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Meet the Artists of February’s Free First Saturday: Part II

By Rachel Kimpton. This is the second part of our artist interview for February’s Free First Saturday. On February 2, we have a few fantastic local artists making their way to share their styles and methods of painting. These artists will be participating in the Art Lab activity in accordance with that day’s opening of the […]

By Rachel Kimpton.

This is the second part of our artist interview for February’s Free First Saturday.

On February 2, we have a few fantastic local artists making their way to share their styles and methods of painting. These artists will be participating in the Art Lab activity in accordance with that day’s opening of the Walker Art Center’s newest exhibition, Painter Painter. This exhibition focuses on the development of abstract painting and the role of both the artist and the studio space. For the activity, visitors are invited to observe and talk to the artists as they work, then use that inspiration to create their very own painting.

To get you pumped for painting, we asked each artist to share a brief bit about themselves, their work, and their space. In part I of this blog, we heard from Betsy Byers, Kate Fartsad, and Eric Syvertson. Here are answers from the last 3 artists of the day: Tara Costello, Joonja Lee Mornes, and Jehra Patrick.

Tara Costello

Tara Costello’s paintings examine unfamiliar spaces and the emotive power of the interplay of forms. She uses layers of Venetian plaster and raw pigment to build up and create uncanny spaces in which viewers are called to find unexpected beauty in the relationships between rich textures and primitive marks. Costello aims to create spaces with variable contexts and perspectives, some hidden from sight, and some starkly unconcealed. Above all, her work is based in the desire for formlessness and the search for unforeseen possibilities.

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1. What’s your favorite part of your studio?

My favorite part is losing track of time while painting.

2. What non-traditional tools do you use to paint with?

The non-traditional tools that I use to paint with are venetian plaster and a trowel.

3. When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I knew I wanted to be an artist when I was ten, and had just won a poster contest for The American Red Cross. I had drawn a helicopter dropping a ladder to a person in a forest fire. There were 4 age groups, and I noticed that all the posters with a blue ribbon on them all had drawn helicopters. I wanted them to like the drawing more than the picture.

"Pink Sky." Tara Costello.

“Pink Sky.” Tara Costello.

Joonja Lee Mornes

Joonja Lee Mornes is an Asian-American artist who grew up in Seoul, Korea. She holds a Master of Arts degree in painting and has almost ten years of experience teaching art to college students and young adults in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Her other professional experience includes working more than twenty years as an architecture and landscape architecture librarian at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Mornes draws inspiration from watching the nature in various light and seasonal phenomena. Her imagined landscape paintings harmonize her past memories of rice fields in Korea, and present moments of the prairie with changing seasons and light.

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1. What’s your favorite part of your studio?

The studio is a place to be alone surrounded by my work, to review whether or not the works reflect my experiences and emotions successfully.  It’s a place leading me to go forward and a place to think, read, work, and nurture myself.

2. What non-traditional tools do you use to paint with?

I am not sure if it is a non-traditional tool or not, but I use color shapers with rubber tips along with brushes.  I also use house painter’s sponges to lay the thin layers.

3. When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I always admired artists when I was a child and wished I could be one, but it was not until I came to the US and pursued my college education in art.  It was one of the best decisions I made for my life and career.

"Breathing: Rilke." Joonja Lee Mornes.

“Breathing: Rilke.” Joonja Lee Mornes.

Jehra Patrick

Jehra Patrick is a visual artist who works out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her current project questions art’s promotion, and the artist’s reciprocal relationship with the museum, by investigating museum collections, archives and spaces, selecting images to repurpose as the subject of paintings and photo-based work.

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1. What’s your favorite part of your studio?

Having a space designated for art-making. It is a space separate from my other art activities; when I walk in the door, I’m there to paint! So much of my art practice is laptop-based: reading about shows and artists, researching for concepts or images, updating my materials, applying for new opportunities, working with digital images – by contrast, it’s great to have a place that is expressly for painting. The space itself, I like because it is a neutral, white backdrop for envisioning my work on gallery walls. I’m grateful for it’s natural light and I always welcome the smell of linseed oil when I open the door.

2. What non-traditional tools do you use to paint with?

Regarding materials, I’m a pretty traditional painter; I work with brushes, paint and traditional mediums. I will divulge a little studio secret though – I’m quite thrifty and I purchase most of my materials at Home Depot and Ace Hardware. Rather then shell out $100 for a 2″ wide natural or synthetic brush, I just buy $2 brushes from the hardware store – they’ve become my favorite tool for large fields of color and blending! And if they get cruddy after several uses you can just toss them. I also use a digital projector rather then sketching out my compositions. I find it to be a really efficient way to maintain accuracy. I’ve also used it to project my source images to determine the scale of paintings yet-to-be-made.

3. When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

In all honesty, I’ve wanted to be an artist since I was probably 6 or 7. As I got older, I wasn’t sure it would be a viable option - though I continued to produce work - it seemed like artistic success was a game of odds. It wasn’t until the past 6 years that I came to the understanding that artists are in charge of their own careers; you have to want it, and you have to follow up, otherwise it doesn’t happen. So, I reaffirmed that I’m going to be an artist, and now I’m doing just that.

Freight Elevator." Jehra Patrick.

“Freight Elevator.” Jehra Patrick.

You can join these three artists on February 2 in the Art Lab. Joon will begin at 10:30am and paints until 1:30pm. Both Tara and Jehra will be painting from 12:30pm to 3:30pm. This is a great opportunity to witness artists in their creative process!

