Collaborating and Carving Out Space for Art
In Rachael’s Words: Moms Making Art During Challenges
When I became a mom for the first time, I started a daily drawing project. I picked one break a day in between hourly nursing my newborn, when instead of showering, cleaning, preparing food, or heaven forbid resting, I drew. I kept pencil and paper easily accessible and ready to use. With each child during the difficult first years, I went back to daily drawing or painting when possible. Often I would draw or paint a child’s favourite stuffed animal every day for months. Fewer decisions about subject matter and materials smoothed the path to making art. Instead of thinking, I would just focus on the capturing the toy in a silly pose or the light falling that day on the stuffed animal.
In times of crisis, like the first COVID-related pandemic lockdown in March 2020, I return to this reassuring art practice. Daily drawing projects for me are part art therapy and part art routine. I can’t pretend that these daily drawings and paintings are my best artwork. But at least during difficult times, I found a way to keep creating art.
This is not original or innovative. The daily drawing project idea has been around for ages. I came across the suggestion while researching how women manage to have a studio practice with children, work, and other responsibilities. When I became pregnant for the first time, I started obsessively researching how mothers manage to also be artists. I wanted to know how productive, often prolific, parent artists were able to thrive with young children.
Below are some of my top books and resources that I repeatedly return to when I need encouragement and inspiration. I also explain why they continue to serve as guidance and motivation and how that theme will be featured in the upcoming MOM online art exhibition. Rachael Grad, 2022.
The M Word; Real Mothers in Contemporary Art edited by Muriel Chernick and Jennie Klein. Bradford: Demeter Press, 2004 [Click to Read More]
The anthology includes interviews, essays, and images of visual art and exhibitions of mother artists. Feminist theory and maternal creativity are addressed in these excerpts. The book also contains colour images of artwork and poetry on motherhood. The book begins with an interview with Mary Kelly reflecting on after Post-Partum Document 30 years after it was made. The second interview is with Kelly and her son Kelly Barrie (MutualArt. Accessed 30 July 2022). Kelly Barrie is also an artist and had responded to his mother’s series of work in which he was a collaborator when he was a child. This work was shown together in the 2008 Sydney Biennial (16th Biennale of Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA), 18 June – 7 Sep. 2008. https://www.mca.com.au/artists-works/exhibitions/16th-biennale-of-sydney/. Accessed 30 July 2022.)
The first two interviews of Kelly and her son immediately captured my attention. I then discovered new writers and artists like Monica Bock and Maternal Exposure (or, don’t forget the lunches) (1999-2000) in this anthology. As a mother, I’m always considering how the work I make may impact my children in future. If I collaborate with them as children, how will they feel about the work as adults? How will my young kids react to my artwork about them when they grow up? Several essays in the book address this topic from mothers’ and children’s points of view. Kelly Barrie, Tanya Llewelyn, and the other people in the book who had collaborated with their mothers as children positively describe their experiences and became artists themselves. Participating in their mothers’ artwork revealed aspects of their childhood to the public, however, they were not shown nude, as Sally Mann’s often photographed her children (Mann, Sally, Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs. Little Brown and Company, 2016.)
Uninvited; Canadian Women Artists in the Modern Moment by Sarah Milroy and A.C Dejardin. Vancouver: Publishers Group West, 2021 [Click to Read More]
The catalogue for an exhibition with 200 artworks of Canadian women artists from across the country who were contemporaries to the Group of Seven male painters. The exhibition also includes the textiles and beadwork of indigenous women throughout the show. Some of the female artists were immigrants to Canada and many paintings depict city scenes and portraits of indigenous people and immigrants.
The moving essay by Christi Belcourt describes the indigenous perspective of traditional heirlooms like tikinaganen, the Anishinaabemowin word for “cradleboards,” meant to carry babies, yet on view in museums (103, 294). The catalogue contains women’s personal stories of hardship, sacrifice, and obscurity. I had never heard of any of these female artists until I saw the exhibition in person at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection last year (Uninvited; Canadian Women Artists in the Modern Moment https://mcmichael.com/event/uninvited/).
The women’s artwork is just as impressive their male contemporaries, even though their careers were sidelined in favor of their husbands, such Bess Harris, wife of Lawren Harris, and Regina Seiden Goldberg, who gave up her career to support her painter husband (110). I am fortunate in not having to agive up my work for that of anyone else and this show is a reminder to keep making art even with no recognition or reception.