For this very special journal edition we are celebrating the talented and passionate group of female artists at Partnership Editions, many of whom are mothers. We wanted to share their views and thoughts on the female experience working and living in such a competitive industry.
Christabel Blackburn -Personally I’ve never felt comfortable expressing myself and the only two things which have given me confidence are being a mother and being an artist. Growing up I was surrounded by people who were able to eloquently and concisely argue a point or express an opinion, but for me it was art which allowed me to find my voice.
I’ve also never felt stronger as a woman since having my two babies and keeping my career going as an artist. Finding that balance is hard and fortunately, now we have a nanny who helps with my youngest and enables me to come to the studio. Having the time in the studio away from family is as important to me as time with my family away from the studio, it’s important for women to feel they can admit that.
One feeds the other and gives it energy. Having children has been inspirational to me. Seeing how their young minds work and watching their enthusiasm for life is something I never thought about until I had children.
Still today the gender balance for successful artists is not even, especially for mothers. Many women who have young children don’t have the time, energy or confidence to network or put themselves out there. There are some amazing initiatives so support artist mothers. Procreate Project supports women in a multitude of ways including Mother House Studios which has an in-house creche for mothers who are artists. Hettie Judah, writer and art critic is writing her next book titled “On Art and Motherhood,” and has recently held talks on the subject.
Christabel's son in the studio
Portrait of son by Christabel Blackburn
Which female figures do you admire in history and art?
Christabel Blackburn -I’ve recently read Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and it got me reading around her and her sister, Vanessa Bell. She and the rest of the group led unconventional lives for the time. She also had three children and managed a successful career with several solo shows. She was a woman ahead of her time, did not fit the mould, and led a life dedicated to art.
Around the same time, of course, there was Frida Kahlo, her use of paint and colour as well as her exploration of identity and progressive themes has to make her one of the most interesting women in art history.
I currently have an obsession with Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Her show at the Tate blew me away. Maybe it was partly because we’d just come out of lockdown, but I had the same emotional response to Tracy Emin’s show at the RA, both nearly had me in tears. I'm very envious of Lynette’s art training, she went to Central St. Martins, Falmouth, and did an MA at the Royal Academy.
Virginia Woolf in Monk's House
Light of The Lit Wick by Lynette Yiadom Boakye
Venetia Berry- Yes, too many to count! One of my biggest all-time heroes and inspirations is Agnes Martin. Martin struggled with her mental health and a lot of her work is based around her search for calm within the world. You just need to spend a few minutes with one of her works to realise their immense tranquility. The peace that she manages to contain within her work is mind-blowing.
If you are based in London there is an amazing Agnes Martin room at the Tate Modern in their permanent collection. If you spend long enough there you should get it on your own at some point and you will be fully immersed in her world of pale and almost translucent horizontal lines. You will be transported to somewhere else, even just for a split second. If you want to find out more about her, Katy Hessel has a brilliant episode on her podcast, The Great Women Artists.
Agnes Martin Room at Tate Modern
Camilla Perkins- I’m really just inspired by all the real-life creative women out there trying to run businesses, create work, and send emails to clients with a baby on their boob! Women like Hester (Finch) who work through the night so that they can home school during the day, or my own Mum who used to always encourage me to help out with her creative projects. Obviously, at the time I thought it was child labour, but I now realise that I gained so many skills that I use to this day!
Georgia Spray- I'm inspired every day by the female artists that I work with at Partnership Editions. In particular, I am inspired by the artists who are also mothers, and who manage to juggle motherhood and their art, in some cases working through the night in their studios to find the time to create.
I am also inspired by my own mother, who I am so grateful to for surrounding me with art throughout my life, and who as an artist herself, helped me to understand the importance of creativity and that to be an artist is not a 'career choice' but so bound up with one's identity and is a necessity to survive.
Zahra Holm -The women I know, family, and friends are my first inspiration. And the women I see and meet every day. Also, of course, I have some artists who influence my work, who have nourished and shaped my art for years like Sonia Delaunay, Helen Frankenthaler, Hilma Af Klint…
Pastel - 6 by Zahra Holm
Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 9, Old Age by Hilma af Klint
Do you feel there is value in women and mothers being represented in art?
Laxmi Hussain- Absolutely, a woman's body is so heavily scrutinised - and whilst I usually feel there is importance in seeing things from all perspectives, I feel that this really needs to be expressed from the female gaze, we've already seen women's bodies be expressed by the male gaze for so long and that usually is from a place of desire.
