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Embracing the mother-artist model

In just a few weeks, I will be travelling to Toowoomba for "Tethered" an exhibition that will feature six mother-artists and showcase the range of ways in which we incorporate our children into our art making.

It may just be an understatement to say that this project is exciting me! While I have always made sure my kids are encouraged to be creative at home, this exhibition has been an opportunity to take it to the next level.

The challenge I took was to actually let the kids into my space, to work in my studio with the same quality of materials that I would buy for myself, and to coach them through the development of a collaborative piece that we could both be proud of.

Because, let's be honest, while I have always created with my kids, in the past it has always been a bit of me and them. Maybe because, my kids - perhaps like yours - enjoy a creative project but tend to:

  • lose interest quickly,

  • squeeze out FAR TOO MUCH paint,

  • luuurve using lots of colours but not clean their brushes in between (end result: brown!)

  • leave their painty brushes painty (ruin them)

  • start a canvas and never come back to it, and then want a clean new canvas the next time, and

  • paint things that they shouldn't paint when left unsupervised.

So in response I have generally bought them cheap supplies, freaked out at the (creative) mess they made (on the house)(and the concrete)(a few too many times), finished off their artworks just to use up all that wasted paint, and become a nazi about the use of my materials. Oh yes, and when we paint on the same canvas I always finish it off so that I am happy with the end result!

So, despite my trepidations about how I would be able to control my own urges to take over, or freak out along the way - my children and I have created three collaborative artworks that we are all really proud of. And the journey has been just as interesting as the result.

I had a vision, which I shared with the kids, of completing a collaborative portrait of each child, with my child painting the background, me painting their images, and then them adding any additional objects that they wished to include. There was general agreement on this idea, and in preparation I bought three 1m square framed canvases and lots (LOTS!) of new pots of my good paint.

My Mr 5 (pictured) was the first to jump in. He painted his background painting in its entirety, and while I had some input in coaching him how to paint a full background to his piece and helping him choose the appropriate brushes and techniques to achieve his aims, I didn't really get much more of a look in. When it was (I thought) my turn to paint, he decreed that I was not allowed to touch his canvas - I might ruin his painting!

After several weeks of variously, trying to convince him otherwise, reminding him about the collaborative intention of the exercise, quietly plotting deceptions and bribes of various natures, and wondering if I should buy a second canvas etc... I decided, with much deep breathing to let it go! Part of my personal-challenge was to let go of the final result of the image wasn't it!? Yes it was (breathe Jo, breathe), so on to the next child.

Miss 10 was next. She is my most gung-ho creator, and whilst her imagination is unsurpassed, her attention to detail is not. On a day that she pleaded sick (I didn't really believe her) and I conceded to a day off school, I left her alone in the studio to work because I really had to get on with my other job. Returning at lunch time she had created the most amazing moody background in green, purple and white using cloudy textures, contemporary water-sprayed dribbles and great big arm-swing slashes - amazing mark making! When I said how much I loved it, she cried. She hated it.

More plotting (collaborative discussion), and I convinced her to keep it long enough to add her portrait and see where it went. She finished it off with rainbow showers of colour (much more her personality) and the end result is really something to behold.

My first born, Miss 13 was last to start hers, due to nerves, and consistent with her anxious high-achieving personality, she wanted hers to be perfect! Luckily, I wanted it to be perfect as well (put up your hand if you're a first born child). But her's is where I may have lost my resolve to coach the kids to do the bulk of the work. Each time she gave me her vision and I loved it, and she pleaded with me to just do a little bit more to achieve her vision of perfection, I did. And while the end result is beautiful, and everything she wanted, my little artist was turned conceptual artist for the most part. Perhaps it was 70:30, but she liked it that way.

Each of those experiences reveals quite a lot about us, about our personalities, the dynamics between us, and me as a mother, and an artist. And between all of the successes and the failings of the whole process, I didn't freak out (!), and they didn't use too much paint, and with their eye on the prize - being their very first proper exhibition - they didn't leave anything half finished. They produced beautifully executed paintings which burst my heart with joy - my kids really exceeded all of my expectations.

The official opening of Tethered will be held on 5 February, and I think will be one of my most exciting exhibition openings yet. Seeing our family, all of us, and what we've achieved together, hanging on the walls for everyone to see. I really couldn't be prouder.


Tethered: Embodying the Mother-Artist Model opens at the University of Southern Queensland Foyer Gallery, USQ Artworx on 5 February and runs until the 27 February 2019.

My sincere thanks goes to Linda Clark, whose PhD on Mother-Artists has made this opportunity possible.

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