Me, We, Women

Robyn LeRoy-Evans:

Robyn is a visual artist working in photography, installation, and performance. By turning the camera on herself, and through the use of carefully considered materials, LeRoy-Evans creates imagery and installations that draw inspiration from history, mythology, and her own personal experiences. In 2012 she achieved a First Class Honours Degree in Fine Art from Sheffield Hallam University, United Kingdom. She has exhibited nationally and internationally and has work in private collections in the U.S., Canada, and U.K. From 2016-2019 LeRoy-Evans was a member of The Front, an artist-run exhibition space in New Orleans. She celebrated her first solo show, A Growing Dance, in 2017, which explored her most challenging and rewarding venture yet: motherhood. Her most recent exhibitions include Maternality at Richard Saltoun Gallery, London in 2020, curated by Catherine McCormack. Her collaborative work with ceramic artist Dianne Lee is on view as part of 2021’s National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts at Weston Art Gallery, Cincinnati, in the group show Social Recession. Dianne and Robyn’s work can also be seen at The Gardiner Museum, Toronto, in summer 2021 as part of the city’s annual Contact Photography Festival. Reference:

That Which We Can Never Know. Velvet, a pillow from the family bed, earth from the woodland of the artist’s childhood, clothing (the artist’s), thread, nails, hair (the artist’s, her partner’s, their daughter’s). 150 x 122 x 92 cm circa. 2020

Curator: “That Which We Can Never Know” is a fabric installation that implies yet unveils the internal folds of the maternal body. The physical volume contains invisible memory by including the earth from woodland of your childhood and the hairs of your families. What is your initial motive to draw all these components out to recreate a space of memory?

Leroy-Evans: The fabric, clothing, and hair in particular, are materials I’ve worked with for many years. My motive? To give a sense of bodies in time, bodies of time: the past and present and future all together.

My mother had to be brought in somehow. As this piece was created for a show in London, I knew I would have the opportunity to return to where I spent my childhood and collect some earth from under the bench on which she liked to sit. The collecting of it was a ritual of sorts in and of itself. I sat where my mother sat. Visited with her awhile. Then, in the gallery, when everything was brought together, it felt like a drawing in of things, a gathering. These elements, which separately hold individual meaning on their own, hold more weight somehow once brought together.

Finally, my personal future was somewhat predicted in this piece, as the curator Catherine McCormack writes in her essay from the January show, “…three pins attaching the work to the wall represent the vestiges of bodies within the one contained space; of the artist, her partner, and her child while a fourth pin represents the possibility of another body as yet to be born from the folds.” My son was born in December that same year.

Labor of Love. Satin, fabric ink, inflatable exercise ball, lashing, metal clips. 2018. Installation view of Labor of Love at Little Berlin, Philadelphia for the group show Tango, 2018

Photo credit: Jonathan Traviesa

Curator: In the installation “Labour of Love”, a blue exercise ball which was to assist in labouring, is cradled and concealed by the yellow satin. Does this imply the invisibility of labour? What is the relation of labour and love from your point of view as a mother artist?

Leroy-Evans: Yes, labouring people are often kept in the shadows. Of course there’s also the idea of all the hidden labour mothers and mothering figures do. So much goes unseen. The labour that we deal with daily. The internal labour of the mind, too. I don’t see my labour as an act of love. I see my labour as a means through to my love. Because I labour, I am able to love more deeply.

To Let Go Someday Will Be Painful. Archival pigment print. 14.6”x22”. 2017. In the project of A Growing Dance

Curator: “A Growing Dance” is a series of images that capture the dance-like movements based on everyday actions. The draped folds and the movements of the body run in parallel, creating a duality of hides and reveals. You mentioned that your physical expressions are usually removed from your inner self. How do you deal with this tension (do you try to balance it?)

Leroy-Evans: I deal with this tension by making art! Because yes, my body as a mother is not only mine. For most of the day it belongs now to my infant son, just as it belonged to my daughter when I was nursing her. When is my body not being touched or pulled or grabbed or suckled? These are all ongoing sensations, which I attempt to mirror in the work in my own way. My process is repetitive, it is action-based, and in the center lies two joined materials: the body and the cloth. When I see folds of cloth, I see folds of flesh. I manipulate the material, I interact with it, it becomes an entity unto its own. They are arranged together, in conversation with one another, and I use my body to try to join these conversations. As a mother, my body has become something I’m more aware of than before. How it has been transformed, used, manipulated, given over to…I know I am not my body. I only exist within it, it is a vessel.

How You Came To Be. Archival pigment print. 8″x12″. 2017 I
In the project of A Growing Dance

Curator: Another interesting point is the involvement or presence of your daughter during the practice, how do you think your two mother-daughter relationships (between you and your artist mother, and between you and your daughter)?