Meet the Artists of February’s Free First Saturday: Part I

By Rachel Kimpton. For our upcoming Free First Saturday in February, we have a few fantastic local artists making their way to share their styles and methods of painting. These artists will be participating in the Art Lab activity in accordance with that day’s opening of the Walker Art Center’s newest exhibition, Painter Painter. This exhibition […]

By Rachel Kimpton.

For our upcoming Free First Saturday in February, we have a few fantastic local artists making their way to share their styles and methods of painting. These artists will be participating in the Art Lab activity in accordance with that day’s opening of the Walker Art Center’s newest exhibition, Painter Painter. This exhibition focuses on the development of abstract painting and the role of both the artist and the studio space. For the activity, visitors are invited to observe and talk to the artists as they work, then use that inspiration to create their very own painting.

To get you pumped for painting, we asked each artist to share a brief bit about themselves, their work, and their space. Here are answers from the first three artists of the day: Betsy Byers, Kate Fartstad, and Eric Syvertson. Check out part II to hear from Tara Costello, Joonja Lee Mornes, and Jehra Patrick.

Betsy Byers

Betsy Byers paints to discover and imagine relationships that embody our intimate experience with the environment in an abstract form. Her work often births from singular, elemental experiences of the body within space: feet touching water, the curve of the back nestle into rocks. In her paintings, Byers interweaves the psychological space and materiality of paint, as she searches for reciprocity between the self and the surrounding environment.

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1. What’s your favorite part of your studio?

My favorite part of being in the studio is the act of preparing my materials to work. It always surprises me to open my studio door and get a new perspective on a painting, even if it is has only been 10 hours since I last looked at it. I enjoy mixing paint, staring at my work and playing out new possibilities of compositions in my head before my brush even touches the surface of paper or canvas.

2. What non-traditional tools do you use to paint with?

I use paint rollers, squeegees, rags, and spatulas in addition to a variety of brushes and palette knives. My favorite brush is a #4 flat.

3. When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I didnʼt paint with oil until I was 20 years old. When I was growing up I did a lot of observing, drawing and writing, but I never imagined that I would become an artist. I decided to major in art during college because art classes challenged me more than any other department. I chose to become an artist due to the questions that art raises. I am constantly engaged by my work in the studio and by my attempts to translate and develop a visual experience for others.

"Coalesce." Betsy Byers.

“Coalesce.” Betsy Byers.

Kate Farstad

Kate Fartstad is a recent graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She currently has a solo exhibition, MOUTHBREATHER, up at Midway Contemporary Art (MN), and has shown in the past at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MN), Zach Feuer Gallery (NY), Art of This (MN), The Soap Factory (MN), Fox Tax Gallery (MN), Synchronicity Space (LA), and has an upcoming exhibition at Julius Caesar (Chicago) in April of 2013. She makes paintings and sculptures using disparate objects and images, and would like to think that she has an excellent color sense. Farstad is also an active musician in the Twin Cities, playing drums in two bands, ‘Tips for Twat’ and ‘Larry Wish and His Guys’.

Farstad

1. What’s your favorite part of your studio?

I do enjoy that I can get paint all over the floor and won’t get in trouble. I enjoy being able to be alone when making things. But my favorite part is that I just have a studio to work in that’s not too claustrophobic.

2. What non-traditional tools do you use to paint with?

I like to use anything and everything, but tend to favor perhaps the shoes you’re currently wearing, or any material that is impersonating another material; as well as hair, matchsticks, shells, dog treats, or wreaths.

3. When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I think in first grade (about 6 years old or so) I was forced to answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And I knew then my anxiety towards science and mathematics would continue, and that those things would not be a part of my trajectory. I have always loved making art. My grandmother was a painter, my father is a photographer, my mother and three brothers are all musicians… so I have been blessed to have a family that supported that sort of thing, i.e., “weird” stuff.

"Double Swaddle".

“Double Swaddle.” Kate Farstad.

Eric Syvertson

Eric Syvertson is an artist, educator, and arts advocate currently living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A recent transplant from North Dakota, Syvertson has served two terms as the President of the Fargo-Moorhead Visual Arts (FMVA), the largest visual arts organization in the state. Syvertson graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in art education, and for the past four years has been teaching art at West Fargo High School. Currently, Syvertson is working on his master’s degree in fine arts at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design as he exhibits work throughout the region.

Syvertson

1. What’s your favorite part of your studio?

Its ability to be a hiding place for all of my failed attempts at art making.  Walking into the studio, I feel very lucky to enter a space where failures are more than just allowed, but they are actually very necessary in learning how to make my work. The studio becomes an experimentation lab where both good and bad results of effort always seem to be time well spent.  It is very empowering to enter a space where you feel as though you can do no wrong.  Come to think of it, we should all reserve space or a little corner of a room for that sort of thing!

2. What non-traditional tools do you use to paint with?

I love to experiment with all sorts of materials in my paintings.  In the past I’ve used birch wood, spray paint, textile paint, ink, burnt paper, or anything else to make a surface more interesting.  These days, my approach to painting is more traditional but I still have fun trying out different tools or methods.  Often when I start a big painting I like to use a reductive method of using rags to wipe away layers of wet paint to reveal the surface below.

3. When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I can’t say that I remember when I decided that I wanted to be an artist.  Instead, I think that drawing and painting was something I enjoyed as a kid and just kept doing into adulthood.  Rather than deciding that I wanted to be an artist, it was more of a realization that I had always been an artist.  That realization didn’t come to me until I was about twenty years old and it took another five years or so to begin to understand how my passion for art had potential to be fulfilling for a lifetime.

