Since having children my relationship with art has been complicated.
For a long time now making art for myself has been a frustrating and disappointing experience for me. I never feel happy with my work or feel any sense of accomplishment as a result of creating it. I have regularly felt, despite my desperate attempts to silence myself, that motherhood is holding back from my artistic goals. I squeeze painting in here and there between dinner and naps and playing with toy cars and become increasingly frustrated when I am interrupted or needed else where. My life has been a battle ground with art on one side and motherhood on the other.
My transition to motherhood was not smooth. I don't think any mother is really prepared for the reality of raising a child and for me motherhood arrived in the form of harsh, cold slap in the face. A traumatic birth and post-natal illness left me feeling like I had lost myself entirely. I was naive about motherhood. Motherhood wasn't just hard, it was impossible and all encompassing. The intensity of my feelings terrified me. There I was tearful, sleep deprived and desperate, sick-up on my sleeve with the person that I thought I was in fragmented pieces before me. I felt broken. Suffocating. I grieved my old life deeply. I grieved knowing who I was. Through all of this turmoil I clung to my identity as an artist - the only part of me I could see left. The only part of me I knew to be separate from mother.
Last week I sat and watched Bear painting, dragging the materials across the page with no care for the final image only for the process of creation. I fetched out some of my own paints and allowed myself to image make freely next to him. I painted several minimal abstract pictures and relief came over me. I laughed. I was painting simply for the joy of it with my son. There was no pressure to finish the perfect piece. No feelings of artistic failure. It felt very therapeutic and I felt lighter.
I did the same the next day and when Bear came to sit with me I gave him my paint brush and let him paint on my work - usually in this situation I would have tried to redirect him to his own activity. I have spent a lot of time crafting and creating art with Bear but not in this way. Not directly as part my own art for fear of ruining weeks of hard work. It was a heartfelt moment. My sons carefree approach to mark making inspires me. My painting was not ruined but instead improved due to the atmosphere it was created in.
I have felt free to paint again. There has been no artistic frustration or stressful moments trying to keep my work away from little hands for fear of it being ruined. Hands that really only wanted to handle my art because they were curious belonging to children who just wanted to spend time with their mother. We have painted together since on small and large scale paper board. I have several first stage paintings sat in my folder and more in my sketchbook. I have started a large scale painting for the first time in years among the toys in the playroom. I leave my paintings out with an open invitation for Bear to join me if he wishes. Involving my children directly in my art like this has been so beneficial to myself and to my children.
I look back at all the tears I have shed over not having any time for myself to paint with such sadness. All the frustration and even anger I have felt when my attempts to paint have once again been interrupted. Situations all created by trying to keep my identity as an artist and my identity as a mother separate. But they are not separate. My art and my identity as a mother are so intertwined. They are the same. Why couldn't I see this before? It is time that I embraced this instead of fighting against it. My identity is of an artist mother not an an artist and a mother.
I feel inspired to explore these themes through my work now in this abstract way, encouraging my children to paint along with me. I feel that it is time to let go of the illustrative work that has grown unhappily stale for me and to explore a new project that involves my children directly. Abstract work that is influenced directly by my children's carefree approach to mark making and story telling - artist meets motherhood.