Our artist mothers

Fundraising link

So recently some artist friends and I were talking about the issues in management of our lives. One thing popped up that gets a lot of artist’s hackle’s up. It’s a kind of touchy subject internally and in the artworld’s eyes. Artist mothers. Mother artists.

This is quite relevant to this campaign and my artist life, as I had to make some major life decisions when my husband and I decided to have children. How would it work out? What would be our source of income? How would I manage to deal with my creative side? I always knew that I wanted children. This is something that every woman artist has to consider and I dare say no one takes the decision lightly. For, when you have a child, you are creating yet another work – but one that takes considerable time and energy and is very often blocking your need and want for other creative ventures that makes us who we are as creative beings.

I looked forward to the creativity that comes with children and using my education degrees in conjunction with my art creating urges. What I didn’t expect is that my artist life was going to need to go on hold for a while, and doing full scale exhibitions was going to be out. So with my first son Kahurangi, I tried to channel my energies into things like monthly naked photo shoots of him, sewing clothes, making knitted squares with my craft group who became his surrogate aunties so I could actually knit for an hour while they took turns holding him. I made awesome bento lunches for his kindy in later years and took pride in creating amazing costumes for various events and making toys to entertain him. I made the decision to allow him to rule my world to some extent, and I enjoyed the journey. Watching him grow and learn and the fascination of the world through his new eyes was enough for me. The sense of wonder and passion that a toddler has is some of the most creative worlds we have. I pottered along with my art on the odd occasion he was occupied, but rather than get up and do art, I spent his naptimes cuddling with him instead. The creation I was making was building him up and the relationship of our love.

With my second son Te Pō Atarau, he was a very sickly and needy child. By the time he arrived 2 years later, I was starting to get twitchy that my art was progressing so slowly. And along came this boy who needed my attention 24-7 literally and wouldn’t go to anyone else but me. I loved him so much, but I started to resent that I could not get time alone to myself to go the bathroom much less do any art. It was a hard time where I cried a lot and tried to convince myself that I was doing the right things by him, but desperately needed a creative outlet other than drawing pictures of him on my breast as it was the only time he was content. I ended up deciding that he was a sacrifice worth investing in, and I tried to make time fade – as with a baby or toddler the days are so incredibly long, but the years go by so fast. It was a long arduous haul, but we did it together and the bond that I have with him and had during that time was massively intense. I consider that emotional relationship as a major contributor to my art these days with empathy and understanding that I had never felt prior. I decided that I needed to put my life, my needs, my wants on hold at least until he went to school and be done with the battle in my head that constantly said “you need to make! you need to exhibit! you need to keep up with the artworld and get out there!” It was a very hard decision that I agonized and fought myself over, but once I made it, I was much more at ease and time faded faster towards my goal of their self sufficiency and my return to my passions for creating.

So when both boys were in school, I finally had some time to think and feel about myself again and recognize my needs that had been only tinkered with over the years. I began working on relationships, telling stories with my work, gathering research as time permitted and was mommy for the rest of the day dealing with school lunches, home work, sports, and feral excited children who never wanted to sleep. This carries on to today, where I am the primary caregiver of my two greatest works. I watch them create and think and feel and just “exist” and this fuels my own fascination in them together with the kind of love only a mother feels. This feeds my work, and I will argue this point with anyone.

Most of my favorite artists made conscious decisions not to have children. They thought it intrudes too much into their plan, their passion, their work and without that focus, that they would never be good. Most of the time they are right. The most successful women artists traditionally have not had children. But the ones who did or tried to desperately are there as well. Those are the ones we need to really be proud of, as the artworld still has a stigma that puts mothers in the background as having less drive, time and attention for the work, therefore they are not as dedicated. These women should receive even more credo as they manage two worlds and successfully navigate between them. While I lost some determination to succeed as an artist for a few years, the years allowed more personal growth than I can ever have achieved otherwise. I thank these leaders for breaking new paths that we can navigate on our own terms.

So this brings me to where I am today. I have been working on my two projects that I am crowdfunding for since Atarau enrolled in school 2 years ago. My focus is now on getting that part of me that drew so much attention and energy put towards my work while still working on building the artworks that are my children. I can’t wait to show what I have been working on and see if you can interpret the input that my being a mother has had on the works – or not. Because my job work has been limited in the last few years, my artwork has taken longer to achieve due to finance. My artwork is generally not saleable content, so it must be self funded to be completed and shown.