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“Simultaneous Portrait: Richard’s Face Transplant.” Eric Syvertson.

You can join these three artists on February 2 in the Art Lab. Betsy and Kate will begin painting at 9:30am and go until 12:30pm, and Eric will be working all day. Come enjoy real artists create new pieces before your very eyes!

The Family Business: “Running Away from Home” by Kathryn Kysar

Clare's Well - a retreat center operated by Franciscan sisters in Little Falls, Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Clare's Well.

Kathryn Kysar. Photo courtesy of the author

Editor’s note: For this installment of our series on the marriage of art and daily life, poet Kathryn Kysar writes eloquently about the 21st century juggle of creative work and motherhood. Specifically, she talks about running away from home, the need for peeling away the responsibilities of domesticity, layer by layer, to reveal the artist within.

A recalcitrant, cupboard-slamming teenager sulks in my kitchen, blasting hard rock into his ear buds while eating his third snack of the afternoon, tortilla chip crumbs flying around the table. His exuberant younger sister shares her every action—“and now I am folding the paper crane’s neck!”– from the coffee-table-turned-art-studio as I sit at the dining room table, trying to write.

Before I had children, I lived in a large third-floor apartment overlooking the trees and lights on Hennepin Avenue. When I needed to work on a project, I simply changed the message on the answering machine and gave up cooking and cleaning for a week. But now, in my charming St. Paul bungalow, something is always in disrepair, in need of my attention — the garden, the laundry, the mismatched Tupperware, the outgrown winter clothes, as well as the two kids.

I have always been a creative writing sprinter, a poetry manuscript-binger. Some people can slowly and steadily put in a few hours a day, but I work best with a deadline and a few empty days alone with my laptop. My brain cannot easily follow a complex creative thread with multiple interruptions. I need to be able to let my mind amble, freed from worry about what to make for dinner in 45 minutes or that email I should send to my child’s teacher sometime today.  I write best when I can be still, thoroughly immersed in my thoughts. This doesn’t easily happen at home.

I tried renting an office, a room of my own. I shared the space with a wonderful woman, but the office was hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and spooky at night. The packing up, parking, and unpacking consumed so much of my precious writing time. When I was finally seated at the writing studio’s desk, my teaching and household to-do lists persistently nattered away in my mind, hard to silence.

When my children were little, I feared I would never write again. I asked successful women writers how they wrote when their children were small; often the answer was “I don’t remember,” or, worse yet, “After my partner went to work, the kids got on the school bus, and the day stretched before me…” It was a local poet/novelist/professor who said the magic words: “Run away from home.” She told me she would get a hotel room a few miles away from her house, or go to a local bed and breakfast for 48 hours and write in binges. She said this was how she completed several novels.

Clare’s Well – a retreat center operated by Franciscan sisters in Little Falls, Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Clare’s Well.

I received a month-long residency at the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Red Wing, which meant working out an elaborate child care schedule. I went home about every five days, but when I was at the Anderson Center, I lived by myself in a glorious room with two walls of sunny windows overlooking the road and surrounding lawns.  A chef cooked dinner for the residents every night, and if we wanted something from the grocery store, we could just tell her, and she would pick it up for us. It took the first week to silence my mental nattering; I thought deeply about my life the second week. And then, by weeks three and four, I found could write, really write, easily and with focus and skill. It was as if my domestic life had to be peeled from me to reveal the writer.

Most of my female visual artist friends chose not to have children; they said it would be impossible to make art and care for kids. But women writers seem to fool themselves into thinking they can easily create both art and people. Perhaps that’s because we think we do not need studios to do our work. Before we have children, it is easy to entertain the fantasy that we will simply write at home, industrious while our future children take long daily naps. There is a picture of me at my baby shower, pretending to type on computer while wearing a wraparound pillow, demonstrating how I could write and nurse at the same time.  That baby cried every night from 5 to 11 p.m., and I never slept more than two hours at a time for seven months. My brain was slow and foggy throughout her infancy. Creating good writing was just not possible.

One smart woman writer friend wrote very slowly for many years after she became a parent, patiently spending a decade to write a novel. But then, once her children were grown, she spent her summers in rented offices where she would binge-write 12 hours a day, while her husband graciously handled the cooking and household chores. Finally, now that long-deserved success has found her, she has built a shed in her back yard, desk and day bed side-by-side, a nod to the need to let her mind rest and wander, as well as work. Now, she can run away from home by crossing her yard.

I have, at last, found a wonderful place where I can be alone, letting my mind to wind around poems rather than grocery lists.  It is a “spirituality farm” run by some very hip Franciscan sisters at an affordable retreat center an hour outside of the Twin Cities. The sisters provide meals and occasional conversation, and I stay in a small cabin where I can read, drink tea, spread my poems on the floor, and write. Relieved of caring for others or preparing my meals, I am able to focus totally on my writing. When lacking inspiration, I am free to wander the forest and meadow on the grounds.

On the morning after I returned home from my most recent writing retreat: I washed the dishes, served breakfast, washed the dishes again, drove the kids to the fencing club, attended a coach/parent meeting, drove home, cooked lunch, washed the dishes, put in a load of laundry, and then it was 2 p.m. — half the day already over, and I was still wearing the clothes I had slept in. Had I written a poem, drafted an essay, or sent something off for publication? Those tasks would just need to wait until the next time I could run away from home.
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About the author: Kathryn Kysar is the author of two books of poetry, Pretend the World and Dark Lake, and the editor of Riding Shotgun: Women Write About Their Mothers. She teaches creative writing, composition, and literature at Anoka-Ramsey Community College and lives with her family in St. Paul.