Leroy-Evans: It’s difficult to describe the depth of feeling involved while working on A Growing Dance. This work was created after giving birth to my first child, my daughter. It’s difficult to put into words how deeply I felt throughout this time period of intense emotion. Adjusting, caring, creating, thinking, feeling. Before and after the first child arrives there are so many unknowns, so much anxiety, so many fears. But also so much joy and excitement. While I was pregnant I missed my own mother more than ever. I felt her loss more strongly, more acutely. Knowing she’d never get to hold her grandchild (now grandchildren) and knowing she couldn’t be there for me, giving me her mother’s love; I grieved in a whole new way during this time. But I was also grateful to her for giving me the gifts of creativity – having a channel, an outlet, which was so deeply connected to her – to work through the intensity I was feeling.

Working with my infant daughter in the room in the run up to the show’s opening, and including here in many of the process shots I took… I was always moving through ideas, always working with a watcher by my side. I held her, while holding all this emotion within me, too. Looking back through some notes from when I was in the process of making this work I wrote of my daughter, “She is at once an anchor and the keeper of my greatest ideas. My biggest distraction.” I wonder if my mother thought something similar about me when she was working.

I will go to the places that scare me (red woman no.1). Archival pigment print. 12×18 inches. 2016

Curator: “Red Women” series consists of the images made in 2016 when you were 8 months pregnant, express both the inner anxiety, as well as the unstable outer environment. Why do you choose the color red to disguise and drape the figure? And how this figure of disguised you, seems anonymous, makes sense?

Leroy-Evans: I’ve used the image of the “red woman” in earlier work, before I ever became pregnant. I think I’m naturally drawn to this colour, especially when it’s being considered for women. The colour possesses many different associations – and perhaps most significantly for me is the link to the mothering body: blood. The blood in the mothering body sustains life other than the body’s own. There’s tremendous power there. And when it’s not carrying life, when the body bleeds, it’s considered dangerous, mysterious, repellent. The idea of a woman being dangerous and powerful all at once fascinates me.

I will go to the places that scare me (red woman no.2). Archival pigment print. 12×18 inches. 2016

Curator: Do you identify yourself as a feminist artist? How do you think the relation between feminism and motherhood in art?

Leroy-Evans: Yes, I’d absolutely identify myself as a feminist artist. I see feminism as something universal, something to be striving for, whether we acknowledge it as “feminism” or not. And for me it’s impossible to speak of motherhood and feminism without speaking of place and politics. Here in our so-called United States, and in so many other parts of the world, the motherhood experience – from conception to birth and beyond – is fraught with obstacles, injustices, and inequality. Especially for people of colour. I am unlearning much of what I’ve grown up believing as a privileged white woman artist/mother/friend/daughter. To live in a truly feminist society would be one where every human, every life, especially the mother, is deeply honoured, respected, and supported. To me feminism and mothering are inextricably linked. As a planet, as a species, we need more mothering – we need to be taking care of each other.

Woman Falls Head Over Heels For Plant… Archival pigment print. 19″ x 15″. 2015

Curator: “Woman Falls Head Over Heels For Plant… But Is Left Wanting” reflects your emotion of desirability six years ago as an unmarried woman artist. How do you value that period? Does it resonate to your current self-identity?

Leroy-Evans: I remember the loneliness I felt at this time. Then when you become a mother you often long to be alone. (I’m now learning to accept these different seasons of my life.) Looking back at this period, when this work was made, I am grateful for the time I had to explore myself and figure out the kind of person I was becoming. I remember being filled with a longing – a longing for some version of the life I have now. (Now my days are filled with a different kind of longing all together.) And in some ways this image of the awkward woman still resonates. I find myself feeling awkward and undesirable so much of the time. But I also recognise and honour how much stronger I am now than I was then. My body – and mind – are capable of incredible things.

Artist statement/ current interest

As for the recent interest and future plan, LeRoy-Evans says: “I’ve taken a long pause since making That Which We Can Never Know. I became pregnant unexpectedly again a few months after returning from London for the show, and then the world descended into pandemic life! It’s been a challenging few years for everyone. I’ve had to shift focus and put energy towards a new business to help sustain me. But my personal art practice will always be there. I know I will return to it soon. In the meantime, I have an upcoming show with my collaborator and dear friend, Dianne Lee, at the Gardiner Museum, Toronto (@heavy_shine). I also have several projects later in the year with my art sisters, The Crystal Efemmes (@crystal_efemmes). So keep an eye out! One thing I have been thinking on for the last year or so in terms of my personal practice is exploring my erotic being as a mother. Eroticism as a theme has been a part of my practice for some time, and it carries new meaning for me now as a mother. I think when it comes time to get back into the studio, the work I make will be considering this aspect of motherhood.”

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