This is where you come in! I would love if you could support these projects completion so that I can tell about the relationships, health outcomes and other stories that have been meshed into these works. I have a lot to say, and I need your help to say it. Please consider passing this on to your artist friends or otherwise as a thank you for doing what they do, and also consider donating to this campaign in honor of all artist mothers!

Here’s a quick video I made with the kids about artists and artist mothers last night. They’re a bit shy, but they know how important and hard it is. They are also coordinating a bake sale and drawing sale for Sunday in order to help with my campaign with my amazing nephew. I couldn’t be prouder of their ambition, love and concern for me and these projects. Also here’s a little drawing I did just a wee while ago when Atarau came and fell asleep in my bed at 3am.


Being an insider

Most people in my world would recognize me and my work as an artist and teacher or maybe a mom or academic. But what I am really going to talk about today is to speak about the issues of mental health that I have experienced and my thoughts about how we might move things forward – along with you all.

I would first like to acknowledge that there has been a lot of work put into what to call people like myself, and I still struggle to find an adequate and comfortable fit with any of them. Service user, consumer, client, patient, all sound rather “labelly” and don’t represent the rich and diverse people who they are applied to. So I have given up giving a good solid suggestion, so I like to refer to myself as an ‘insider’ but also fully embrace the word ‘crazy’ in all its definitions, (but prefer “mentally interesting”). “Insider” embraces the idea that it is something that others may not understand or appreciate, and is also a nod to the duress and battle that happens on the “inside”.

So what does this have to do with my campaign, my art and my life? One of the two exhibitions that I’ve been working on for a couple years that I’m gathering funds for is called Patient Property. It started a couple of years ago when I had a drug interaction after a surgery that caused a condition called Seratonin Syndrome. It caused a chemical storm in my head like nothing I have ever experienced and I became very unwell in various ways. One of the ways was an extreme heightened anxiety that was like a panic attack that was 24 hours a day. Long story short, I ended up in hospital to deal with the physical and mental manifestations of the condition. While there I started to deal with my situation by attempting to soothe with my art and writing. It was one of my only coping mechanisms and after the syndrome faded a bit and I was sent into a deep depression as the doctors played fiddle-the-meds in an effort to help, I started to talk to other people. I heard story after story about the mental health system in NZ and the failings it had, but also some good stories. I met extraordinary people who were often brushed aside by doctors, their communities and the world in every socio-economic, ethnicity, or gender you can imagine. It was an extremely awful, dire time for me, but also one that was enlightening.

I began to document people’s stories and produce art in response to all that was happening around me, and was adamant to retell some of what happened over these years in some form visually. So many, many people are struggling and dying and not getting the help they need due to inadequate funding, overstressed mental health sector, and a general misunderstanding from the world as a whole about what mental illness is all about and the many forms it takes. I made it a promise to myself that I would do whatever I could to lobby government, assist those working the battles to have better outcomes, and grow with my own black dog nipping at my heel. And so here I am.

Patient Property is important. One in 4 people has mental illness in our world. If you don’t, I guarantee you know someone who does. We can not get anywhere hiding these issues under the carpet and we need people to stand up and say that not dealing with these issues has social, political and life affecting consequences.

This is where you come in! I need funds in order to help get this show out there! I plan to exhibit the art that is currently half completed and needs further funding to finish – a mix of all sorts of media works and writing about my own journey and others’. I hope to make this exhibition part of a dynamic workshop with panels, speakers, writers, artists, doctors and work together to advocate for change in society and addressing how our mental health system is working. You may not know how to help someone who is in the throws of mental illness (though, ask me! I have ideas!), but contributing towards this exhibition and playing a part in making art meet social change is definitely one way that I would love! Come on board and see what we can do together. Let’s help that one in four “Insider” around you!

Please share!!

The Top 10 Things Life Lessons as an Artist

And here we go! We’re just on our journey to get this campaign running and already we’re doing so well! I have been flattered and feel very honored to already have so much support and love from some very kind and generous donors – most of which whom want to be anonymous. Even those who can’t contribute financially have been amazingly supportive and curious about the art and the ideas.

