Dr Melanie Cooper
Australian mixed media visual artist + art historian
Dr Melanie Cooper is a visual artist and an art historian from Adelaide South Australia, and a mother of 2. Melanie combines painting + drawing with a mix of knitting, crochet, stitching and rug making techniques.
In this episode we chat a lot about art, as Melanie’s expertise in the long 18th Century allows us to delve into the role and treatment of women artists during this era. We also discuss the importance of sharing our experiences as mothers, and the role of judgment in our current society – and how it got there.
**This episode contains discussion around post natal depression**
See the Queen Victoria yarn bomb here
Music in this episode used with permission - Alemjo
When chatting to my guests I greatly appreciate their openness and honestly in sharing their stories. If at any stage their information is found to be incorrect, the podcast bears no responsibility for my guests' inaccuracies.
Podcast transcript at the bottom of the page
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Alison acknowledges this Land of the Berrin (Mount Gambier) Region as the Traditional Lands of the Bungandidj People and acknowledge these First Nations people as the custodians of the Region.
Welcome to the Art of Being a mom, the podcast where we hear from mothers who are creatives and artists sharing their joys and issues around trying to be a mother and continue to make art. My name's Alison Newman. I'm a singer, songwriter, and mother of two boys from regional South Australia. I have a passion for mental wellness, and a background in early childhood education.
Thank you for joining me. My guest today is Dr. Melanie Cooper. Melanie is a visual artist and an art historian from Adelaide, South Australia, and a mother of two. Melanie combines painting and drawing with a mix of knitting, crochet stitching and rug making techniques in her art. In this episode, we chat a lot about art history as Melanie's expertise in the long 18th century, allows us to delve into the role and treatment of artistic women during this era. This episode contains discussion around postnatal depression.
Thank you for coming on, it's an absolute pleasure to have you. And I'm excited about the different sorts of things that you might be able to share as your role as an art historian, but you're also a visual artist. So let's start with that. Why don't you tell us about your own art practice?
My art practice is pretty diverse. I as with my other work as well, I kind of consider myself to be an interdisciplinary artist. So I'm primarily a painter. But I also work across textiles and drawing and, you know, just a lot of a lot of different things I've been making. For as long as I can remember, like, even as a child I was, I've always been making stuff. My work is very personal to me it's very, it's, I guess it's a way for me to articulate things that I find very difficult to communicate verbally or in written language. I'm just kind of really interested in my, I mean, of course, my own experience, but also the spaces in between thoughts and ideas and experience and memory, like, you know, the things that we can't see, I try really hard to not just document experience, and those kinds of things, but also to kind of try and make my own thoughts and feelings visible in some form. So it's kind of it's a way for me to reconcile a whole heap of thinking and a whole heap of experience, but in a way that's really tangible. And so in a lot of ways, it's all about the process. For me, the end, the end point is always a great thing, because people can actually see it, but it's kind of it feels like it's work that's never finished, because I need to keep going. And it's almost ritualistic in a way, I guess, because I'm kind of quite often repeating myself, like, for example, in textiles, I'm using lots of the same sort of stitches. And as I'm doing that, I'm thinking and kind of integrating all of those ideas and thoughts and memories and, you know, and, and responses to place as well, I just kind of draw lots of connections from the outside world and sort of it kind of comes in, and then I sort of spit it back out into some sort of form. I don't I don't really, it's a really, really hard thing to explain. Like, it's just it makes sense to me anyway. And hopefully, when people when people will look at it, hopefully they kind of, you know, bring their own ideas to it as well their own responses, and there's no right or wrong answer. I'm not trying to deliver a precise message. You know, people don't have to have a perfect takeaway from it, as long as they kind of, you know, respond to it in some way. I'm happy. So. And that is
the great thing about I think, too, in any of its forms that people will take what they need from I suppose in their own interpretation of what, what they're in their life or what they're going through or anything like that.
So you're working with textiles, Melanie, what kind of materials are you working with?
So with the with my textiles, this is a little bit confusing for people sometimes I consider that to be part of my painting practice. So I work with textiles in the same way that I mean, I know it's a different material. But the way that I you approach that practice is the same way that I approach my painting with the same ideas and the same motivations and the same kinds of thinking. But I use knitting and crochet. And I also use traditional rug making techniques and just a little bit of stitching as well, but predominantly things like punching, which is punching through a hashing surface with a needle and knitting and crocheting pieces of fabric that I sort of manipulate and stitch down and explore with that kind of material material. Process is a really good way For me to sort of like think through a whole heap of stuff, and I kind of figure it out as I go, I'm very intuitive, I don't really sort of sit down and draw up a plan or anything, I kind of work it out as I go. And product, of course, it's always really important, you know, you, you do want people to engage with something that you're really proud of. And it needs to be aesthetically appealing in some way. Whether whether that's a really positive thing, or you know, something that's a bit more challenging for people, that's cool. But it really is, like, the the, for me the whole, it's the process, you know, it's the end product is really, really important, of course, but the process? I mean, I wouldn't, I don't know that I would do it. If it wasn't for the process, you know, me like, I'm not just making stuff to decorate things. We thought we've got enough decoration. It's more. Yeah, I don't know, it's something that I still need to think about putting into words, because I find it really, really difficult. Yeah, it's kind of the process of experimentation and exploring, and just finding, finding out how far you can push something is really fun and really interesting as well.
Yes, I like new techniques and, and working with things in different ways. And that sort of Absolutely. Tell me about your children.
So I'm very fortunate to have a son who's almost 18, and a daughter, who is almost 11. So they're quite far apart in age. But they're just incredible. Little humans, you know, with very different different needs at the moment. They're both still at school, obviously. And, you know, they're both doing their own thing. And, you know, I'm, yeah, they're both. They're both very strong personalities. And of course, that comes with its own challenges sometimes, but I'm actually really proud of the relationship that I have with them. Both. Were really good mates. So I think, yeah, I love my children very dearly as all mothers do, I'm sure. Yeah,
yeah. You say this look seven years between your toy? I've got seven years between my two.
