Two days before her due date, Erin Haldrup, a young painter, asked if we could have lunch together. On one of the first truly warm days of spring, we stopped by my studio before getting a bite. I took this photograph of Erin, in front of “Change My Mind,” a large painting I’d finished a year prior, around the time we first met.
Sitting together at an outdoor café, Erin asked me for my best advice about balancing motherhood and painting. Erin and I have a friendship that feels fated – our paths have crossed in so many unlikely ways that it would be fool-hardy not to embrace it. Happily, the fates were right to throw us together – as usual – and I set out to give her a glimpse of my experience as a working painter and parent.
My children are now grown; Phoebe is 22 and Evan is 19. I have been a practicing artist for more than 35 years. Contrary to the stereotypical notion that children get in the way of making art, I found that the great responsibility of parenthood feeds art-making rather than detracts from it. Bonding with our children engendered the most profound self-understanding and ability to empathize with others. While its not guaranteed, being a parent can teach humility and awe.
I did find, as I started my family, that certain trade offs were in store. The energy spent tolerating art world politics was going to be saved and then spent on my children. Again, the conventional wisdom is that children are a distraction; but which is more of a waste of time: getting the run-around from people who will never give weight to your thoughts, or helping your child take on the world? There is also, to be sure, a prejudice against women, further enhanced by the status of motherhood, common to most fields. This attitude is thriving in the artworld – which seems to be the antithesis of a meritocracy. Parenthood is, however, the original D.I.Y. art practice. I half jokingly suggested that Erin and I start an inter-generational feminist art collective rooted in the ethics of motherhood.
With these broader perspectives as a foundation, I offered Erin some practical advice: even if you have to work at the kitchen table, keep on working. A series of small watercolors can keep the flame alive until you get back to a larger canvas. Communicate your requirements for time alone. Take several mornings and a weekend day to yourself. This won’t always happen, but knowing that you need them is important. Children have enriched my thinking and still continue to do so. This intimacy between generations is a link to the future. As I move forward through time, staying focused on the future through the perspective of youth allows for the powerful blend of wisdom and innovation, a magical brew. After lunch, Erin said she had an urgent mission. I thought it would be something for her baby, but she was going to the art supply store around the corner to get paper and fresh watercolor paint.
Note: Erin’s son, Antonio Robert, was born in May and far from doing small watercolors at the kitchen table she is now in Cleveland working on a large-scale public art project.