To those of you who have donated already, a huge hug filled with fluffy clouds, fuzzy kittens and rainbows! To everyone reading this, I challenge you to share this site, or to talk about these projects with one person today. Please spread the word! Have conversations! Lets move mountatins together!

I’d like to share what was on my mind from my sketchbook a month or so ago. Here’s my list of

The Top 10 Things Life Lessons as an Artist

10. You use gel medium to fix a run in your pantyhose.

9. You haven’t slept properly since you were 7.

8. You refer to old magazines as “photo reference” and death comes to anyone who tries to pitch them out before you can get your hands on them.

7. You can do wonders with an old shower curtain, 3 nails, an old tube of ochre paint and a styrofoam meat tray.

6. You learn to smile when people say “Oh…. you’re an artist? But what do you REALLY do? I just LOVE Thomas Kinkade!”

5. Every article of clothing you own has a small handprint in paint or glitter somewhere on it.

4. You use an xacto knife to cut sandwiches and apples for the kids lunchboxes in a pinch when all the silverware is in the running dishwasher.

3. Upon meeting someone you’re not afraid to say “You have an amazing philtrum, Can I draw it?”

2. It is possible (though not advised) to live for periods of time eating only ramen noodles, cereal and caffeinated products.

1. You come to realize that whether you like it or not, you have both the blessing and the curse. You are an artist.

Thanks all – will keep updating on our journey!

What’s in a name?

So we all have names. Some of us like ours, and some hate them. I’m somewhere in between. Laurel isn’t super unusual though I know it shocked my family when I was given it. Laurel and Hardy?… What’s her nickname going to be? Hippie parents? In school the kids could only come up with stupid rhymes comparatively. Floral. Rural. and Doral cigarettes. And big giggles when every year we were reminded that the state flower was the Mountain Laurel. I can’t help but think that the name still doesn’t suit me (too pretty for such a lifelong blunt slob of a tomboy), but it was well considered by my parents and I like that there was only one other Laurel at our school and that my middle name has a family connection. In NZ it is a bit more common I think – but with the octogenerians.

Kahurangi’s name was pretty much decided pretty early on – at least by me, and Chris wasn’t a hard sell. I loved all the various meanings, the shortened version, the sound of it, and wanted to give him an out by giving him middle names that had family meaning and English should he find the Maori to unusual or complicated to deal with (like I sometimes do when ordering and give the name “Laura” to save having to spell out/explain in loud venues). Currently he call himself Kah-foof or Ka-woo-nan-gee. But he does know his full name of Kahurangi James Lee Barr Cormack and tells it to people. Not too bad for a 2 year old. Maybe someday he’ll call himself Jim.

I’ve always loved that Chris’s name partiallly came from Christopher Robin from Winnie the Pooh, as somehow even the Shephard drawings from the books remind me of him.

So when looking at names for #2, we still weren’t sure he was going to be a boy officially. I was about 99% sure, so had erred on the side of boys names. Library trips for baby name books yielded little. Nothing seemed to sound right to me. There were a few factors in choosing one, and I was becoming increasingly stubborn which meant less and less options.
1. must like the name
2. must like sound of the name
3. must like meaning of the name
4. probably a maori name to go with Kahu’s
5. probably one that would be moderately easy to pronounce for even the American family
6. probably a shortened nickname easy to give when ordering coffees
7. no bad kiddie rhymes in Maori or in English (yes, we get Yahoo with Kahu… but if that’s the worst it gets, I’m cool with it)
8. Barr as a middle (not hyphenated) name to avoid dramas with immigration and not having the same name
9. Cormack as last name for consistency with brother

So after many hours of toiling dictionaries, websites, books, consulting people to make sure I wouldn’t offend anyone that left about 10 names and meanings, plus a list of family names for middles. In creating the list, I looked particularly at words relating to the moon. Kahu had a few very cute discussions with his in utero brother through my belly button. The baby told him “need more nappies” (which coincidently has proven true!) and that his name was “Moon Turtle” – which he then named his baby doll.

When I looked at the original due date for the baby, I saw that it was a full moon and my parent’s wedding anniversary. Maori have extensive star knowledge (which is how they navigated to NZ and engineered their planting schedules etc) and being a fan of astronomy myself, it just seemed right to look in this direction. Kahurangi’s name was ultimately chosen in my eyes for the connection it had to the skies that brought Chris and I together.