Yeah. Some people think, wow, that's huge. And in some ways it is. But in some ways, it's not. Either. It's a funny thing is,
Oh, yeah. And it's, I think, I'll be interested to see how they grow as they get older, because my oldest is 12, or 13. And my little ones about to turn six. So at the moment, they have times when they absolutely cannot stand each other. But I think as they get older, and dig becomes out of that little little person stage. They might, I mean, they get on great, don't get me wrong, but things might not be quite as explosive.
Do you know, honestly, things can be quite explosive with my kids. And like, that's why I say, you know, they're both very strong personalities. They're both, they're both very, very clever. And they know how to test each other. And they do they, they do get explosive. But the funny thing is as intense as that is, sometimes they also have this really intense love for each other. It's and it's crazy. Like sometimes I'll just walk into a room and I'm like, oh my god, you guys are having a hug right now. What's going on? Is everything okay? Yes, fine. Mom is totally fine. You're sure? Yeah. And it's also because I think they're very different places in their own development. Like they have very, very different needs. Like, you know, Seth, my son, he, at the moment, he just really needs his own space. Sometimes he needs his own privacy and all those sorts of things. Like he's merely an adult. And his little sister likes to kind of walk into his room unannounced and jeans and he's just like, oh, my god, get out. And you know, he's never like, he's just playing a game or something. It's not anything major, but he's just like, leave me alone. And she Yeah, of course, you know, sometimes she just wants to be around her big brother. But and he does it to her too, though. Sometimes she'll be quiet. You know, she'll be sitting on the couch or in her room doing her own thing. And he'll come in and he'll be like, all over and, you know, just in the mood for a joke. And she's like, Oh, no. Yeah, and it all kind of kicks off and I have to Yeah, yeah. It's also really lovely though, when you find them playing, like, you know, when they they take their own initiative to get the ball guy outside and kick her around the backyard together, that kind of stuffs really lovely. Yes. Something good is here.
So you said before you've been creating you pretty much your whole life. Has that sort of changed then as you had your children as they came into Your Life, we starting to find that challenge the balance between you and your role as a mother.
In different times of my life, definitely. So I can't, I mean, there's a few different things I could say about this sort of stuff. Like, you know, before having kids, I really believed that I needed one full solid day to get something done, you know, I always had this kind of idea that you had to have a full day. And if you didn't have that full day, nine to five kind of idea, whatever those hours were, it really like there's no point. But I've since learned, especially with my second, with Scarlett half an hour, you can actually achieve so much in half an hour. Because sometimes that's all you get. And I mean, it kind of fluctuates, or depending on what's going on with them and where you are, in state, like the stage of their life and stuff. There's been times where I found it incredibly difficult. Like, with my painting practice, for example, I like when I had my son, Seth, I found that really difficult to get back into for a while because I had
quite bad postnatal depression. So that kind of was a bit of a block for me for a while. But then after a period of time, I kind of learned when I was sort of working through that I was drawing and things but I kind of went back to knitting, which is something that I've kind of always been doing since I was like about five, but then I sort of realized, you know, this is a really portable medium, and I can just pick it up and put it down, I don't have to go out and studio. So I think that's where it kind of really started becoming this thing that I've incorporated into my practice. And over time, I kind of just kept pushing it more and developing it more. And that's so that's always been there. Like I'm always, you know, carrying around knitting or crochet because it is so portable, and I can't sit on the couch and not do things. So if I have to sit on the couch and nurse a baby or rock a baby to sleep, you know. So like there's, it's there's different ways that you can still be creative, without having to go out into the studio without having to have an entire day. And, you know, try and figure out all the other logistics around that. So I've just, I think I've always sort of looked for ways that I can still fit stuff in. And, you know, like, when they're not sleeping and stuff, that's really good thinking time. So you can use that time in the middle of the night to kind of think about what do I need to do tomorrow, and you start planning and organizing your thoughts. So that when you do have that time, you can just jump straight in, he's not kind of lost, not knowing where to go, what direction to take, or what needs to be done, you can just sort of like jump in and be productive. And I think that's that kind of motivates you and gives you the energy to keep going as well. Yeah, I think that's the thing that that mother who doesn't like I don't want to say adversity, but you know, just the challenges sometimes that you face and the things that you kind of find yourself up against, that you weren't prepared for. I think that's really taught me that yeah, actually, I'm really good at improvising. And, and that's really fun in itself too. Because sometimes you kind of you end up with outcomes you couldn't predict or better outcomes than if you planned and organized everything completely perfectly and down to the last minute. Like, sometimes you just kind of go, you know, do things by the seat of your pants, and you get up the other side of you think, wow, that's actually really great. And that could lead to something else. You know, like, never in a million years would I like when I was painting in art school, I didn't think that I would be you know, knitting in my actual painting practice. I kind of thought that's the thing that I do when I watch TV. And you know, it's not really part of my, my serious art career. But now it definitely is. Yeah, it's it's fun. It's fun. I think you've learned so much from being a mom. Yeah. And having to having to restructure your own thinking and just make things happen. You know, not just sit around waiting for the time, but actually just making that time you have to, otherwise it will never happen. Yeah, the thing for me as well, like, it's almost like a it's a compulsion for me to make like, it always has been even as a kid like, I just always have to make something and it doesn't always have to be like a big finished painting. Sometimes it is just, you know, something with a lump of air dry clay or, you know, a drawing in the mud out in the backyard or something like, I've just always had to do something. And yeah, it's a it's a compulsion, I think. But it's also I was thinking about this the other day, I think it's also about making a space for yourself, like making art or even just making and staff has just always been a way for me to take space for myself, even as a child. You know, and I think that's just become more and more important, as an adult, when you've got more responsibilities and have to divide your time or
it becomes more challenging, but then also probably more important to do as an adult.