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About THE FAMILY BUSINESS column: In partnership with the Walker Art Center’s Education and Community Programs department, mnartists.org publishes an almost-monthly series of personal essays, interviews and exchanges with and by local artists — “The Family Business.” We hope these dispatches from the intersection of art and real life will offer a window on the lived experience of Minnesota’s working artists, in their own voices, and on the day-by-day juggle of art-making with the rest of their responsibilities: kids & family, day-jobs and other everyday obligations. From grocery shopping to daycare, caring for older relatives to community activism, we aim to offer snapshots of what a life in the arts really looks like, as seen through the eyes of the creative people living it every day.

Viewfinder: Walkaround Time by Terrence Williams

These seven wonderful soft plastic boxes are stage furniture Jasper Johns made for a dance performed by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in l968.  The dance, choreographed by Cunningham, was called Walkaround Time. Music for the performance was written by John Cage.  The whole project was an homage to Marcel Duchamp –a friend of the three artist collaborators. The […]

Walkaround Time

Walkaround Time, 1968, Jasper Johns, Image courtesy Walker Art Center/Right Art © Jasper Johns/VAGA, New York, NY

These seven wonderful soft plastic boxes are stage furniture Jasper Johns made for a dance performed by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in l968.  The dance, choreographed by Cunningham, was called Walkaround Time. Music for the performance was written by John Cage.  The whole project was an homage to Marcel Duchamp –a friend of the three artist collaborators.

The idea for the dance emerged from a conversation between Cunningham and Johns on an evening when the two were guests at Duchamps’ home.  Johns suggested that Cunningham could construct a dance using images that were based on parts of “The Large Glass” that would be disposed in various ways around the stage.  They asked Duchamp if he would go along with such a translation of his painting.  When Johns said that he would do the work, Duchamp agreed.  Duchamp asked only that at some point in the dance the furniture should be seen with its parts related in the same way as in the original work.  Johns supervised the manufacture of the pieces, painting images from “The Large Glass” onto these soft plastic boxes, and changing the dimensions to make them capable of being free-standing and moveable on the stage.

The dance title, Walkaround Time, derives from the term computer scientists coined for the time it took their huge early computers to boot up, time they could use for other work.  A linkage between Duchamp’s “Large Glass” and the modern computer?  What do you think?

 

About the Author: Terrence Williams is a writer and honorary Walker Tour Guide. He resides in St. Paul, MN and Santa Monica, CA.

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Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it.  Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to katie(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)

The Family Business: Our Conversation on Being Both an Artist and a Mother Continues

What follows is the second part of our featured “Family Business” piece this month, an email exchange, moderated by artist Carrie Thompson, between a group of acclaimed photographers, all of whom are also mothers with children ranging in age from babyhood to adolescence. They talk about strategies for work/life balance and how their family lives […]

What follows is the second part of our featured “Family Business” piece this month, an email exchange, moderated by artist Carrie Thompson, between a group of acclaimed photographers, all of whom are also mothers with children ranging in age from babyhood to adolescence. They talk about strategies for work/life balance and how their family lives alternately fuel and drain their creative drive, and share what from their old lives, out of all the things they’ve left by the wayside in the juggle of motherhood and career, they’d like to have back if they could.

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Linda Rossi: This is a wonderful opportunity to write about our adventures, as mothers and artists. I so appreciate these reflections. I have three sons who, unfortunately, due to crazy circumstances, I raised by myself from a young age. My first son was born the day after my grad school exhibition. As I still had to finish the written part of my thesis, I was nursing him and writing at the same time. I found the experience completely changed my interpretation of time and space — there was a blending and compression. I needed to accept quickly the chaos and the unexpected.

Linda Rossi and her boys. Photo courtesy of the artist.

As the years went on, all three of my children helped me make works of art. Their skills and aesthetic knowledge grew, and I was able to trust them (at a young age) for new insight into the work I was making. It has continued to be a provocative and powerful exchange. During those years, balancing it all came down to a matter of finding bits of time that I could create work. So, a lot of the time, I was just dreaming about pieces — not actually making them; I would actually try to schedule time to make art in my head. For example, while washing the dishes, I would focus intensely on the work I wanted to do in the future.

At the same time, in our house there were always domestic and artistic tools side by side on the kitchen counter: the loaf of bread and peanut butter were spread out with saws, wood, etc. Probably not the most sanitary situation, but it was a way not to separate our lives. I look back now, on years that were filled with pain, beauty, terror, humor, profound baby- and teenage boy-smells, and yelling, and fear, and laughing. And it still continues.

The intensity of our home fueled the work I created. During one time period, I created an elaborate installation about Russian poets whose voices were suppressed by Stalin. I became interested in the power of art during a time of danger; the strongest work, I found, was less political, and addressed freedom and beauty. Often the wives of the poets would memorize their husbands’ words, keep them in their minds for decades until the work was safe to reveal. I suppose I was feeling my own small entrapment at the time; as a result, I wandered into a professional area of study based on a mix of home-based emotion. It was the double edged sword: there were days I didn’t think I would survive, and yet with all that was going on, it was such a complex and rich environment to be within. I am profoundly grateful for what my sons continue to teach me, even if the lessons can amount to a tough reflection on myself.

Linda Rossi, "Camouflage," 2006. Courtesy of the artist.

