Writing my artist story
History – Who am I and what physical path has my life taken?
Writing my artist story means it’s time for me to get real and that means paying close attention to myself for once. I’m a lot better at paying close attention to others. Starting with my history makes its easier, the facts are easy to state.
I’m a country girl, raised on a farm which my Dad bought when he married my Mum. He also owned the farm that belonged to his Dad and was where he grew up, so there was a lot of history in the places I spent my childhood. I remember spending a lot of time with my grandparents and it was while staying with them that I did my first drawings – one of Christ (from a picture of my Grandma’s) and one of my maiden Aunty Elsie (again from one of Grandma’s pictures). I don’t remember how old I was or what happened to those pictures. Both drawings are symbolic of the importance family was to me. I loved to spend time with my Grandma’s, talking about their family and memories.
As a teenager typically I was more interested in my friends and the pursuit of drawing and painting became limited to school. I remember reasoning that I would become a teacher of art rather than an artist when I left school, hence guaranteeing a regular income, and also it was far easier to say when asked ‘what is it that you do?” To become an art teacher meant leaving the country community (and the boyfriend) to live in the City to attend College. I was accepted into 3 different art schools, in different cities and chose to go the one recommended to me by my art teacher as “the best”. Funny I recall now that that same art teacher said to me once, “Don’t become a teacher Sam, if you want to be an artist. You’ll lose your love of art and stop doing it.” I’m sad about that statement now because I used it as my excuse to stop studying to be a teacher and to leave College. I returned home to the country and went to work as a cadet journalist at the local newspaper. That job didn’t last, I was unemployed for about 6 months and then went back to college, this time to study computer languages and networks. Why not art? Because I was trying to prove to others that I could get a job doing something useful, not because I was doing something I wanted to do.
My first serious boyfriend, when I was 15, became my first husband when I was 21 and we divorced when I was 33. It was his father that I was trying to prove myself to in going to study computers. That study didn’t last and I ended up working as a bank teller until I had my first child. I was a stay-at-home Mum then, living on my husband’s family farm, raising our three children. During this time, my creative energy was directed to gardening which required a lot of creative energy because the property had poor soil and limited water. I was determined to prove I could have a lovely garden despite the negative comments of my father-in-law. He really had a significant impact on that stage of my life, I’ve just realized. I allowed him to have a lot of power over the decisions I made. I used to think it was only my husband who struggled with this, but I can see now that I unconsciously allowed it to happen to me. Creatively I cooked, gardened and sewed, mainly for my girls. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law were both artistic and I think that in order to be different from them I avoided art. Shut down all those sensory abilities and focused on my home and children.
Life changed when I fell for another man while still married. He was teaching my husband to fly and it was totally wrong for so many reasons. My marriage started to crumble and my husband did not see it coming. I had changed and was no longer satisfied being a dutiful wife and mother, submissive to a man who showed no appreciation or interest in my abilities. I knew that forgiveness would be impossible, even if my husband might have wanted to, his father never would let him forget. I did not want my children, especially my girls, to grow up thinking absolute submission was acceptable in a marriage. I have always thought that I am not a feminist but I can see now that this was my personal stand for women, the women my girls would become and the man my son would become.
The first thing I did when I was on my own was start to draw again. Man I wish I had taken notice of the significance of this sooner. Remaining focused on my art is something that I now realise is a very real struggle. While I was still on my own, I did produce a number of sketches, most of them were portraits. I remarried after a year as a single mum, and my new husband encouraged me to continue, however life got in the way again.
First event - We moved; away from the familiarity of family and home to the coast when my husband, a teacher, was transferred to a new school. Initially this opened a lot of opportunity, I was able to go back to college and started to study art again, this time as an artist. I was learning techniques and styles and producing paintings as well as sketching. I had a creative community to share ideas experiences and learn from. I also had a new family in the faith community we were involved in who were very supporting and encouraged me.
Second event – my husband had a stroke, from which he recovered but was off work for six weeks. My world was rocked and I wanted security and stability. This took the form of bricks and mortar and for that we needed more income. Even though I hadn’t worked for twelve years, I started to look for work in the local banks, it was all I knew. I dropped out of another art school, although this time I promised myself I would go back one day.
That was 17 years ago. Since then I have worked in 3 different banks, a real estate office and then property law. I studied at University to become a Licensed Conveyancer and had a successful career until the third event – my husband was diagnosed with depression and couldn’t work anymore. I had been feeling unhappy about my work life for a while and frustrated at the lack of creativity in it. I had reached a point in my conveyancing career where I needed something more or away from it altogether. By this time, both my girls had left home, both were studying at university or college, one was married and my son was in his final year of school. I had had a burst of activity with my daughter’s wedding, making dresses and other attire. This was catalytic, birthing an idea for a business on the basis of making original garments for people. Then when my husband left work, a job he loved but could no longer function at, it made me question why I was working so hard doing something I didn’t love.