Absolutely. It's like, mental health, you know, and it's, and it's so connected with looking Yeah, looking after yourself. And so, for me, it's very much part of my identity. I think, like, it's, it's not like, the job, the great job that I've got that I go to, and I'll retire from one day, so something that I think is always has always been a part of who I am. Definitely
isn't. Yeah, it's one day, you just get to hang it up and go, right i that's finished now. I'm retired. What do I do?
Exactly? Exactly. Yes. It's, sometimes it would be nice to sort of like bundle it up and pack it away. But it's no, that's not an option. I don't think.
Wanted to ask you just you talked about your painting, how you never thought that your meeting would become part of you the way I think you said you serious art practice? How did how did it become part? Did you one day just decide to combine it like how did it physically happen?
Um, it's a very, it's a very good question. So when I was in art school, I, I realized that I detested oil painting, and I. And so I couldn't do live painting anymore. And I wasn't really interested in that anyway. And so I dropped out of that subject. And I had to do another elective and sort of make that as like a, not just an elective subject, but like a major subject, and it was rug making. And I was like, Wow, this sounds really cool. And it's using wool. Awesome, I'll do that. So I learned some techniques. And, you know, just kind of played with that for a bit and then put it away. And when I thought, I just kind of, I kind of just stuffed around with it a bit and picked it up, put it down, and just put it played with those ideas for a while. And I kind of experimented without really taking it very seriously. And then, you know, fast forward a couple of years, I became a member of a studio here in Adelaide called voting booth studios. And I shared that space with several other artists. And at the time, I think there was 12 artists, but I had brought all my things from my old studio into the space and was unpacking stuff and messing around with things and just having a look at what I had. And one of the things that I had was a half finished, rogue or wallhanging, I wasn't really sure what to call it at the time. I pulled it out as looking at it. And one of my friends looked at it and said, Oh, what's this, and I was just this thing that I've just been playing with. And he's kind of like, oh, that's, that's kind of really cool. Maybe you should think about finishing it. I was really, okay. And, you know, I just wasn't at that time, I just wasn't really sure what I was doing. Because, you know, a whole heap of other stuff had just happened. And I was coming through a difficult place. But I just kind of thought, you know, this is an easy thing to pick up and just go on with, I'll maybe I'll figure out what I'm doing next. So I just kind of kept working on this thing. And then it became a finished piece. And I was like, wow. And there was just this one little engineer alpha, I don't really know what to do on this end bit. And I was mucking around with some knitting at home. And I just kind of something told me or compelled me to put that piece of knitted fabric onto the rug, and just see what it looks like. And so I was just like, wow, this is another way of combining surfaces and textures and different techniques, and actually really kind of like what's happening. And so that's what I started doing there. I sort of started messing around with it. And I was really excited by what I had discovered. And so I just kind of thought, what can I do next. And so I started making lengths of knitted fabric and started stuffing about with it in the next pieces and just kind of exploded from there. And I kind of realized, well, I can actually use knitting in the same way that I do. You know, brush strokes and different ways of applying paint, I can actually just make the paint and manipulate it and stitch it down or do something with it. And yeah, the more I do it, the more I do the more ideas or come up with and sometimes my head is just like swimming with ideas. I get really anxious because I don't know if I'm gonna get time to do it all because, you know, that's the exciting thing about knitting, sewing, and especially crochet too. It's only a couple of stitches. But the different ways that you can combine those stitches with different materials and different ways of like different combinations, you end up with so many different kinds of results. So it's exciting. And yeah, it just kind of it just kind of unraveled. And, like a very natural process. It just kind of kept expanding. From there. Yeah, really,
that's really awesome story.
And I think that's the thing about, that's the thing that I'm really grateful for being in that studio at that time. Because, you know, if it hadn't have been for someone walking past and looking at and going, yeah, that's pretty cool. Maybe you should see what happens if you finish it. Like just that little bit of encouragement from a friend, it was like, Yeah, okay, maybe this is worth thinking about. And, you know, the same friend was really amazing, too. I credit him with encouraging me when I had my exhibition, my first solo after that, will not my first solo but my first solo for a number of years, he sort of said to me, you know, the back is the back of that piece is really cool. Maybe you should think about hanging it so people can see the back as well. And that's, that was another really important part of developing my practice as well.
He sounds like a pretty useful bloke to have around.
I think, yeah, he's he's very generous person. And I think that's also one of the virtues and one of the great advantages of being in a studio with other people working around you. Because sometimes, you can give each other that sort of feedback, or, you know, just the comment of someone walking past is enough to make you think twice about, yeah, actually, maybe I won't throw that in the bin, you know, maybe that is worth spending some more time on. And that's been that's been incredibly valuable to me. So I'm very, I'll always be grateful for that.
