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  • Writer's pictureMáthair

Motherhood and Art by Hannah Casey-Brogan

Hannah Casey-Brogan is a Northern Irish painter. She has exhibited her work in the UK and Ireland as well as internationally in Berlin, Paris, New York, Reykjavik and Kofu City, Japan. Hannah graduated Master of Fine Art in 2015 and resides in Belfast with her husband and their baby daughter.

Máthair invited me to write about the impact of motherhood on my art practice, advice and any artists who are also mothers that I admire.

When I found out I was having a baby I quickly ordered the Collins Tree Guide, convinced I needed to know all the names of the trees in Ireland, so I could point these out to my daughter with reassuring authority on walks. I didn’t learn all the names of all the trees - I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than my baby's development and how I would survive labour.

Now that my daughter is here I think about motherhood and art and I wonder how other people get things done.

My first exhibition in over two years is coming up and things have felt slow. There were the months during pregnancy when I couldn’t use my paints because of the fumes, and then the weeks when I couldn’t use my hands due to postpartum arthralgia. My new paintings are small, the size of a postcard. As my output has literally diminished, I am choosing to believe that I have made better decisions, I haven’t had time to overwork and ultimately ruin things. On the other hand, the drawings I made at home, when my baby was very little, look to me like a display of constant interruptions but they were made during the happiest if not most challenging time in my life.

Hannah Casey-Brogan, garden drawing, watercolour and pen on paper, 2017

I go to my studio and worry about getting home to my baby and at home, while cleaning Weetabix off the floor, I wish I was in my studio painting. In A Life’s Work, Rachel Cusk writes:

“Birth is not merely that which divides women from themselves, so that a woman’s understanding of what it is to exist is profoundly changed. Another person has existed in her, and after their birth they live within the jurisdiction of her consciousness. When she is with them, she is not herself; when she is without them, she is not herself.” [1]

The physical and mental challenges of carrying a child and looking after a baby have utterly changed me, but thankfully I love art even more than I did before. My husband is also an artist and I know we both worried about being able to be a good parent and still be dedicated to our work. We both share childcare more or less equally and if anything, the relative lack of time for making art makes us both more focused on it when we get the chance.

Most artists have day jobs or cycle around delivering food at night so time is already precious. My advice to other artists who are mothers would be to find a way to do some of your work at home. I don’t get to my studio as often as I would like and I can’t paint at home, but I make all of my drawings at home. Even ten minutes a day adds up to over an hour of work on the page by the end of the week. I also believe in getting up early if your body clock allows it, the time between 5am and 6am might be the only time alone you get.

In my work small observations are important, spending time with my daughter who is observing everything closely: blue objects, egg shells, pinecones, pink crayons, – I share her fascination and I understand what she is feeling because I am still like this – and that’s why I am a painter. I am enjoying this affinity with my daughter while it lasts, my idea of a good time is a Studio Ghibli and a new pack of Crayola’s – even before I had a child.

There are a lot of artists who I admire, some with children, some who chose not to have children and some who desperately wanted children.

Ree Morton is a heart-breaking example of a person who was divided between her work and motherhood, I only recently learned about her life and work, which if you don’t know you should look up. Morton’s children eventually went to live with their father so that she could concentrate on making art. The curator of a recent exhibition of her work, Kate Kraczon, described the difficulty in addressing Morton’s biography.

“We don’t really have the language to address motherhood when we’re talking about women who make art. It’s so obvious, it’s hardly worth saying, but were we talking about a male artist we wouldn’t be worrying about mentioning children or divorce — we might not even mention his family at all.” [2]

More than anything I admire artists who understand childhood, my favourite being Tove Jansson. Jansson never had children but she wrote and drew for them, was devoted to her work, her partner Tuulikki, their island and was a dream aunt. Her work is cosy and protecting with hints of danger and adventure. Telling you like a comforting parent that the world is not all bad, the notion we are all desperately clinging to.

Eleanor Casey (my mum), watercolour on paper, 2018

Moominmamma always reminded me of my mum, the person who understands how important it is to remember the butter dish on picnics but also a creative individual in her own right. Becoming a mother made me think about my mum and the sacrifices she made as a single parent of five children. Her artistic talent is obvious in her interior design, object and art collections, beach finds, crochet work, and watercolours. I wonder what kind of artist my mum would be if she had the opportunities that she ensured I did.

Are you unhappy about something?’ Moominmamma asked.

‘No,’ answered Moomintroll.

‘Well, it’ll be another nice long day tomorrow,’ said Moominmamma. ‘And it’s all yours from beginning to end. Now isn’t that a lovely thought!” [3]

Hannah’s new work Shortest Path was made over the last two years between her studio and kitchen table. Exhibition opens October 25th, University of Ulster Art Gallery, Belfast. Exhibition runs until 26th November 2018.





Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson 1965

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