Carrie Thompson: Like Linda, I am raising my son (Goma) in a non-traditional home. I won’t get into details, but the word I’d use to describe our lives is “complicated.”  And like Amy, I struggle with the amount of time Goma spends in daycare. I am Alec Soth’s studio manager; my job is full-time and demanding. Since I work for an artist, most nights, after Goma falls asleep, the idea of working on my own art makes my head spin.  My issue is that I, like many of you, need time to create, think, and explore. I can’t just turn my ideas on and off.

I am 31; Goma is 15 months old. Before Goma was born, I got my job with Alec, won a few grants, made two bodies of work that I am proud of, had many shows, traveled, and applied for every grant and show for which I was eligible. Now, since I have a child, I do less than half of these things.  This is why I think younger artists without children rise to the top more quickly. Artists with children continue to create, but maybe not as much or as fast as they did before parenthood. As many of you have mentioned, the idea of success shifts when you become a mother. I would love to hear any other thoughts you might have on the discussion to this point, and I would like to add one more question: Since becoming a mother what is the one thing you gave up that you wish you could have back?

Danielle Mericle:  I, too, work a full-time job, although I’ve managed to get it down to four days a week instead of five (and it does help).  While I don’t pursue many aspects of my work nearly like I used to, my professional life is definitely starting to come back, however slowly.  My sense is that it gets easier all the time.  The difference between 15 months and three years old (which is Charley’s age now) cannot be underestimated.  I’m guessing that three to six will be another huge leap, and so on and so on. That said, the challenges are still very real.  I’m incredibly fortunate, in that I convinced my mother to move to our home in Ithaca to provide childcare for us. (We pay her well, but my guilt is gone.) When I was sending him to daycare it was pretty agonizing…

Anyway, more soon — I will contemplate what I wish I had back. (But I have to admit: It’s finally happening; I’ve reached a point where I really can’t remember my old life much anymore. So, I may have to ponder that question for a while).

Photograph by Danielle Mericle. Courtesy of the artist.

Beth Dow: Our kids were born in London, and I was pregnant shortly after my first solo exhibition. I continued to shoot film, but it was difficult to work in the darkroom, and doing so became basically impossible after our son, Miles, was born. Our daughter, Maisie, was born less than two years later. Then, we moved to the USA not long after that. The film I shot back then amounted to roll after roll of unfinished thoughts, and it was deeply frustrating not to be able to print. To make things harder, I didn’t have my own darkroom, so I had to use my husband’s when he wasn’t in it, which was only nights or weekends. I had wanted to apply for grad school at that time, too, but it became impossible. I was still able to get my work in some group shows, but I didn’t regain any kind of real creative focus for several years.

All that had to do with more than motherhood, though; the international move likely played a big part in that loss of focus. My London gallery completely changed its business model and became a picture library at the same time we moved; so, in addition to all the changes of parenthood, I also no longer had gallery representation. Looking back, I don’t know if I would really change anything even if I could, but I do wish I had had more bodies of work under my belt before I grew a baby there (ha!).

When you asked about the one thing I gave up that I wish I had back, I really had to think about that. Life is all about giving things up and getting things in return. Sometimes, we get things we don’t want, and other times we get things we didn’t know we wanted. I wish I could regain the freedom to completely throw my full attention into one thing at a time, and to do that without any guilt. When I’m doing family stuff, whatever that may be, part of my mind is on my photographs; when I’m working, part of my mind is on who needs to be where, what’s for supper, and what is that goddamned dog barking about now.

I suspect this is a gender thing — whether it’s the divided focus or the guilt about that division. I do know, however, that it really does get easier. After a huge gap in my resume, things picked up for me as the kids went to school and became more autonomous. When the kids were small, I would fantasize about what it must have been like for Ward Cleaver to return home to a clean house and a cooked dinner. There were also a few dangerous occasions I can remember — after long and stressful days spent with toddlers — where a full tank of gas, some loud music, and a bit of cash in my bag were calling out all kinds of temptation to just keep on driving. I bet a lot of mothers with young children have felt like that, and I’m suspicious of those who would deny it.

Here’s my answer: I wish I could regain the facility to compartmentalize my attention easily, and I wish I could do so without feeling any shred of guilt.

Beth Dow, "Snake, Sezincote," a platinum palladium print from the series, 'Fieldwork'. Courtesy of the artist.

Greta Pratt: I have raised two children in a traditional/nontraditional home. We’re traditional, in the sense I am married, but also non-traditional, because my husband and I live in different states, eight hours apart. I have a tenure-track job in Virginia, and he needs to be close to New York City. It is complicated. I always knew I wanted to have children, but I don’t think I gave a whole lot of thought to all the practical issues involved with parenthood. Instead, I proceeded as I do with most things — by just winging it. Sometimes it’s worked out better than others.

When the kids were little, I was home with them, and my work time always involved towing them with me unless I could find a mom willing to trade a few hours of kid-watching. I didn’t have the money to hire a sitter. My husband, who is a freelance editorial photographer, travels non-stop and without much advance warning, so he was not available for any kind of consistent help. I learned to shed things, so I could continue to photograph and take care of my kids. No time for a social life, reading the paper, or books; no watching TV, keeping up with current events, or talking to friends. I did however manage to keep my focus and keep working towards a goal, however slowly. At that time, I was working on what would turn into my second book of photographs, Using History. It took me eight years to finish that project. Part of the reason it took so long was the time it took to figure out and understand what I was trying to say; another part of the reason had to do with the travel involved; and another huge reason for the long production time was figuring out how to fit the work in with the kids.