When I first became a mother I will never forget the very real pressure of returning to the world post-maternity leave feeling like I needed to look my best and most of that meant that my body was in good shape and by good shape I mean pre-baby body. My feelings were not made up - phrases like 'bouncing back' are so damaging - imagine going through several months of sleepless nights, breastfeeding woes, months of recovery from labour and the one thing your mind focuses on is how well your physical body has gotten through this experience... That isn't all there is to motherhood.
Having children helped me to see my body for what it is worth, the incredible things it has been able to do, I think it is very important that mothers are able to share this through art. I use my art to represent the variety of different bodies I wish to see myself in, I was fed up of one body being the norm, fed up of the taboo issues mothers were not meant to share. I always wanted to breastfeed my children but when I actually got to the breastfeeding bit, there was hardly any information on how to troubleshoot any issues because breastfeeding isn't straightforward. It's all very well saying "breast is best" but that is usually all we are told - many women can't and we're made to feel like we've failed because of it, and this happens throughout so many aspects of motherhood. Being able to share these normal things more, the good and the tough, through art, imagine how differently we would feel as mothers when our motherhood journey starts...imagine not feeling like we've failed because we've already been exposed to so many differing stories through channels like art - its like bodies, many different journeys, all right and all unique.
Frances Costelloe- I don’t specifically think mothers, in particular, should be represented in art - although they have been in Western Christian cultures through Madonna and child representations. I think all people should be represented in the art we see in public spaces in particular. Maybe they could replace some of the numerous statues of old men from the past with something that represents Britain a bit more today. I loved Steve Mcqueen’s Year 3 project for its ability to take a snapshot of the country and beam it back at us - so clever.
Laxmi working while holding her baby
Self Portrait With Baby by Frances Costelloe
Have your experiences of motherhood influenced your work in any way? If so, do you feel this evolution has been conscious or subconscious?
Hester Finch - In a roundabout way, yes. My works are very personal, semi-autobiographical, representing my experience which is of course specific to that of being a woman. Over the last 5 years I have got married and made two kids. In that time I have created a number of drawings of pregnant women and mothers (or models) with young children, including self-portraits and commissions.
My work as a whole, from the headless nudes through to the more recent burning nudes, focus upon the idea of identity and the difficulty of retaining autonomy and control in the face of marriage, motherhood, societal and financial pressures. They deal with boredom, frustration, passion, rage, inertia, and the dichotomy of the simple passive act of sitting and existing, versus the tumult that occurs within.
Nude On Fire On Grey With Green Ground by Hester Finch
Face On Grey With Orange & Purple Wall by Hester Finch
Frances Costelloe - Motherhood has made me feel like I could create and make things that I wanted to put out in the world. The strange paradox is that because I don’t have much time at all - I make it work for me. I also spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to create and drawing inspiration so when I actually get into the studio my process feels a bit like a sprint. The idea almost fully formed in my head - waiting for the opportunity to come out onto the page.
Petra Börner - Having my daughter definitely changed my focus, my practice initially leaned towards commercial work, having to prioritise projects with financial rewards, rather than creative incentives. This really got to me and I gradually managed to change course and focus more on my personal work and ambitions. As she grew older, I could spend more time on my work again, and I could also take more risk on personal ideas again. Having my daughter is the biggest event of my life so far and it influences my work both practically and emotionally. With all the experiences I’ve gained so far, Ray is sitting tall (on my luggage) throughout my creative journey on these uncharted waters.
Woman Holding Baby In Yellow by Frances Costelloe
Vallmo by Petra Börner, inspired by her daughter
How do you balance motherhood and your art?
Hester Finch - Ironically I have never worked harder or achieved as much as I have since I became pregnant with my second child. The experience with the first was so novel that I dedicated myself to it 100% for a period, whereas by the time number two came around I had met Georgia, founder of PE, and my career had achieved momentum and so instead of stopping I simply incorporated him.
Models would pose naked clutching my baby and a bottle. It was an amusing, intimate way of working. Since then having two young children with different schedules and a hotchpotch of childcare is not conducive to an efficient work schedule so a lot of the time I choose instead to work at night setting my alarm for 2 AM when there are no distractions.
Homeschooling has scuppered this somewhat of course because, as many of you know, exhaustion and teaching do not a happy family make; and my youngest is deaf which also places extra demands on my time. He will be getting cochlear implants this summer.
