Amy Swartz on The Drawing Board for MOM project. Amy is an artist, professor, and mother of 2. Here she is interviewed by Rachael Grad for the final series in our online Pandemic Parenting Exhibit. This is the final presentation for the online exhibit Pandemic Parenting at the Museum of Motherhood, August 2022. The MoM team thanks Rachael for her excellent curation and dissemination of this series.
“Being a mom is giving your daughter the best air pods.”
RG: How did Motherhood change your art?
AS: I need force and pressure to create things. After grad school I was featured in Canadian Art, NOW magazine and other publications. Then my mom died and I got pregnant. Not having deadlines after grad school, it was easy to get derailed. I was gutted, grieving, and stopped making art when I first became a mom. My second child was born 2 years later.
I went about 7 years without showing work. My husband is a carpenter/cabinetmaker who made me a studio in the backyard. I started collecting dead insects – the first was a dragonfly that looked dead and alive at same time. I put together about 20 insects in different boxes, for example, jewelry boxes. I attached one of the army man heads from my husband’s childhood toy soldier collection on a moth. Then I made an army of hundreds of the creatures. My husband made containers for them. I had nowhere to show them and no website.
A parent at my kids’ school is a photographer and took photos in exchange for keeping one. He introduced me to his gallerist friend Jamie Angell, who later visited my studio and showed the work. My children were youngish when I was making that work and being included in lots of shows. When we started The Drawing Board, I started focusing more on that collaborative work.
RG: How did you start The Drawing Board?
AS: I knew JJ Lee from graduate school at York University. When I started teaching at the Toronto School of Art, I met Natalie Waldburger. I became an instructor at OCAD University where JJ and Natalie were also teaching. We used to go to a bar right across the street from Michaels, where they gave crayons. We started drawing together at meals/drinks to get out our frustrations. We went over each other’s drawings, crossing things out and redrawing. We found that we worked well together and officially started The Drawing Board in 2016.
It started out more performative and is now more collaborative with other invited artists. In our last show at the Red Head Gallery, we worked with 9 artists who gave assignments or drawings to us. The three of us completed the assignments together.
RG: Why did you start working in this way?
AS: We found ourselves effected by the political issues, intense atmosphere, power structure, and inequity in University meetings. Afterward, we doodled intensely as a creative and healthy way to safely process. We used the fodder and energy to make work. We looked at tensions among creative people within a bureaucracy that guides teachers. We play with grids and office supplies that talk about superstructure.
RG: How often do you meet?
AS: Attempts to put in a structure haven’t worked. We’re very different but like a family. Somehow, we make work and do things together around our kids’ and our work. We think of something to apply for or do and get it done. We can do a lot very quickly together, for example, we write and get grants and funding in a very organic manner. The Drawing Board has a studio space at OCAD University. We will apply for a show and grant this year if nothing happens with our families.
RG: Do you have any individual projects planned?
AS: I haven’t had a show on my own in 2 years. The last one was cancelled because of the pandemic.
RG: How has your participation in The Drawing Board changed your individual art practice?
AS: In some ways, it hasn’t changed my practice. I’m in “Amy mode” when working alone. But I’m more apt to do things more quickly I hadn’t before tried. I can be a perfectionist on my own. Now I think of Nat and JJ when working on my own and am more open. My children have really needed me in the last few years. I don’t have words for my current work and am not ready to share it.
RG: Is there anything you would change or do differently?
AS: I am slowing down now. I wish that I had slowed down earlier with my kids, family, education, and everything! I want to be more present and patient. Both of my parents died young and didn’t meet my kids. My grandmother died at 103 of COVID during the first few weeks of the pandemic. I wish I hadn’t been so busy in my mind. In teaching this year, I will take out an assignment out of every class to give more time for my students. We need more space to have fallow time as artists. We need to look at the window and not be bombarded with stuff.
RG: What surprised you about being a mother artist?
AS: As a mom, I kept thinking I knew about stereotypes of my children’s stages. Every time it’s not what I imagined. These beings that are my children are not like me at all. They come from me but are not me. I look at kids and am always pleasantly surprised.