Residency in Motherhood

Two days ago I started a pretty unusual residency: an artist’s residency in motherhood. The programme was started by US artist Lenka Clayton who, on the arrival of her baby, found, as does everyone on the arrival of a baby, that everything had changed. In particular, though, she found that how people viewed her as an artist had changed, and that many professional avenues which had previously been possibilities for her now seemed to be closed off. For example, many residencies preclude families attending, and the life of a new mother, with broken sleep, and short nap times being the only time to oneself, didn’t make for the long stretches in the studio that she had been used to. Now many new parents are familiar with the feeling that they have lost something of what they used to be, but for artists, whose occupation is more of a vocation, and also for whom it is sometimes hard to justify regular childcare on economic grounds, I think there are a particular set of problems. Lenka decided that she would try to turn the challenge of being a mother and being an artist into something positive, to integrate the two roles, and let them feed into one another, rather than having them in constant tension. So she embarked on a residency within motherhood, changing her work to react to her interactions with her baby, and to fit within the small fragments of time she had available during naps and in the short amounts of childcare she arranged. And she produced some wonderful work, a beautiful little book of all the items she removed from her child’s mouth being just one.

As the mother of two, slightly older, children, my situation is somewhat different, and I wish I had come across the idea a bit sooner, but I still feel it is of relevance. Although my older daughter is now at school, and the little one is doing three mornings at pre-school from September, which comprises, more often than not, my entire working week. It’s hardly full time. Moreover, in the holidays, I don’t usually have any studio time at all. So I decided to undertake a residency in motherhood during the Summer Holidays and beyond, to try to find a way of enjoying my children's play more, involving myself fully with what they’re doing, and seeing how that feeds into my work, rather than feeling a constant frustration or tension of wanting to be doing something else. This feels to me like a natural process, as what they do and how they see the world, and the experience of being their mother has already substantially shaped my work. I've embarked on a series of drawing of twigs dislodged by a big storm, inspired by their constant desire to collect twigs and leaves on walks; I'm half way through a portrait of my elder daughter’s favourite toy, which she now hardly dares to touch, after a terrible incident when she was feeling a bit chewy and accidentally chewed the toy’s eye off, leaving a sinister hole. Not to mention the fact that the general state of the world feels all the keener when thinking about the kind of world they will grow up in. All in all I’m looking forward to concentrating a little more on motherhood, and in combination, a little more on my work, and hope that it will make me a better mother and a better artist too.

Appropriately enough, I’m writing this while sitting in a dark bedroom on our holiday, waiting for the girls to go to sleep. More appropriately to the challenges that motherhood presents, although I started the residency two days ago, this is only the second chunk of time that has been available to do any work. The first came on a ferry from Cairnryan (Scotland) to Larne (Northern Ireland), in the form of the activities in the childrens’ room (some sugar paper and a huge box of crayons. We all did some drawing… Tomorrow I’m integrating a trip into Belfast to drop off a painting at the Ulster Museum for the RUA’s annual exhibition into something with the girls. Maybe a trip to the botanic garden…

Yesterday and today’s holiday highlights have included: a little yellow chick (held in hand); two old and one young collie dogs; some new pots of play doh, watching bats coming out from under the eaves to hunt, and listening to them through the floorboards; giving a myrtle twig from the tree grown from a sprig from my great grandmother’s wedding bouquet to a passing bride; the girls helping drive the car through the farm (no pheasants were injured in this process, though it was close); a fascinating greenhouse full of cacti and succulents which surprised a girl who thought gardens were boring and a first taste of squid *yummy” surprisingly, more so than the mashed potato (“goodby cruel mash” she said). There were low points too: bickering, shouting, a dinner pronounced absolutely disgusting and people being hungry at bedtime having failed to eat much of said (actually quite nice) dinner. But I like the idea of concentrating on the good little things, and trying to make a memory record of them… Maybe something to think about. I remember things from when I was small and on holiday here, in Northern Ireland; fossil hunts with my mum, apricot crumble (we should make some of that), piles of pancakes, being chased on my bike by my sister’s small and yappy dog, and a pot of very bright pink poster paint that was my favourite.


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