I love my children but equally, the desire to not only be their mother drives me to push my career forward. Making art is just as important to me as being a mum, I would not be able to choose between the two.
Hester Finch and her sons
Petra Börner - As long as I can remember making art has been central to me.
Becoming a mother to my daughter, Ray, finally changed that, and my attention split between the two. To do either job well I have to have focus and initially, that was something hard to figure out how to do, when everything was new it was really quite a shock how to manage my work whilst looking after my child.
The truth is that I’m basically always chasing time and wishing I had more hands and feet. I've had to learn to concentrate harder and to seize the chance to work in more flexible ways, but I still can’t focus the same way as before I became a mother.
Seeing this small person grow and thrive out of being a dependant person is incredibly exciting; I can’t believe that it is possible, that we got this far. The feelings are big and tender.
During her toddler years, I made comics, drawing and collaging the things we did together, experiences big and small perhaps only a mother notices. I like this way to remember those young days.
Hairdo by Petra Börner
How do you feel the female form has inspired your work?
Isabelle Hayman -When painting or drawing the female form I try to explore our glorious imperfections.
Zahra Holm -The female form has always been an obvious subject for me, I find the human body fascinating.
For as long as I can remember, I have always drawn portraits and body shapes. Even later during my studies in set design and architecture, what I loved the most was the relationship to space, how the body articulates in space. I also spent years observing, drawing, and painting in live model drawing classes, which was very inspiring and nourished that fascination. So naturally, it is omnipresent in my work today. It appeals to me for its beauty, its complexity, and its fascinating body language.
Students at The Beaux Art, 1900
Your work champions body positivity, has motherhood made you appreciate the female body more?
Laxmi Hussain - For such a long time I've associated negative connections to my body - I've experienced huge changes to my body before and throughout motherhood, yet motherhood taught me that its transformations needed to be embraced. It needed to go through these stages in order to achieve what I have today: three wonderful children.
My children tug at my body, the poke, prod, pinch, but first thing in the morning they wake to embrace me and before they go to bed they repeat this. They don't love me any less because some years my body is a different shape - I never saw this at first, but it made me realise I needed to appreciate my body the way they do.
I don't know that I call it body positivity, more body normality - there is no such thing as a perfect body, there are many bodies, all shapes, sizes, and shades and it's about time we started seeing so much more so that we understand that all bodies are normal - so that we can all be seen.
Between Mothers by Laxmi Hussain
Have you always explored femininity and the female nude in your work, or has this theme developed over time?
Venetia Berry - My interest began within portraiture, I was always disappointed when a male life model entered the drawing-room, much preferring to draw the beautiful curves that the female models possessed. I began to take these drawings further outside the classroom, relying on imagination, memory and other drawings to abstract the female form further.
It wasn’t until I was a few months into this practice when one of my tutors at the Royal Drawing School asked me to think about why I was focusing solely on the abstraction of the female form. I had never really thought about what I was painting before, having focussed on painting portraits (which is often self-explanatory), however, my ideas behind these works slowly started to reveal themselves as I put more time into thinking about the why behind my work. I feel like I have learnt a lot about myself through my work, it is always the work that comes first and the reasons behind that I discover after.
Isabelle Hayman - It has changed, but essentially, they are still bold and playful with no fear of the onlooker's gaze.
Venetia Berry's Virago Solo Exhibitions
Blue Dancer 3 Josephine by Isabelle Hayman
What is a message you would like to pass on to your children about feminism and motherhood?
Camilla Perkins- I’m so grateful that I was brought up in a family of fiery, independent women who instilled in me the belief that I could achieve anything, something that I definitely want to pass down to my own daughters.
It still amazes me that in this day and age it is often assumed that as women we have to make a choice between motherhood and our careers, I want my girls to know that they are more than capable of having both! Retaining my identity as an artist has made me a better Mum because it makes me a happier person, and motherhood has made me a better artist as I get to re-explore the books, films, and places with my children that inspired me growing up. My main message to them would be to carry on being the fabulous queens that they already are!
Georgia Spray- I hope that she will grow up with the self-confidence and support from those around her to do what she loves, whatever field that's in. I hope that in an increasingly digital world, she can still find time to appreciate the simpler and slower things in life such as great art, craft, and nature, and will pass this sentiment onto her children.