So you've done also yarn bombing, create, whatever, you're gonna make your knitting or crocheting, and then you go and put it out on structures in the town, or in the city? Yes, yes,
I have. And I've had a lot of fun doing that, with a group of friends. We haven't done anything for a while, that tried to make something happen just after COVID. But it kind of fell through. That's a whole other story. But yeah, that's something that I got an enormous kick out of, I have to say, because it's different. It's a bit different now. But originally, the idea was, you make something and you attach it to a public structure somewhere, but you have to do it without being caught and without anyone seeing you because it's kind of illegal. So it's kind of like, yeah, hardcore ladies hit the town. You know, so much fun. The first time the first tag I ever did was just like, this crochet length of bright blue fabric, kind of like a scarf. And I went down one of the alleyways, just for Rundle Street, and my heart was beating. So it's in the middle of the day, and I was like, whipped it on around this pole, stitching it as fast as I could. And my heart was beating so loud, it was roaring you might use skipped off down the street afterwards on such a high. It was just, it was just this simple little band of blue, but it was like yes, I have done this really cool. Outlaw thing. Yeah, that was enormously fun. And then after that, we're just, you know, I kind of need some bow ties, and I attach these bow ties on to, you know, sculptures of people's heads and stuff down North terrorists and things and in the Botanic Gardens. But the really the really cool thing was, many years ago, I can't remember exactly what year it was. But there was this sort of like a street art festival thing that was happening. A former student of mine, Peter Drew, who's now done lots of lots and lots of other things. He was organizing groups of people to paint and, you know, sort of decorate, mini skips. And so I can't I can't remember exactly where I found out about it. I think it might have been a Facebook page or something like that. There was an idea to cover it with knitting like the st. yarn bombing stuff. So I kind of just went on my own. I had no idea I didn't had I didn't know anyone who was going to this thing. I just happened to meet this bunch of gorgeous women. Very different ages, very different backgrounds, and they're all just making these squares to cover this dumpster. It was so much fun and we just got along so well and so we kind of over a period of time. found ourselves in a group that we decided to call a play on the sly. It was enormous fun. We've done so many projects we did. You know, there was a festival coId called, boy you street art festival. There was a whole exhibition in the Festival Theatre. There are a couple of bank sees and other bits and pieces in there and we were asked to cover, I think are called the Mellie tree poles outside. That's like an installation. I'm not sure if it's still there. But we covered these big long poles with, you know, different lengths of fabric and attached insects and flowers and stuff to it. That was so much fun. But one of my favorite projects was a nano nano reckless Julie Collins and I went made a dress for the statue of Queen Victoria. And we had it installed by the Adelaide City Council at like, two o'clock in the morning. They had, they had cherry pickers and council workers attaching this big knitted dress with cable ties to the statue of Queen Victoria. And it was it was so much fun. And it was part like it was around Christmas time. So it was when the whole square was decorated with different things. And just going along, to see that in the middle of the day. And seeing all these people walking past it stopping looking and taking photos of this thing that you'd made. It was just so much fun, because, you know, you're just sort of like sitting there watching everybody else getting so much joy out of this thing that we just did. Yeah, it was it was it was a lot of fun. It was so much fun. Yeah, we did a lot of stuff like that. We've done stuff for Matthew Flinders and Douglas Mawson, one of my friends met him at balaclava. We've done things for the Robert Burns statue at the front of the State Library. Yeah, things like that. There's been lots of stuff that the group has done, and it's just been wonderful. Yes, we haven't doing that. We're still within the group doing stuff now. Um, well, we were going to do a project for Christmas last year, back in November. And
I didn't know how to say in a short way, because I don't want to sort of I don't want to sound negative. But we were asked to do a project. And then the street that we were asked to do it on. People on the the people in the street like the business owners decided no, we don't want that. And that was really, that was really sad. And I found that really upsetting because for some of the people in the group that hadn't actually been able to work on anything, as a group or for themselves for a long time, there was a one mom in there, I know that she was, you know, it was really important to her to get together and to do this thing, because she hadn't done anything for herself for a really long time. And so all of a sudden, we had this thing that was really exciting. And we were we were so excited about getting back together and doing something and it was just taken away because of mismanagement and miscommunication. You know, like the person who was organizing the thing and had asked us to do it hadn't spoken to the business owners properly. So all of a sudden, she just sort of like sent me an email one day and said, You know what, sorry, they just don't want you here anymore. And it was devastating. Actually. It was really, it was really sad. Like, I was fine with it, because I had my own stuff to go with. But as I was saying some of some of the group members hadn't hadn't been doing their own thing for a long time. And it was very important to them that we were doing it. And yeah, all of a sudden, it just wasn't there. So yeah, we do we need to get back together and do something because I think, you know, we just had so much fun together. There's no reason that we haven't done anything for a while. I think it's just like the whole COVID thing and people being busy and life getting in the way. So I think yeah, we just we just need to do it. We just, we just really need to Yeah, you know, put a date in the diary and get together and do it. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's so much fun. And we do we all work together so well. We just have very different lives in very different directions. And I think that's that's the only thing that kind of makes it a bit tricky sometimes.
Yeah, yeah. When you were talking about when you put your pieces up, and then you see people their reaction to that. I get so much joy and I it almost it always makes me feel like a little child even reminds me of like Easter time when when I was a kid and you'd be looking for your Easter eggs and you find them hidden in the garden and that amazing feeling of finding things. That's how I feel when I see people's creations all around the place. I just love it. It's such a beautiful
I love it too, because you, I think the reason that I love it so much is because, you know, it is that generosity and that sharing and the joy. But it's also like, it kind of feels a little bit naughty or a little bit not naughty, but like a little bit. You know, people, people being creative outside of the prescribed conventional spaces of institutions and galleries and high end things, it's kind of making things accessible. And it's also like the random accidental thing of finding stuff as well as it's kind of, you know, I'm gonna make this thing and I'm going to put it out there because I can, I'm not going to ask anybody's permission to do it, not going to apply to do it. I'm just going to do it. And I love I love that. It's so it's so much fun. And it's, you know, of course, it's always with the best intentions, but it's also a little bit, you know, it's very empowering actually think it's really empowering. I know it is for me.
Yeah, I think it's incredibly generous to because you're not, you're not creating it with any sort of expectation of, I mean, you aren't getting something back. But like, you know, it's not a monetary gain, you're doing it because you love it. And because you know, you're going to bring joy to paper, I think that's just beautiful.
I wanted to utilize your expertise as an art historian throughout this discussion, could you just let us know first what the era or the period that you are really drawn to with your art history.
So my area of expertise is the 18th century. So that's, that's what I know most, the deepest part of my knowledge and research has always has been the 18th century. Insane. I'm really fascinated and have a really solid understanding of the 20th century as well, because I've studied that in depth too. But also, of course, I'm interested in contemporary art, art of the art that is being made now and the very recent past to and I'm kind of, I don't know, I think researchers, like artists, they develop their interests and their ideas in lots of different directions at the moment and kind of looking more things like iconoclasm as well, which kind of stretches across all periods really iconoclasm for for those who don't know, is the destruction or accidental or intentional of artworks, or buildings and monuments and things like that, too. Yeah.