I did a lot of driving in those days. When Axel was eight and Rose was six, I went back to school and got my MFA; that led to my current full-time job. I do feel like my life went completely out of control from that point on. The demands of graduate school and then a job in academia, along with creating art and raising my kids have been intense. And then I moved to a different state, and my husband stayed behind. What was I thinking? As I stated earlier, sometimes it has worked out better than others.

Greta Pratt, "The Wavers" series (installation view). Courtesy of the artist.###

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This conversation originally appeared on Little Brown Mushroom, a blog published by photographer Alec Soth, and is reproduced here with permission. If you missed it, read the first installment in this conversation about art, work and motherhood here. The third and final part of this conversation will be posted here later this week.

What’s your story? Please join in and share your own experiences in the comments below.

The Family Business: A conversation about art, work and motherhood

In partnership with mnartists.org, the Walker’s Education and Community Programs department is launching a monthly series of personal essays, interviews and exchanges with and by local artists — “The Family Business.” We hope these dispatches from the intersection of art and real life will offer a window on the lived experience of Minnesota’s working artists, […]

In partnership with mnartists.org, the Walker’s Education and Community Programs department is launching a monthly series of personal essays, interviews and exchanges with and by local artists — “The Family Business.” We hope these dispatches from the intersection of art and real life will offer a window on the lived experience of Minnesota’s working artists, in their own voices, and on the day-by-day juggle of art-making with the rest of their responsibilities: kids & family, day-jobs and other everyday obligations. From grocery shopping to daycare, caring for older relatives to community activism, we aim to offer snapshots of what a life in the arts really looks like, as seen through the eyes of the creative people living it every day.

Our first installment in this series is an email exchange, led by artist Carrie Thompson, between a group of acclaimed photographers — all mothers with children of varying ages — about the struggles and hard-won insights that come with parenthood, from the unexpected epiphanies and self-discovery to the frustrations of watching one’s productivity take a back seat to the necessity of caring for small kids and the slow process of integrating family with a vibrant career. What follows is the first of three posts; the remaining two will appear next week.

This conversation originally appeared on Little Brown Mushroom, a blog published by photographer Alec Soth, and is reproduced here with permission. We hope you’ll join in and share your own experiences in the comments below. (Speaking of which, the comments at the base of the original post on LBM make for a really wonderful conversation in their own right and are also well worth a read.)

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Carrie ThompsonWhen I was pregnant, I had a studio visit with Lorna Simpson. She is a mother, so I asked her for advice. Specifically, I wanted to know: What should I be sure to do before having my baby? What might be some of the challenges I face when I become a mother? Her advice to me, since I had recently been working on two projects dealing with family history (including a trip to Japan that directly preceded my son’s birth), was that I should write down the narratives of all those photos. She said I had to do this before my child was born. She actually repeated that advice a few times.

I didn’t listen. I didn’t write the stories. I should have. When my son was born, everything changed: my extra time disappeared, making work slowed way down.

Carrie Thompson with Goma. Photo courtesy of the artist.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the challenges of balancing motherhood with a career as an artist.  So, I decided to get some other photographers/mothers engaged in a conversation on the subject. There are a few things that I want to address in this exchange: I want us to talk about being women, mothers, and artists —how do we find balance among those roles? How do we continue to make work, raise children, and continue/find success with both?

For example, Alec Soth is obsessed with age on this blog (see here), but I think something important is missing from that discussion. No one seems to address the fact that many people over 35 have children, families, and other responsibilities.

So, here’s my first question: Do you, as mothers, think that having children makes it harder to be successful?

Greta PrattTo this first question, I have to say that it completely depends on how you define “success.” If success is defined as a mad dash to the top of the ladder, and whoever gets there first is “successful” – then, yes, having children definitely interferes. But if “success” is defined in terms of quality of life — as in being loved and showing love and having deep, long term relationships that cause you to question the meaning of life and love and art, and that help you to look at the world through different eyes – well, then I would say that having children helps you to be successful.

Photo courtesy of Greta Platt.

 

Beth Dow with her son, Miles, and daughter, Maisie. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Beth DowI can’t lay claim to the word “successful,” but I’ll substitute “productive.” I envy people who can switch on their focused mind in an instant. Focus for me comes much more inconsistently, and if I’m really engrossed in something, the worst thing that can happen is having real life

get in the way. If I suddenly need to get someone from school, for example, if I’m in the middle of a project, it’s like a million little bubbles popping, and it’s difficult for me to regain that focus later. This is especially true when I’m writing. When the kids were little and I had a tight deadline, I warned them that they could only interrupt me if they were bleeding especially badly (black humor fuels our household).

Now, to address the “harder” part of your question, “Is it harder to be successful?”: I often feel like I should apologize to my kids for having a career, and to my career for having a life.

Paula McCartneyI just read Beth’s comment after listening to my two-and-a-half-year-old yell from his bedroom, both in joy and in despair, for two hours in an attempt to not got to sleep. The whole time, I was sitting in the living room, trying to prepare tomorrow’s photo history lecture.  I can definitely relate to what Beth is saying about finding it difficult to focus.  When Oliver is talking — whether he’s in the same room with me or not — I find it extremely hard to concentrate on anything else.

Paula McCartney and her son, Oliver. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Having a child and an art career, as well as teaching – it’s a lot to juggle.  I always wonder about how to manage it all and I’ve asked other women how they do it. The most helpful response I’ve gotten was from a photographer who I greatly admire; she said, “Sometimes you are a not-so-great artist, sometimes a not-so-great mother, and sometimes a not-so-great teacher.”  Hearing that made me feel not-so-bad about being not-so-great all the time at everything I am trying to do.

