Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Mausoleum of Motherhood.

I have not worked out yet whether I should explain my paintings or leave them for others to interpret on their own. As it is early days for me as a painter, I don't suppose it matters much either way. If it does, look away now.

  This painting happened suddenly and was my response to a bad day. I just got all the swirling images in my mind that were gathering and put them out of my head and onto the paper. Here I could see them clearly, writhing undefended for me to examine. That same day was turned around as I transferred my sketch onto canvas and began filling in.

 I was trying to come to terms with and integrate the gaping void between domestic imagery fed to us from the television and magazines, and the cold blooded reality of hard work and raw emotion as you fall into the role of motherhood.
 The only true advice I wish I had received before becoming a mother is "Expect the unexpected, nothing is ever as it seems.". We have little experience to prepare us before embarking on our personal journey into motherhood. Of course this is true of fatherhood as well. Our dislocated society separates the births and deaths from our sanitised and independent lives. Few of our new generation have memories of the birth of siblings at home, or the final preparing of the body of a deceased loved one, as an opportunity to say goodbye. These are not easy things to face but they do not go away by hiding them. When the time comes we are unprepared and have to face these experiences with little support, and it soon has to be hushed up again. We have lost the support and guidance of women in our community. Community is a rare treasure not many of us have known.

  So armed with our mothering magazines of perfect images we take our fragile selves into the labour wards like lambs to the slaughter. This may sound harsh, reality may be kind and often is, but babies are born prematurely everyday, many women don't have chance to consult their perfect birth plans as they are rushed into emergency caesareans. New mothers sink into the ambivalence of post natal depression and not everyone is fortunate enough to experience the spontaneous miracle of bonding with their child. Some parents replace their broken rose tinted glasses with an alcoholic haze.

The perfect ideal of a house in the country, in which we can be a domestic goddess is passed off to us through the media as "real", leaving the majority of us lacking. I love to watch these programmes and dream and have my fill of their virtual, vicarious pleasure. Equally it can lead to torment and dismay.
 There is a phrase, "Follow me home to know me.". The fake kitchens bursting with le crueset; flowery china and copper bottomed pans are purpose built fabrications and often not the celebrities actual homes. In real celebrity homes adultery and temptations can be prevalent.

 A cat curled up on a rug in front of an open fire turns into finding flea bites on your children's skin. The new cute kitten has defecated on your new comforting cushions, and left a dead bird behind the settee. Small mercy that the toddler didn't find it first. The open fire covers everything in dust and brings the extra job of cleaning up the ash and soot. We all have our dreams and then their are the practicalities never far away.
 The baby in the painting is copied from a real photo of my poorly daughter, born three months early. When tragedies occur, someone still has to wash the dishes that are mounting up, put the Christmas tree up, do the festivities and put the Christmas tree back. The beautiful flowers in a vase fade and die and have to be thrown away, the bacteria filled water in the vase poured away. These simple yet heroic acts that keep a family going are often the responsibility of mothers. The little things, the disgusting things, the boring, relentless, unnoticed and essential things.

 As I have got older I have learnt with great difficulty to let go of my Catherine Cookson ideals of how life should be, and to love the reality of what life actually is as it comes. A technicolour, 3D, scratch n sniff miracle. To turn chores into opportunities for contemplation and listening. We will all still have bad days but I try to face life clearly and openly and enjoy the miracles of having children and being alive.

 In my painting there is a butterfly that can momentarily break you out of an inward cage of depression as you turn to look at it's beauty. A Georgian shop window, full of the promise of wonderful things reflects the storm beyond. A cottage with roses around the door, leads on to a pretty chintz cup and saucer, or is it clouds gathering. Will the oncoming storm be only a storm in a teacup. Have a cup of tea and gain some perspective, you never know what your future might hold. The gladioli symbolises strength and preparedness, and moral integrity. Exactly what a mother needs for consistency and to be a guide by good example. They are also a symbol for love at first sight, how it should be when a mother first holds her child.

Mausoleum. Oil on canvas. 32"x24". 2012.
 I was brought up to care about what the neighbours think, to try to be nice and to please. These are good qualities in certain ways, to be conscientious and aware of your affect on others. It also leaves you particularly suggestible. I am learning to stand up for myself and believe in whatever I am, even if it does displease. This painting is not quite finished, I am going to work some more on the details, these are not good quality photos, but what does it matter. Until further notice I have put my cherished but sentimental notions in a mausoleum.


  1. Poignant, beautiful and honest.

  2. It reminds me of Frida Kahlo, I'd like to see this when its finished. xx

  3. Thank you, really good of you to say :)and encourages me to get it finished.

  4. Wonderful posting, Julie ... & wonderful painting ... & yes, it reminds me of Frida Kahlo's work, too. 'What the Water Gave Me' is one of my (many) favourite paintings ... & poems, too: http://pascalepetit.blogspot.com/2009/12/video-of-my-poem-what-water-gave-me.html

  5. That's a big compliment. Your feedback means a lot. Would love to be able to paint Stella cans like Wayne Thiebauld paints cake. That would be an achievement to aim for.

  6. A really thought provoking piece Julie, beautifully written. For me and as a novice in this area, to have an understanding of the themes and the emotions behind a piece such as this really help me in my appreciation. I'm looking forward to seeing how this evolves.....

  7. Thank you Jon, really pleased you liked it. A new post for a new year. I'll let you know when it's completed.