Mother Artist – Elizabeth Marruffo
In the lead up to our next Mother Artist Forum at the MCA in Sydney we are posting our 5th series of interviews with Mother Artists exploring the balance of professional artistic practice with motherhood. We begin with the fabulous Elizabeth Marruffo who is also the Print Artist in our most recent edition of BIG Kids Magazine – Art of falling. If you don’t yet have a copy of Issue 9 – Art of falling you can purchase it HERE.
Sunday August 30th 2-3.30pm for the next in our Mother Artist Forum series
What do I as an artist make when I have no time to make anything given that I don’t stop being an artist even when I have no time to make anything?
Bravery is picking your self back up after a fall.
Imagination is inventing new worlds of possibilities
Generosity is putting your self in someone else’s shoes
If you could distil your experience as a mother artist into a single thought what would it be?
I am extremely fortunate to have found ways in which the challenging aspects of an arts practice like the tears, the extreme self-doubt and the guilt about not making enough money are balanced out by having a happy child around. I think it’s because what I do, despite the challenges, makes me happy, stimulated and fulfilled and it’s also flexible so I can be around for my child when needed.
How has becoming a mother enhanced, limited, provoked and/or disrupted your creative practice?
I think becoming a mother limited my ability to network and socialise and so possibly hindered that important aspect of my career and limited the chances of those small incidental meetings and moments that can lead to interesting creative collaborations. It has also provoked me into paying a lot more attention to female artists and how they manage their careers and families and also how they are more often than not made invisible through selective retellings of history.
Has mothering impacted your actual creative process and ways of making work? How?
I do things a lot quicker now! There’s no time for deliberating too much. Having less time to make work, has made me more patient with myself and with others, it has helped me realise my art career is about a long and deep journey and that these moments with children are so fleeting. It’s easy then to prioritise time with children when you see yourself working until you are 100 if possible. A lot of my artwork has happened in the evenings at home at our small unit when our son has gone to bed. Being in bed however doesn’t mean children are asleep or they don’t still need us or don’t call out with the most profound of questions needing immediate answers!
I did some postgraduate study at ECU when our son was 3 and had a studio space at University. I remember after the days work then dinner and bed I would leave to go to the gym which was also at uni, it might seem counterintuitive to “waste” time at the gym but it was almost as if it gave me another days worth of energy and productivity, I would then work until about 10.30pm. I was working towards a big solo show so this routine was necessary.
I have recently been making a large number of smaller paintings, with these works I was able to fit the ones I was working on into a box along with a small amount of all my materials and take it in the car with me for the day to my studio I had at the time, or back home with me for evening work or contemplation.
I have since moved my studio back home as we moved to a bigger house this year and this is working really well. My husband and I run a small children’s art school called Milktooth from the shopfront connected to our home and this whole enterprise was grown directly from our experiences of parenting.
Can you think of an anecdote/moment that epitomises the collisions and intersections in the worlds of mothering and making/thinking/creating?
I used to think it was an over simplification when analogies were made between the production of artwork and the creation of a new life but they are in fact, quite similar endeavours. There are not many more creative endeavours than parenting; constantly having to think on your feet, being able to problem solve on the fly, being an expert at logistics, time management, and prioritising, being able to anticipate changes of feelings and attitudes so that you are prepared to deal with multiple views. The same can be said about the production of artwork and the management of an arts practice, in both cases you are constantly responding to something that is both within and without you and completely alive. The aim of creating great artwork and great humans is for both to become independent and alive forces that can stand strong by themselves and contribute in constructive ways to the community and world in which they belong.
For my ‘pup pup is the boss of the stars’ exhibition the title was something my son said when he was 4 while I was brainstorming the idea. There are too many moments to list where what he has done or said has informed my work and my artistic choices. Actually, he also often has the best ideas for my husband who works during the day at the Perth Museum. We chat at dinnertime about my husband’s projects and activities for public engagement with the museum collection and our son invariably comes up with something incredibly useful and interesting. We often joke about how more companies should have advisory panels made up of children, definitely an undervalued human resource!
Do you ever collaborate with your child, respond to each other, or work side by side to create work?
If I tell or ask my son to do something creative with me there could be a positive or negative response. If I just start doing it he will almost always just want to join in. We do a lot of drawing and crafting together and he also makes a lot of books, comics and does calligraphy with his dad. For the BIG kids magazine collaborative work we had a lovely discussion in the car about the word ‘Falling’. I would have never linked it to Frank Lloyd Wrights Building called Falling Water but my son did. That set off a beautiful chain of association that led to him drawing a doghouse that Frank Lloyd Wright had designed. I then included one of the little dogs I paint next to his doghouse. He is also my biggest critic though and has said the harshest but also most hilarious things to me about my work.
What is different, if anything, about being a mother artist to being a father artist?
From my own experience I noticed an extreme heightening of instinctive thoughts and processes I believe are unique in the female parenting experience. These instincts and the subsequent hierarchy of thoughts that develop are helpful, but can be occasionally debilitating. It has at times taken a lot of effort for me to bring more rational and logical thinking processes to some of the decisions I make about my professional art career. I have even found myself directly sabotaging opportunities that come up, so I then force myself to go through with them even though it doesn’t “feel” right. For example I recently spent a month by myself in Florence as I received some grant money to do an academic painting workshop. This did not ‘feel’ right but was of course an incredible privilege to be able to go and do.
My husband is also an artist and we do a good job at communicating well and we support each other’s creative choices 100%. I think there are some big challenges for father artists when you look at the huge societal pressure on fathers to make money and provide well for a family, this can be detrimental to an arts practice as it is asking a lot for an arts practice in Perth to provide an income that a family can live on, I think WA is especially cruel in this regard, to all fathers really regardless of profession.
Has it become easier/changed over time?
I guess I hold instinctual thoughts and feelings in very high regard as they have served me well in my mothering journey, as my son gets older though I feel I have to be stronger in the ways that I temper these feelings. It has become easier over time as you learn what you are realistically capable of, you learn to notice stress triggers and you get better at saying no to things that don’t serve you practice and family. I have also realised that I got into the habit of not socialising as it was more important to work on my practice, all of a sudden with our son getting older it seems like I am able to get to openings and events and the energy and connections that these have brought have been very nurturing and inspiring. I did have to force myself out of my habit of being a hermit though!