Since grad school, I’ve made the decision to define “success” as continually moving forward in some way, even if very slowly.  And while I continue to ask artists with children how they do it, always hoping for some bit of wisdom that will make my own juggle easier, I realize that I already am doing it.  For me, finding some balance (though that word makes life seem a little more stress-free than it is) happened when my son started going to day care two days a week. I had those days as studio days, which meant I could focus on my work during that time, teach a few mornings each week, and then be genuinely present when I was with him.

The thing that I have seemed to sacrifice to being an artist and the mother of a young child and teaching is having a social life.   In the whirlwind of the first two years, I didn’t pay that much attention to it, but I’ve recently made much more of an attempt to make dates with my friends (mostly other women artists, many with children).

When I think of all the women I am friends with who are artists, the ones who would be considered the more “successful” are the ones with children.  So, I guess I’m saying: No, having a child doesn’t make you less successful — just more tired.  And while, for me, life is definitely more difficult with a child, it is also definitely more amazing.

Danielle MericleI, like everyone, am so busy most the time I forget how useful camaraderie can be.  That said, I’ve been surprised at the positive impact motherhood has had on me, both in a general sense and artistically.  I was one of those who had little or no interest in having kids, so when I found myself pregnant, I was pretty terrified at what it might mean in my life.  Much to my relief, I’ve found that it has made me less anxious about “career,” more genuinely invested in the process of creating, and happier, in general.  I think this is for a few reasons: First, I simply don’t have the time to be anxious anymore. After the full-time job, and Charley (and house, food, exercise, etc.), I get, on average, a half-day per week to focus on my work. So, when I’m in my studio, I’m working, and it feels so nice, so necessary, to have that space to work, however little the time.

I also have experienced a major shift in my priorities (a cliché, I know); I’m not sure that I can entirely articulate the change, but I know that my definition of “success” is different, and that it has much less to do with the notion you have in art school — of art-stardom. Rather, the kind of “success” I think of now is a better match for what I really want to do in life — which, fundamentally speaking, is to have an interesting and fulfilling life.

Danielle Mericle with her son, Charley

This is not to say that my experience has been totally rosy and without issues. My darker moments have come over battles for time. My husband is a working artist, too, and our struggles for an hour here or there have been a constant throughout our tenure as parents (almost three years now). For whatever reason, I’ve had a tendency to relinquish my time more than I would like; it has been a really terrible habit that I’ve had to consciously break.  If I had any advice to a new mother/artist, it would be to guard what little time you have; it may not feel like much to give up an afternoon, but considered from the perspective of protecting your sanity, it’s huge. Other things: I, too, have little or no social life, which is fine for now.  I worry that we’ve alienated a few people around here since we had kids, but there’s not much to do about it. (And, really, I don’t know that we actually have.) And I don’t read anymore — this drives me crazy, and I’m really looking forward to time for books coming back into my life.

Amy Stein: Danielle’s comments really resonate for me – many of them are spot-on descriptions of my recent experiences as a mother. I, too, feel less anxious about career concerns than I did before Sam came along. I used to be very consumed by my work and career. Now, I feel I’m much more relaxed about it, like I have more perspective on my professional trajectory, as well as many other aspects of my life. The clichés we often hear — that motherhood is “transformative” and “puts things into perspective — are uttered so frequently because they are true. And yet even those clichés don’t go far enough toward describing the awesome, overwhelming changes that motherhood brings. In the past six months since I’ve become a mother, these changes have overwhelmed me and thrown everything I knew before out the window. I am still adjusting to the countless large and small impacts motherhood has had on my life. But as a 41-year-old first-time mom, I welcome those changes.

Before, I think I was getting used to the idea that the major positive changes of life were over for me. I switched careers at 32, and then built a new career in the arts that was satisfying and rewarding. Sure, I still had a long way to go, but I was happy to plug away at it everyday, grateful I could spend my days making, thinking about, and teaching photography. We tried for a long time to get pregnant, and went through a lot to have a child. Just before I got the good news, I had resigned myself to the fact that it just wasn’t going to happen for us. Then along came Sam.

Of course, there’s joy and the deep sense of connection that comes with having a child — which has made my life immeasurably fuller and more meaningful. As Danielle says, there’s also just less time to worry about yourself — which, for me, is a good thing, because I was spending about 90% of my time before motherhood fretting over work, career, and where to find meaning in my life. And now, there’s so much meaning that those demons are crowded out, swept away.

Amy Stein and her baby, Sam. Photo courtesy of the artist.

I think we, as artists and mothers, struggle with the same issues most working moms struggle with: limited time filled with overwhelming demands. We want to do well outside the home, with our careers, and also with our personal and home lives. Often, it’s just not possible to do it all well. And as Danielle mentions, the constant negotiations with one’s partner — about who will care for your child and when — are wearing. Then, there are the financial concerns: how to pay for childcare, etc. Finding the right balance is so hard — figuring out how much childcare you need to do your work and, for me, fighting guilt over watching someone else spend large amounts of time with my son, as I answer emails and Photoshop image files at my desk ten feet away. I feel incredibly relieved when the work gets done, but I am missing my son at the same time. It’s a cocktail of joy, resentment, and guilt.

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Look for the remaining two installments in this conversation next week. Meanwhile, what’s your story? Join this ongoing conversation in the comments below by sharing your own experiences and insights about juggling a creative career and the evolving demands of parenthood.