So what drew you to that? It's the 1700s, isn't it? If it's the 18th century, so how it works?
Yeah. No, that's cool. And to make things even more confusing, people have different definitions around time periods as well, that so for, for the 18th century, we used to say, oh, you know, that's 1700 to 1800. But the truth is, most people now call it like, referred to that period as the long 18th century. So it's sort of like, T straddles the late 70s, sort of like 1685 1690, through to about 1820. And people kind of debate those precise use, but it does kind of overlap, centuries, either side
is 70. Is that because of the work? Was it was the era of that art in that time? Or is that just how historians talk about time periods?
It's more around world events and things like that as well. It's not it's not a facade. I mean, the hard thing with art history, whatever period you're looking at, it's, we kind of like to think in nice sort of compartmentalized boxes with nice start and finish points. But the truth is, is that things just overlap. And, and there's not like one linear narrative or style or thing that's happening. There's lots of different things that are happening all at the same time. And we're only really starting to do a better job at recognizing that now. There's multiple histories, and multiple styles and things happening all at the same time. So really history. It's not like this one linear thing. It's like a big spiderweb of, you know, and it's really messy. And that's, that's the thing that makes it really interesting and dynamic, but we're not very good at thinking about things that way. We insist on putting things in nice, neat little categories and everything has to have a neat timeframe. Like it can't be like 1521 to 1673 because that just doesn't feel neat and contained for us. We have this need to contain things, which is crazy because that's not how time Her explore life. I must point out and acknowledge though that that's a very Western way of thinking, like, I'm sure like, I don't have the understanding to talk about this at length, but you know, other cultures and other strange other philosophies or other systems of doing things, think about things in very different ways. So what I'm referring to is, it's a Western perspective. It's not, it doesn't account for everybody,
for sure. So within that time period, that long 18th century, what, what drew you to that era, I suppose, like how, why, why that period for you?
This goes back to art school. My practice is very, very different to the 18th century, I my my own art practice is radically different. But the reason I was drawn to that is because when we went to when I was in art school, we had to do art history and theory. And we had this lecture in first year, who was very handsome and very charismatic. And everybody hung on every word, he said. And so we went to every lecture thinking, these lectures are amazing, and they're brilliant. And I was one of the fans. I thought he was wonderful. But there was one subject that he did. And it was kind of, I think it was called, like the history of Western art, or something like this. And he started with the caves of Lascaux. And he kind of worked his way through lecture, lecture, the lecture going through the history of Western art. And I remember this one day, he, I can't remember the name of the lecture, but he did the 18th century in one slide. Like I just like, I just have to pause there, because it still blows my mind. It totally blew me away, like, you'd gone. You know, one lecture might have been on surrealism and data, like an entire one hour lecture on surrealism and data, which is a movement in 19, the 1920s, like, you know, a response to the wars and things quite, it's quite a complex movement. But the 18th century, he kind of did this thing where he put up an image by a painter called fraggin, ah, he did a painting called the swing, a put this, this slide up, and I was fresh out of arts, I mean, fresh out of high school, too. So I was very young, I really didn't know very much. And he just put this slide up, and everyone erupted into laughter. And he said, this is like, the 18th century chocolate box fluff and nonsense. That's it. See later, let's jump into the 19th century. And I was just kind of like, I remember sitting there thinking, Why does everybody think this is funny? And why does he just wipe out an entire century with one slide, like, to me, I was like, I had no interest in painting that way, I had no interest in that style from my own work at all. But looking at that painting, I thought, wow, this is actually really, really skilled work. It's really complex. There's all these things happening in that picture. I don't understand what it is. But there's a lot more to this thing. I was just intrigued, absolutely intrigued. And then, you know, I also saw films like Amadeus, and, you know, all the all the period movies and stuff, and I just kind of developed this love for, you know, the 18th and 19th centuries. And then, when I went to study art history, I did four subjects and kept going and, you know, the my love for the 18th century grew. And I was kind of when I came to do my masters. I was like, do I do my Masters on Australian abstraction? Or do I do it on the 18th century, and then I went 18th century because I feel like I know and understand a lot about abstraction, but don't really understand the 18th century enough. So that's what took me that way. And I think it's also because images of that period of very complex nerve, very rich and iconography, which is, you know, the study of signs and symbols to kind of untangle what a pitcher is telling us. And I think that kind of tapped into my love for detective novels, and Agatha Christie and solving the clues. So I think that's what drew me in the most was just, you know, again, fun, lots of fun. And, you know, that period is fascinating, because, so, so much is happening in a very, very short timeframe. When you think about it, so much stuff for life is radically changing. And we've, we've inherited so much of that, you know, bad things as well as good things
in within that period of time. There were lots of different movements, or was it the same? Yeah.
Yeah. So I'll just very, very quickly tell you that the difference between the 20th century In the age of the long, 18th century, the long 18th century is kind of broken up into three major styles you could argue maybe for. But the 20th century is a very rapid succession of multiple movements. So there's lots of movements all throughout the century, and some of those overlap as well. So, you know, I'd have to sit down and write them down and can't off the top of my head, but lots and lots of movements happening very quickly. So some movements might kind of, you know, be defined by a naysayer decade, but and they resurface and influence other artists as well. So there's lots of overlap. And there's just lots of stuff happening. The 18th century is a century that has been neglected in research and scholarship until up until about the last 10 or 20 years, you know, people just didn't take it very seriously. So there's still a little bit of debate and a little bit like there's a lot of work to be done still. The start of the period, some people refer to as late Baroque, but it's really the Rococo, which is that the very highly decorative style, and then the, from the Rococo, we move into neoclassicism, which is, you know, the more classical austere kind of painting where it's all about heroic virtue, and those kinds of things leading up to the revolution. And then, around the time, like after the revolution, you have a movement called romanticism, which kind of spills over into the 19th century. And that's where you have artists like Turner doing those beautiful images of shipwrecks and storms and things like that. So we're going back to nature and the the power of nature and the sublime and those kinds of things. So it's really like, three year three movements in one century, and they do overlap in some of those artists. So for example, some of the, the artists working the Rococo style, kind of they also, you know, depending on when they were born, and who they were working for, they do kind of creep into the other styles as well. So some of the new classical artists move into romanticism, some of them don't, some of the Rococo artists move into neoclassicism, it really depends on where they are.