Atarau came as a potential – meaning moonlight. With further investigation, I found that many in older generations in both the US and here know the War song “Po Atarau” or “Now is the Hour”

Po atarau
e moea iho nei
e haere ana
koe ki paamamao

Haere ra
ka hoki mai ano
ki i te tau
e tangi atu nei

on a moonlit night
i see in a dream
you going away
to a distant land

but return again
to your loved one
weeping here

It just seemed to connect all the research that both Chris and I have done on World Wars, honour those in our families that had served, and those who stayed home. And the lullaby like song in it’s various creations of lyrics remind me that even though my family is spread all over the world, that we all return back to one another.

Pronunciation especially for Americans is a bit tricky. Have a listen to the songs for help.

Otherwise an American close pronunciation is
Te teh
Po pole or pohl or pol (like in Poland) with soft “l”
Atarau ah-tah roeh

Chris put up his earlier blog post based on cryptic notes I had made of family lineage. Subsequent corrections of family connections to middle names have been made.

So Te Po Atarau William Creed Barr Cormack, I hope that sometime you’ll ask me why we chose this name for you, and we can sit down and tell you about the long hours we spent making it just right for you. A special name for a special boy.

…and then you can call yourself Bill.

A few days of our lives.

Yes. I owe all of you emails. personal emails. some of which are nearly a year overdue. At 20 past 10 in the evening, I am sitting here trying to quantify what takes all my time and why I barely have time to read the emails let alone reply to them. I have come to the conclusion that my son (that feels weird to say) is a busybody and I am not. I try very hard to see the world through his eyes, but my energy can not keep up. I have discovered through many a cranky day at home, that the boy gets very easily bored with his mom at home, and would much rather be out in the world seeing and doing. That means I have been trying to find things to do out and about that don’t involve my favorite hobby of shopping (though he loves that too!). He squeals with joy with everything new that he sees, or that he remembers that he likes (like the dogs). The concentration when somewhere new is thick on his face that we rarely get smiles when out – too much energy extended away from his curious eyes. In fact, he is not keen on activity center thingies with lots to see and do as it seems to cause a crisis of overwhelming nature. Too much to do/see and not the motor coordination or ability to conceptualize time. We get little warning before we have a complete meltdown of tiredness resulting in very loud howls. So without further adieu, here is why you haven’t heard from me.

What we do during the day at home:
-sleep in (dear god thank you for making my son a night owl)
-practice rolling/tummy time/crawling… but prefers to just stand up – on his mom
-sit in the laundry basket in the laundry while doggies lick all over him and I de-puke/de-poo/ clothes
-practice sitting – again, preferably on mom
-read/eat books
-watch Tau Ke on Maori tv (he likes to watch anything that shows little kids or where he can hear kids), The View and Starting Over (and I’m not ashamed to admit it)
-practice eating solids and storing them in ears and noses for later snacks
-catching the ever moving cat’s tail and/or grabbing big chunks
-read/eat the mail
-grabbing mom’s hair
-sucking like a limpet on mom’s cheek/neck/eye socket
-play try-to-catch-the-stream-of-water in the bath
-10 minute naps
-eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat
-and subsequently poop pee poop

Because he likes to nap in the car, and gets bored with his scenery at home, we go out on most days for at least part of the day. Our suburb of Island Bay I’ve given the moniker of “Island Baby” because it’s all thirty-something couples with bubs. There’s lots to see or do and lots of others to do them with. If you want. I have a mild crisis of minds as to how “soccer mom” I want to become. So we do things like:
-go to the “Babes in Arms” sessions at the movies. Kahu loved Miss Potter

-Plunket “PIN” group (a group of local moms with babies the same age as yours)
-antenatal group reunions

We’ve just tried out the local music for babies group. I never thought I’d be caught dead in one of those things. I’ve come to the conclusion that babies love that shit and what the hell. Kahu just wanted to watch the other kids (if given the chance, this is a most favorite hobby). He likes to watch them then copycat. Lachlan taught him how to ‘flail’ and ‘haka slap’, and Baxter taught him how to throw a tantrum. We tried swimming today. 1$ altogether for both of us -can’t beat that price. The pool was too cold, so we’ll have to go do the kids (read:peepee) pool next time. We go to the library and drool on books. We go to the grocery store and shoplift (yeah, I found a can of baby food that I gave him to entertain himself – but found it when we got home!). We go for walks and find seashells etc. We go shopping at the dump store (Yes I shop at the dump – and LOVE it!) and yes, even on days when mom is so tired that she manages to lose (!) the hood for the pram somewhere, Kahurangi would rather be out than in…

