’s poems and prose, her words speak to call back woman to regain their  quintessential embodiment of femininity through the motifs of motherhood. In her statement about her work she says, “The divine nature of the feminine is to create and nurture creation; just as life on earth evolved out of our sister the ocean, dark and wet like the womb. This collection of poems acknowledges the light and shadow sides of making and raising humans by taking a heart-centered perspective on maternal sacrifice. By seeing the unseen, specifically the woman as mother, we hold space for her to birth new ideas, inspiring women to take back their power–not just in birth but in life.”

Included in the exhibit are Robinson’s collection of poems, Words on Whites. About them she says: “I am a writer but I have terrible handwriting. I am a mother but I am neither quick nor skilled with laundry. My whites are stained and I still love white clothing. At any give time, you will likely find piles of laundry, sorted and unsorted, in my bedroom as I divert time I could spend on household chores to writing and reading and mothering. It made perfect sense to hand write verse about motherhood onto clothing and linens worn and ruined by my daughters and I. My undone laundry is the canvas for my work.”

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About Robinson’s piece, Filtered/Unfiltered she says: “Like many a modern parent, I photograph my children every day using my iPhone. I curate select images for my blog and Instagram, hence the square orientation. The hard truth is that I am a technology addict. In this piece I seek to embrace my addiction and put it to good use by making something beautiful for my children to keep. I want them to understand who their mother was while they were young (and why I could often be found behind my computer or phone), in hopes that this information will ultimately bring them to a deeper understanding of where they came from and therefore who they are.

The title comes from the photographs, which are filtered, and the words, which are unfiltered.”

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Within the last two years, I have been bringing the unseen issues of motherhood, maternity, birthing and its counterpart, loss to the easel. Although these motifs have been personal concerns, they are ones which have been shared by woman throughout history.

My current series is called Gestation, and as the name suggests, these drawings and paintings were inspired by my pregnancies. My painting language relies on the rhythmic movement of line as a means to reveal the inner life of things. Through abstraction, my network of lines begin to take form of neurosystems, organs, and organisms. Nuance of color expresses an experience that is left open to psychological interpretation. Utilizing repetition of mark, a tactile surface arises alluding to connective tissues while also emphasizing materiality and process.

Within this series I have a number of sets that can be grouped together by size, motif and medium. As a way to lead you through my process, I will begin and conclude discussion of my work with the drawings as they are the most direct path to visual thinking.

The drawing Body Habitat, uses ink and gouache on Watercolor paper, which I began while I was pregnant with my first child. As my belly grew bigger and bigger, I became more and more aware of the physicality of my body. As a result, I made the decision to work large (60” x 32”) as a means of establishing a body to body relationship. Working on the wall I used momentum and verticality to create sweeping lines and organic drips as a way to build my forms. Conduit, also ink and gouache on paper is 32” x 32,” was inspired by my daughters placenta print. It speaks to birth and life.

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Amongst the paintings, there are four small 12” x 9” panels, two of which became a diptych. They were all inspired by drawings I had done of plant forms during my pregnancy with my daughter. But it was only after she was born, that I began these paintings. Starting with thin washes and line, I began to establish the light and dark of the form. As my process continues, color intuitively develops, while paint begins to accrue in layers.

In the two paintings titled, Seedling One and Seedling Two, the plant forms began to remind me of the colors and other natural forms I discovered on my daily walks through the parks. Carrying Emilia close to me in my carrier, it wasn’t long until the Seedlings, or young plants became a metaphor for my little newborn.

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In the diptych, Form and Formless, which was completed well into the first year of Emilia’s life, I had begun to settle into motherhood. It was at this point that the texture and process of the repetitious mark took on real meaning, referencing the repetition of domestic chores while focusing on bringing mindfulness to each mark or, moment. As the title embodies, these paintings touch on the impermanence of form and speaks to the movement back and forth between the two states of being.

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The first of the mid sized paintings which measure 20” x 16,” was the dark blue painting called, Co-Sleeping. This painting was inspired by the light which shone threw a dark blue bed sheet I hung in my window on the day my daughter Emilia was born at home. I have spent much time looking at the light coming through it while nursing her and sleeping with her. My aim was to  capture the dim light and stillness of these moments.

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There are two other 20” x 16,” paintings which are called Blood + Milk (Red) and Secretion (White). Here the lines from my plant forms take on the pattern of mammary glands where blood is turned into milk as nourishment for the nursling baby. Both paintings refer to the process of lactation and the intimate emotions which are intrinsic to nursing.

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The largest of the paintings thus far Is the pulsing red and purple form which recedes into a violet background, measuring 40” x 32.” Taking on the difficult subject of miscarriage this painting quietly, yet boldly talks about the experience and emotions that are intertwined with loss. A topic which is still taboo in our culture today, this painting wishes to uncover the shame which is often associated with miscarriages. Instead, I am honoring the life that Almost Was.

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The final pieces included in the show are two 20” x 16” watercolor drawings on Arches Paper. Also referencing mammary glands, these drawings with their pinkish-yellow color evoke the feminine and maternal. Distinct from the rest of the series, these forms hover in space rather than compressing out to the edge of their surface. They are included in the exhibit as a cue to the direction which future images in the series will expand out into.

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I would like to conclude by sharing a few thoughts on my decision to write this accompanying essay to Maternal Matters, which was done with limited time at my disposal. For one, it felt important to have some supplemental background to our thinking behind the work, as further insight into our intentions as artists and mothers.

Second, I wanted to publicly show my appreciation to all those who made this exhibit possible. To begin, I would like to thank Jen Ludwig (mother of Jasper 3, and Juniper 2) and Amber Ellis (mother of Gianna 10, and Sofia 8) for taking on our proposal and exhibiting our work. In addition to being mothers they are also artists as well as owners of the Shop at Flywheel press, who serves the community with creativity and art. Other collaborators behind the scenes whom I would like to acknowledge are Samanata Le (mother of Roman 13 months) who did all the graphic design behind Maker Mama promotions, Anya Arthur (mother of Quinn and Hayden, twin girls age 4.5) who will be photographing the opening as a document to this important event. And finally, I would like to particularly thank my collaborators Jacquelyn Krieger and Lucy Robinson for assiduously working toward this mutual dream of giving voice to woman artists who work hard as mothers but also as creators in their artistic careers. 

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