And I guess that that notion of things have to have a start and finish, it just doesn't work like that things are all overlapping. And,
yeah. And it's really formed and shaped by what's happening in the political and social cultural context as well, like, you know, so the easy thing there is like the the revolution, the French Revolution had an enormous impact on artists. So you do see a lot of things happening in the artwork that, you know, as what an art historian does is we look at works that are made in different time periods, and try and understand them in the context that they were made in as well. And that helps us understand what people were concerned by what people were thinking and how lives were lived at that period. Art historians tend to specialize. Like, for example, I specialize in the 18th century, but also look at contemporary art. Also look at modern art, sometimes I look a little bit at the 17th from the 19th. But I couldn't tell you very much about the Byzantine period, for example, there's just so much stuff out there. Art historians, we don't memorize dates and titles of paintings and things because that's connoisseurship. What we do is we look at objects and images as primary sources of material that can tell us it's kind of it's like detective work, you know, historians look at letters and documents and things and to tell the story of a person or what's happening in a period of time. And that's what we're doing with objects and images, where, you know, we're talking about the history of the work and the artist itself, but we're also recognizing it, doesn't it? Nothing is made in a vacuum, like, you know, artists are working in all different kinds of circumstances and political climates. And it really does shape what's being made. And not just visual art, but music and literature as well. Yeah. I mean, I've given very, very short, brief overviews of things. I've felt I have simplified things a lot. But I think, like, for example, when I when I say, you know, that 18th century has been a period that hasn't been as loved up until now, it's very different now. But when I started doing my Masters, people were still dismissing the Rococo, which is like the earliest period of the 18th century, there was some really groundbreaking research happening and the art historian is really fighting for the for that area of the discipline to be taken seriously, and they've done amazing work since but I think, you know, art history, it's like any other discipline, I guess, you know, it is susceptible to fashion you know, sometimes it It's hard to, you know, study an Australian colonial art, you know, I don't know, like it does go through fashion. But I think the 18th century really was quite overlooked. I'm not sure about the other disciplines, but definitely in art history, it was overlooked and not taken very seriously for a long time.
That's his, like you said there was so much happening at that time, there was so much going on, and so much changing. And then it's like, oh, we're not actually going to write it. You know what I mean?
Well, I can, again, I'll give you a very short answer for that, um, things like neoclassicism and romanticism, which happens later in the century were studied and taken more seriously. Like I, you know, I, like I was saying I did sort of condense what I was saying, and I simplified it a lot. They were taken seriously, much more seriously, for a long time than the first part of the century, which is that period that I refer to, or everyone refers to as the Rococo. And that is, because when we look at and this is, this is why that slide that I mentioned, was laughed at. Because it is so pretty, it is so feminine, it is so over the top decorative, it's ostentatious, it's, you know, it's just the height of frivolous for some people. And, you know, people kind of look at that, and the thing Oh, that's so ridiculously chocolate box, which is exactly what the lecturer said, like, there's, it's all feminine, decorative nonsense, there's no substance to it. And in that period of time, you know, women were powerful patrons, and they were really helping to shape fashion. And so, you know, sadly, because there were so many women involved, it was denigrated as fluff and nonsense, and it's totally not, like, once you start researching and looking at those images properly, and like looking at the culture in the social context of the period, it was enormously sophisticated and very, very progressive. Um, but, you know, historic later historians, you know, sort of later, later, from the 19th century, in particular, kind of looked back on that time and said, Oh, it's, it's all just feminine. You know, let's look at the stuff that's much more serious. And, you know, much more interesting, because, you know, it's about war. You know, the forces of nature and exploration and things, which is, of course, fascinating. But that's, that's really why people didn't take the early period of the 18th century. Seriously, for a long time. Yeah, because it was too feminine. Isn't that lovely? Yeah, it's just about flowers and puppies, you know, but there's a lot there's so much more. That's hilarious. Yeah, and it's a very simplistic view, because, of course, they're really looking at, you know, paintings and fashion and things. But, you know, the Rococo, you have to look at what was happening in, you know, maths and architecture, like there is that period of the Rococo period, and that style, that movement informed mathematics. I don't understand how that is, but it does. I'm not a mathematician, but I have read that it informed architecture and garden design and, you know, philosophy. It's incredibly rich period, the artists were talking to, you know, writers and philosophers and musicians, they were all generating and exchanging ideas and these really amazing communities.
Yeah, like you said, before the community having people together, and yeah, bouncing ideas off of each other.
So we briefly briefly touched on the involvement of women in that era, during that time were women painting, or were they more, like you said, the patrons of that era.