Field Report: Photos from Nightshift

An estimated 4,000 people came through the Walker Art Center for Nightshift, the Walker’s contribution to the first annual Northern Spark Festival this past weekend. In addition to opening galleries for late-night viewing, we brought special activities to kick off the opening day (and night) of Open Field.

An estimated 4,000 people came through the Walker Art Center for Nightshift, the Walker’s contribution to the first annual Northern Spark Festival this past weekend. In addition to opening galleries for late-night viewing, we brought special activities to kick off the opening day (and night) of Open Field.

Open Field night skyline

View of the skyline from Open Field. Photo (c) 2011 Cameron Wittig

Nightshift is Livestreaming Now!

Hello hello night owls. It’s just past 10 p.m. at the Open Field, and the temperature is a comfortable 68 degrees Fahrenheit (according to weather.com, and that feels pretty accurate). Nightshift is getting underway, and the not yet bleary-eyed crowd is eager for the midnight hour(s). Sadly, since we know some of you can’t make […]

Hello hello night owls. It’s just past 10 p.m. at the Open Field, and the temperature is a comfortable 68 degrees Fahrenheit (according to weather.com, and that feels pretty accurate). Nightshift is getting underway, and the not yet bleary-eyed crowd is eager for the midnight hour(s). Sadly, since we know some of you can’t make it, we’ll be livestreaming the event below, at least until our cameraman passes out. Cheers!

Watch live streaming video from walkerart at livestream.com

Views from the Open Field: 10 things to look forward to!

Open Field will be over on September 5, but there is an awesome and diverse slew of events and opportunities left to experience. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWx-ugY3uzg[/youtube] 1. mnartists.org Field Day on Thursday August 19 will bring the Open Field to life.  When else do you have the opportunity to play camera tag, listen to campfire songs, and paint […]

Open Field will be over on September 5, but there is an awesome and diverse slew of events and opportunities left to experience.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWx-ugY3uzg[/youtube]

1. mnartists.org Field Day on Thursday August 19 will bring the Open Field to life.  When else do you have the opportunity to play camera tag, listen to campfire songs, and paint in the plein air? In addition to mingling with Minnesota artists, all mnartists.org members recieve free gallery admission.

2. Human Chess on Saturday August 21 will bring together fashion, strategy, and a local chess club. At 12pm on Saturday, I want to be wearing an avant-garde costume and simultaneously strategizing how to get to checkmate.

The Body Cartography Project with Olive Bieringa. Photo by Christian Glaus

3. The ecosomatic dancer Olive Bieringa will be Rewilding the Commons on August 26. The event will be interactive, environmentally conscious, and full of wild and graceful movement.

4. Speed-Submissions [pitch your idea to the editor] with Coffee House Press. You can explore the Open Field’s Tool Shed collection of Coffee House Press books for inspiration. For two hours on Thursday August 26, Coffee House Press awaits your ideas (and future masterpiece).

The author Lewis Hyde

5. The acclaimed “commoner” Lewis Hyde will be here on September 2 to discuss his recent book Commons as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership. As Open Field draws to a close, it is going to be invaluable to reflect on the (personal) ideology of the commons and how we can stay involved with issues relating to the cultural commons, intellectual property, and personal creativity.

Wildflowers by jikamajoja from flickr

6. Trading Flowers for Love Stories with local artist Amanda Lovelee at noon on September 3 is going to transform the Open Field into a romantic salon.  It is quite tempting to share a love story for a photograph of a wildflower.

7.  The Harvest Picnic on the evening of September 3 will be an opportunity to reflect on this experimental summer of “cultural commons” at the Walker.  The final potluck picnic is for anyone who came to the Open Field, anyone who missed the Open Field, or anyone who wants to discuss the Open Field of the future.

Futurefarmers Field of Objects on a Blanket

8. The Futurefarmers Auction on Free First Saturday September 4 is going to a be a poetic and personal day of storytelling, bidding, and auctioning off meaningful (but everyday) objects. I am still deciding on which objects I’d be willing to part with…

A Communal Drawing from Drawing Club

9.  The Drawing Club Finale on September 2 will be close the curtain on one of our most popular and beloved Open Field events. You can finally analyze the plethora of communal drawings created, collaged, and constructed throughout the summer in this Drawing Club showcase.

A Cheeseburger from the Open Field

10. And before Open Field is over, I will enjoy one last burger from the Open Field Grill.

As the Open Field project winds down, we are reflecting on issues of the commons and highlighting special events. Check back for more views from the Open Field.

Trading Art for Art

The $99 sale at The Soap Factory attracts a mass of egalitarian participants, and I am one of them. Being someone who firmly believes in the barter system, I favor the exchange of services without the green back. So, it’s apropos that I create an artwork and donate it to The Soap Factory for the […]

The Soap Factory's $99 Sale

The $99 sale at The Soap Factory attracts a mass of egalitarian participants, and I am one of them.

Being someone who firmly believes in the barter system, I favor the exchange of services without the green back. So, it’s apropos that I create an artwork and donate it to The Soap Factory for the sale on September 11th and 12th this year.

Just a word about the works for the sale; they must be created on 5″ x 7″ paper without any signatures. There are many top notch artists in this pool, and this standardization levels the playing field. All the artists who participate in this event are united by their support of The Soap Factory. Last year, when all the works were installed in the gallery, they read like cells on a storyboard to me. What a kick to be part of this community that backs The Soap Factory cover to cover.

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