When did you start making art that included images of children?
Well, it was my first body of work—my first commercial painting show—and it was just after the birth of my first child. So I was just living it, and I’d never even considered using children up until that point. And I was never a maternal person up until the point I became a mother. It was an unplanned pregnancy and I was just sort of catapulted into this new universe, this wonderful new universe. And I, like every new mother, I was just so dizzyingly in love with my child. That was where the show came from. And I think it definitely comes from an extension of my experience of being a mother.
Is that a hard thing to navigate in the art world?
Being a mother?
Well, making art around motherhood.
Yeah, I think it’s really hard. It’s like ‘illustration’ or ‘yin and yang’. It’s hard. But important, I think, and I do think there’re some artists that have done it incredibly well. I mean the one that stands out most to me, and she remains my favourite artist, is Louise Bourgeois. All these incredible works on paper of pregnant women, and women suckling, and I think it’s really, really hard content to do well without it looking naff or clichéd or just too heavy. It just has to be sincere.
There seems to me, in the contemporary art world, this real avoidance of the viscerality of being a parent, which I find odd.
But just at large don’t you think, the viscerality of everything is just a bit… I mean you look at sex in movies, or particularly sex in American movies. It’s like there’s ‘sex in movies’ and then there’s ‘sex’. It’s this whole constructed language system. It’s not real.
It’s interesting though, because when you’re in the viscerality of being a mum that’s when you’re talking about it, and that’s when people do start talking about it. But I think they’re mainly dialogues that mothers have with other mothers, and they’re amazing, important conversations. But in saying that, I am really open about talking about my body and I do realise at times that does make other people uncomfortable too, so you do have to be careful. And I’m not on any bandwagon. I know what feels right for me, and what feels right for me is not going to feel right for someone else. I had two insane natural births and I’m really passionate about natural birth, but you have to be so careful talking about birth.
You really do. It’s unbelievable to me how politicised it is. You’d think the pinnacle of—I was going to say abject expression, but that’s probably a bit of a negative spin on childbirth. I’m sure it’s very beautiful as well.
Well it’s everything all at once, and it is abject, but it’s abject pertaining to ecstasy I think. It’s an ecstatic experience that involves a lot of pain, but it’s pain that’s really contextual, and I feel like we live in this really overly-anaesthetised society where we’ are taught to fear pain. Because at the same time your body is cracking and opening up, but you’re given this crazy stuff to work with. It’s actually incredible if you can work with it. Of course if something’s going wrong you want the best that modern medicine can offer you, but I don’t think that we need to be taught… There’s certain pain… I don’t wanna sound like a martyr, it’s not about that at all.
About being as embodied as you can be?
Exactly. I’m the first person to take a Panadol when I’ve got a headache but it’s just…
That’s not a very productive pain.
No, it’s not. Drugs, but look, I don’t think I wanna go… The baby comes out, it’s really alert, and you’re alert, and the point where I met my son for the first time after 40 hours of labour – that is my peak life moment. There is nothing that compares to that for me. And his eyes were wide open and we just lay in this carnage, on this bed. It’s crazy, just looking into each other’s eyes, it was so heightened and oh my god. You don’t get that otherwise. And for the dad to be involved in that too, it’s just so bonding. Natural birth does demand more from the father too, like the support. It’s almost as much about him as it is about you, ideally anyway. Well it was for me.
So he is not in a creative industry?
You have a nice balance.
We really do, and I don’t know how he puts up with me, honestly. He’s difficult too in his own way, but my brain is not stable [laughs]. I definitely need someone very strong in the other direction, and I bring—and my daughter—she has a very big, crazy female energy too—and Chris needs that. It drives him crazy, but he’s very good at managing that.