So this is really this is really, really interesting. So both in that period of time, you know, the, I'm trying to think of how to make this a short story, not a very long one. So, in that period of time, women, I've got to be careful how I say this, because I'm not saying women were completely liberated from, you know, systems of patriarchal oppression because they certainly weren't. But women with money and power became very influential patrons. So one patron in particular, I'll give you one example Madame de Pompadour or was the king's favorite. She was a woman from a middle class background, she worked her way up. And she became a very, very influential patron of the arts. And she was a very good friend to artists and philosophers, musicians, scientists, she was an intellectual woman. And she held her own salons. And she, yeah, she patronized, you know, she, she commissioned artists to, and not just visual artists, but all kinds of artists to make work for her. And so that kind of patronage was really, really important to artists, you know, in sustaining their careers and their incomes, but also in shaping the visual culture of the time as well. And so yes, women with money and power and privilege, were definitely heavily involved in shaping the visual culture. For artists, female artists, this is where it gets a little bit tricky. There were some really, and I'll use the word exceptional. And some some art historians do use that term, too. There were exceptional art, women artists who had the support to train in, you know, studios that have their brothers or their fathers, for example. And at that time, women weren't allowed to go into the academies, except for a couple of women that we call the exceptional women. So for example, Angelica Kauffman, and Elizabeth Vichy LeBron, were two examples of female artists who worked in like they entered, they were permitted entry into the French Academy. And they became very successful artists. And they worked for the crown. And for example, LeBron and Kaufman, they worked for the Queen's at the time as well, for Marie Antoinette. And so they were very good friends of very powerful people. But that was quite rare. It wasn't, it wasn't as common. It was, it was much. No, I think, I think the thing about being a woman artists at that time was, you know, you really needed to have the support of men around you, like you needed to, you know, have, especially early in your life, because you sort of started training, as a child, or as a very young adult, you really needed to have access to a studio. And that was really out of the reach for females, unless you had a brother or a father, you might have been helping them make their work in the studio and have access to materials, someone might look at what you were doing, and say that's really, that's really great, we're going to try and get you some teaching, they might go and work with another artist and you know, gain some more skills. But the process is much more difficult for a female to become a professional academic painter. There were also other artists who, and this is where it gets. Again, I don't I don't want to go on and on too much, because it's not an art history lesson. But there were other artists who worked in pastels, for example, they didn't do the traditional academic painting, they use pastels to make beautiful images of flowers and portraits and things. And some of those women were working very independent of the academy. And that's how they sort of sustained their practice. But they weren't considered professional in the same way that the
members of the academy and the painters to the Crown were. So you had different groups, I guess the thing was, gaining entry into the academy was that you had to, you had to sort of like, do a whole heap of training and learning first, but then to enter into the academy, you had to paint what they what we call an academy reception piece. So it was always like it had to be a grand painting. With a mythological or historical subject matter. It couldn't be a portrait or a landscape. It had to be like a religious work or something like that. And then that was judged and if that was good enough, then they could enter into the academy. But when I shouldn't say too, when I say exceptional for the women, it wasn't just that they were exceptionally talented or exceptionally good. What I mean by that is that women like Angelica Kauffman, for example, she she was very successful. She was an independent professional artist. She was considered exceptional, not just because of her talent, but the fact that she was a woman. You know, it's like, women aren't really supposed to be good at these things. Women are, you know, the too imaginative. They're too irrational and emotional to be doing work. In the same capacity as men, right? Well, because because she's a woman, she's exceptional. And it's a heartbreaking thing to say like, and I still I find that really difficult because you know, in that period women, like Pompadour, for example, she was the king's favorite she was a powerful patron she was an intellectual she, she was also a printmaker, she was doing all these amazing things. She was, she was, of course, very, very powerful and privileged because of the position she was in. But she was also someone who came from a middle class background and worked her way up. But these, these women were standout figures. And we we call them exceptional, because that's not that's not the normal life of a woman in that period like that they are elite women. And even even when you do have privilege behind you, you're still you still have to go the extra mile to, you know, advance yourself and to prove your capacity more than your male counterparts. Do, you know, you have to work harder to get there and to keep that position. As you it's really, because men and women were considered to be completely opposite, like men were the rational creatures capable of higher thinking and academic pursuit and women were nurturers and mothers and imaginative creatures prone to hysteria, things like that. Let's see exactly how they spoke about them. You know, women, women had the creative impulse, but they're also too imaginative and emotional to sort of harness those qualities into our interior rational way to make something more, more worthy of the academy, for example, I don't really know how to explain it. It's, yeah, they couldn't harness all of that stuff that creative people have, in a way that was balanced and reasoned enough to achieve, you know, a great work of art. Yes, it's
like the eyes of men.
Yeah, in the eyes of men. And so that's an even in art criticism, like, we do have documents where art critics are saying, oh, you know, this particular artists would be much better, you know, doing their paper flower cutouts, because they were looking at crafting. And this is where our denigration of craft comes from, too. That's associated with the feminine stuff. So they're kind of I don't know, you're not really good enough to be a professional painter, just go into your crafty stuff instead, you know, is that hierarchy? It's very gendered? Yeah. I think that we are getting better at that. But I think that kind of does still persist, sometimes.
So these women that you talk about that went to the academy, where they mothers as well.
This is where I'm not, I don't know a lot about their biography. I know that LeBron had one daughter, and I think her name was Xian. And she actually appears in lots of her portraits. I don't know their story very well, I think. I think this little girl was in lots of portraits. And so she would have been very close to her mother at that time. But for some reason, I think, later in life, their relationship kind of disintegrated. I'm not really sure why. But you know, she was her mother was painting her, so she was subject matter. And there are, of course, other artists, especially in the 20th century, who have used and postmodern period as well, who have used their children as part of their artworks. Yeah.
Is that something I'm really interested in? Is that that this challenge between their work and their role as a mother, is that something that women artists have faced in the past? I mean, I'm sure that it can you say you can you say it in the work? Or does it come out in the work or is it? Is it something that you've you can research? That makes sense?
