I paint figurative representations of motherhood, pregnancy, and female (self) identity in oils.
My work is shaped by experiences of poverty, overwhelm, isolation and social judgement, from memories as a young mother, and as an older mother whose children have left home, both times of huge identity shift.
My lived experience jars with how art and society privilege the cliché of an idealised role of motherhood, through Madonna and child images, as well as aspirational images in the media. I aim to question this by showing the repression of self that women undergo when they become pregnant and raise a family in a patriarchal society constructed on class rules.
I am inspired by artists who have subverted visual norms, such as Jo Spence, restaging photographs of herself from a feminist and working-class perspective. As a painter, I know that oil painting comes with historical baggage of wealth, class, and entitlement, but I believe its staging can challenge assumptions. By photographing my oil paintings in a domestic setting, I aim to question ‘art spaces’ and by implication, author, audience and subject matter.
I feel that the materiality of paint can be harnessed for emotive power and the storytelling I aim for, as I have seen in the work of Jennifer Packer whose touch reveals her feelings, through her nuanced use of paint. Within the story of each painting, I work on ‘active’ areas using impasto, coloured lines for emphasis, and in quieter areas, let the image disappear into drips in places to become more intangible. My painting is an evolving and exploratory process where experiments with colour and mark making can steer my direction.
For structure, I use initial compositional sketches, collage, and maquettes to plan multi-figure layouts thinking about traditional compositional schemata and how I can subtly subvert these. Sometimes I reference objects made as preparatory work to emphasise how we construct a ‘reality’ which is subjective to us.
I resonate with folk and fortune-telling imagery, which traditionally provided hope, reassurance, and belief, and I have started to enjoy relief printmaking.
Expressionist work by artists such as Oskar Kokoschka influences me through weight of paint, colour, and distortions of the human form, particularly hands, that I feel have great potential energy for storytelling. It is important to me to show in my work how society works to distort us and place us into assigned roles (including motherhood), how it isolates us, and how it acts to correct us if we deviate from the norms. In this sense I feel ‘suburbia/society’ becomes a character in my paintings, watching over us.
Networks of support are in flux throughout our lives, and feminism is not always inclusive of mothers. Although wary of an idealised notion of sisterhood, I agree with the call of bell hooks and Audre Lorde for female solidarity to gain strength in relation to a modern bourgeois, white western male knowledge system. The perceived role and representation of motherhood can limit the choices available for self-expression and self-actualisation. To give back power, the individual voice matters, and I want to share mine.