I left my career in property law to become an artist in 2012. For the past four years I have been working for myself, trying to build a business that I want to describe as ‘an artist who creates art for hanging or wearing’. I have gone back to school, this time I am studying art culture, the who, what, where and why of art history to help me understand the cultural impact of art on society, not only for myself but for the world. This study is a recognition of my love of language, writing and talking about art with others who either have that understanding too or want to learn like me. I love it but it doesn’t satisfy the creative act of doing art. I do lots of alterations for a local dress shop, and have done costumes for the local arts council. I have been playing with lots of ideas about how I can create my wearable art but am now starting to question whether this is stalling, which leads into the next section on process.
Process – How do I work and what do I love?
To help me focus and work out the answers to these questions, I borrowed the idea of a skills spreadsheet from Susan D in week six. (Thanks heaps Susan, I realized when reading your post that lists and spreadsheets really help me to focus). It was also a suggestion from Jane about sorting the negotiable and non-negotiable tasks out in order to work out a way forward and prioritise activities.
I have stifled my creative talent for so long that now I am scared to do it and consequently fail to even start. When I sit down to draw, I freeze, feel guilty, start to justify why I need to go and do some gardening or cooking or sewing. If I go to sit down and make a garment purely for art’s sake, I distract myself with the need to balance the budget or get the vacuuming done. I want to stop doing that.
I can sew quickly and confidently when it’s making a garment to order or doing alterations. I have continued the practice over the years so I don’t hesitate. It is also an income source so another justifiable reason to ‘get the job done.’
To get back into the practice of drawing I have just started doing a life drawing class at night instead of watching television. I hated feeling like a beginner but my hand was stiff and lines just didn’t flow. It took me ages to relax and get into the class BUT I was enjoying myself and loved being there.
I love to work with different fabrics but especially natural fabrics, silk, cotton, wool, even hemp. So far despite playing with ideas, I have failed to see a way of incorporating fabric into my art practice. I want to try different dyeing techniques, especially Shibori. However this will require me to travel to attend workshops and at present can’t be done, through lack of time. I want to create pieces of work that incorporate mixed media and surface design but haven’t visualised how this will happen yet.
I absolutely love colour, especially when it comes to fabric. When I make things for myself, it is usually bright and loud, oranges, reds, blues and greens, a rainbow works for me. I want to incorporate colour into every piece of art I create. It truly is my happy place.
I love detail and can sometimes get stuck on it, losing all sense of time. My drawings and paintings tend to be detailed. For this reason I tend to stop myself from doing them because I know I lose myself and I’m not good at managing time. I usually want to keep working until I’m finished, and I haven’t yet accepted that I can actually afford to stop and come back tomorrow.
I have been teaching myself crochet and want to start on embroidery next, so that I can incorporate these techniques into my wearable art. I love working and creating embellishments with my hands. These practices are important to me, a part of my sense of history and family.
Content – What do I care about?
People, I really care about them and not exclusively family.
The Archibald Prize - Jane asked me to think and write some more about why I wanted to create work that is worthy of the Archibald Prize to work out if it’s what I really want to pursue. When I said creating work I meant it generally rather than specifically a piece that would be a potential entry in the prize. I want to create works with a subject matter that evoke a response but are also considered worthy (good enough) by peers. When I look at some works of art, I can appreciate the artist’s technique, subject, style, form, content etc. but the piece itself does not speak to me. I want to create works that speak to me and to viewers. The Archibald is a portrait prize and I think the reason it attracts me is my love for people.
When it comes to content and what I am passionate about, I think I would have to say its people and colour. Marry those two together and I think I’ve got alignment.
In week six I wrote –
I love to do –
Watch people, relate with them and work them out
Try to capture this essence of a person in drawings
Make things for people – food, clothing and quirky gifts
What I’d love to do -
I am particularly captured by sunlit lanes of tree trunks (especially Australian gum trees) with their foliage dappled with light. I want to capture this essence in a picture. Maybe all those tree trunks represent the people who have travelled through my life and touched me in some way? I think that’s an ‘aha’ moment!
I am good at –
Relating to people (and I am adding to this with, I am good at perceiving hidden aspects in people and I think I’m good at that because that’s what I do, hide lots of aspects about myself).
The journey that I have had with my husband since his depression was diagnosed has been an evolution of understanding about self, for both of us. I have spent a lot of years of my life assuming for myself aspects of my life partner at the time, leaving me with a sense of having become a fence sitter, non-committed and lacking any real passion for anything. Emerging from this tendency of mine is taking a while, it’s a slow process and I’m okay with that. “Be still and know” is a practise that I want to become very good at. I want to incorporate that into my art as content because it is something I am becoming passionate about.