So as you can see, we’re busy. It doesn’t look like much, but the house is never clean and I’m lucky if I have time to pee, so that tells me that I’m damned busy. Here are some photo illustrations:

Kahu in his swimsuit getting ready for the pool

…. and bundled up after the pool

Mom scored this original 1973 Fisher Price Activity Center (oh the memories…) at a garage sale – as part of a pick-a-mix-for-buck bag!!!! If only they had the pull-the-string “the cow says mooooooooooooooooooo” toy in nz!

Mom and Kahu go seashell finding

Kahurangi wanting to watch and play with the other kids from the antenatal class (or is that kicking them out). Luka, Lachlan, Oliver and Kahurangi

Oh yeah, and we’ve been slowly uploading videos to youtube (though they’re super dark). Some are quite old, but here ya go.

Shout out to Unkie Joe

Your promised update!

We had the Plunket nurse around last week and learned that Kahurangi is ahead of the game in movements. He can push himself up on his arms, more or less always has his head up without support at all, and can roll over from being on his belly. Apparently this is quite advanced? But we’re still working on the verbal and smiling department. As Chris said, we’re finally getting social smiles. Usually only when he’s completely fed, burped, pooped, farted, and not tired. In any event, it’s pretty cool to know what you’re doing makes him happy. He seems very keen to have his arms wiggled. Who doesn’t love a good arm wiggling? He’s in the 19th percentile for his weight, 19th percentile for weight and 50th for head circumference – so yes he has a fat head.

He’s still eating lots and lots and seems to have one day a week of massive all-day-buffet-all-you-can-eat. I am determined to be a modern mom and will whip out the boob whereever and whenever. Mom spent lots of time trying to cover me and the baby discretely. Screw that! If you haven’t seen a boob before, maybe you should! If it bothers you, then look at the bottom of your shoe – it’s far more disgusting I’m sure. If you get your kicks off of watching breastfeeding, you’ve got real issues and need to get over them. I’ve fed the baby at a dinner table with 12 others, in many restaurants, parks, malls, venues, cars etc. and my crowning glory – in the shoe department at the Warehouse. When Kahu wakes up, I have about 3 minutes to get somewhere to feed him before he cries like he hasn’t been fed in 2 months and is a starving african baby with a large distended tummy and flies in his eyes. Oh yeah, and now he cries real tears – as if to make it all more dramatic.

Speaking of cries, his have changed from him saying “I’m gay” (we told him to wait a few years, just to make sure) to “L A” or “allay” or “a lay”. We think he is giving a shout out to his peeps out in LA and throws his hands up atcha too.

Bubs is quite into music at the moment, and particularly likes my off key singing. He calms down with the songs. I must improve my nursery song repertoire, as I have had to resort to singing about what I’m doing. Hits for today include “Damn the bread is moldy, and I cut that salami too thiiiiiiiiick” and “Boy we got a lotttttttttttttttttt of crappy ads in the mailllll and the electriccccc bill sucks asssssssssssss, and Farmers has a salllllle onnnnnn”. He’s also a fan of Boney M’s “Rasputin” on the radio in he car. I’m afraid to know what that means.

A master of masquerade, Kahu seems to change the way he looks from hour to hour. Not sure if it’s the light or facial muscles developing, but he seems to look very different all the time. Closest family resemblance at the moment? I think definitely his Uncle Joe. Lots of times he’ll flash a look that is just like Joey (and consequently his Grandpa Skipp) as a kid.

Sleeping is still good and he’s pretty fond of mid-morning naps with his mum. Mum likes that too :). He’s quite a snuggler and always ends up much closer to me and facing me than when he started – even taking into account the massive gravitational pull my butt divot creates. I’m a big believer in the whole family nest thing, now that I see/hear that he sleeps much better/longer when he’s next to me or Chris.

So now he’s asleep in his Boppy (actually it’s the generic rip off “Bopster”) which all 30something new parents will know – we call it “the donut”. Due to wake up shortly for a feed n’ spew then off to happily gaze at the airplane mobile from his Aunty Mica while we get to bed outselves.