There's the Oh, wow. It's like, you know, there's so many different ways of being an artist, and there's so many different ways of being a woman in so many different ways of being a mother. So I think, like, for example, Barbara Hepworth, I'm just pulling out examples as I think of them. Barbara Hepworth was a sculptor and her work is quite abstract, but I know that she, she really considered being a mother integral to her practice. I don't know a lot about her work, but I know that she did consider her children to be as, like very influential on her like she loved being a mother and she thought that was really important to her practice, but also know that there are lots of artists like feminist artists who would have loved to have children but didn't have children because they knew having children would have a big, like a detrimental impact. on their career, so there are artists who have consciously made the choice not to have children. Louise Bush was another artist and nothing she had five children. She, again thrived on being a mother, I'm not sure how that shaped her practice for her. But there's another artists birth Maura, so an impressionist artist, and her daughter is, again, provide subject matter for her. We have lots of images where you see her daughter making an appearance. And I think she, I think her daughter was a model for other artists as well. So in, in lots of ways children have been subject matter for artists. In other ways, they've just, you know, I suppose, been around and provided their mums with energy. And, you know, I don't Yes, it's fair, it's very different for all artists, I think. I have friends who are mothers and artists now and I know, a couple of them motherhood is a very, like, it's a central theme in their practice. And their work is very specifically about motherhood and about their children. So I think I kind of get the sense that it's easier to make that kind of artwork now than it has been, like in the early modern period, for example. Yeah, the other thing I wanted to say, too, is just going back to the early modern period, there's lots of artists. This is another thing that's really sad. There's lots of other artists who are very, very good painters, but a lot of their work has been lost or destroyed. So a lot of their work we just don't even know, we don't have record of and there are other artists working in the Baroque and Renaissance periods, for example, where their workers that we were starting to learn now their work has been mis attributed to male artists. Ah, so there's a lot of stuff we just don't know yet. Hopefully, we do uncover more. But, you know, there are other artists who are very prolific, and then they have children, and, you know, their career finishes, or slows down, or some artists have been fortunate enough to have husbands who were very, very supportive and have nurtured their careers, other artists. I can't remember her name. Now. I read this in passing the other day. She was a composer. She was forbidden to practice by her husband when she had children. So she just stopped. And I think I'm trying to think of her name. It's just escaped me, which is really terrible. She was associated with the Bauhaus artist. So I think what happened with her is she stopped practicing. But it took over a period of years, it took her an enormous toll on her health and well being. And for some reason, I think her husband was convinced, actually, no, you need to let her do her work again. And so she did do some work before she died. But she lost a lot of time. Yeah. Well, that's what her name was. I have, I'll have to go back through the book that I was reading the other day and find her name for you if you're interested. Because she's Yeah, composer. I think her husband, I'm not sure if he was an artist, but he was definitely associated with the Bauhaus school, which is designers and artists in Germany. Yeah, I don't. It's just something that I came across the other day. I don't know very much about that about her. But that just kind of really struck me. Yeah. Yeah. terribly sad. So I think there's a lot more we could we could say, but it hasn't been written and recorded or research yet or hasn't been found yet or it's been raised. Yeah.
In terms of your identity, as a mother, I asked my guests this question about, I do the air quotes, is it important to you to be more than just a mom and I say just a mom, because I know that's not a correct statement? Is it important for you to keep that identity and not become mum? Just mum?
Absolutely. Um, for me, it's vital. And I think, again, as I was saying earlier, I think that's a really big part of my mental health. You know, being an artist, I guess is at the core of my identity. And I think it always has been, but also in terms of my children looking at me, I think, you know, it's important for both of them, not just my daughter, but for my son to to see that, you know, women, even in their roles as mothers and nurtures they're multifaceted multi dimensional beings and, you know, we have our own interest, not just career or art was have our own likes and dislikes and responses to things, we have our own feelings around stuff. You know, things impact us as much as they impact someone else would we hold everything together, but we need to be looked after as well. And sometimes we need to look after ourselves. And you know, that's critical. It's absolutely critical. And, you know, one day, we're not going to be doing the, the, the intense hands on mothering where our children are so dependent on us, they're going to go and live their own lives. And, you know, they need to, they need to acknowledge that we have our own lives going on as well. And we need to acknowledge that we need to take that we need to hold on to that. Because otherwise, you know, there's so much I think there's so much potential loss, if you don't, hold on, hold on to something for yourself. And I can't imagine what that would be like. Yeah, and I also feel like, as a, as a mother, myself, I never wanted to be that authoritarian, just just mum kind of person, I want it to be a friend, I want it to be someone that they would, you know, feel comfortable coming to want to have around later on in life. And they're doing their own thing, too. You know, I don't want to just be the mum who does everything for everybody. I want to be the person who is counted on as a friend as well. Yeah, I think, yeah, I think it's motherhood Being a mother is a multi dimensional thing. It's not just you do the shopping and the cooking and the cleaning, taking the kids to school, changing the nappies. It's much more than that. Like, there's, there's a whole unique, amazing individual underneath all of that. And that person still needs to live. Like, you know, and they need to, they need to thrive like everybody else does.
Yeah, it's important, obviously, important to you, for your children to say that in you to recognize Yeah,
yeah. Because otherwise, they're not getting the best of me. And I know, of course, there are days, they're not getting the best of me because I'm tired and worn out. And I haven't given myself enough time or something. But that's my responsibility. Right? Like, you know, I can't, I was saying to my cousin who's a single father the other day, he's really struggling, being a single dad in lockdown sometimes. And I said to him, like, if you don't, if you don't put self care at the top of your list, you can not be the best dad for your child. Long term. You can't sustain it like, you do have to look after yourself. Yeah, whatever. And that looks different for everybody. Yeah, no, but
let's see. Yeah, absolutely.
I really value the stay at home mum, as well, as much as I do the working mom, you know, I think we've got to be careful of, not sort of, I worry sometimes that we diminish the role that mums have if they choose to opt out of a career because they want to stay at home. I think that's a really powerful, meaningful, valuable thing to do. I think that's incredible. I know that I'm not capable of that. But also know that mums who are doing that, even if they're not working in a job that's paid and acknowledged, it's more important for them to maintain a sense of their identity, because, you know, otherwise, there's a danger of losing themselves in that. And then when their kids leave, like I was saying, what's left, you know, they need to have something that's just for them for themselves. Do you know what being a mum is? bloody difficult. It's probably one of the hardest jobs in the whole world. It is the hardest job in the whole world. For lots of different reasons. I think like it's, it's incredibly tough. And I think yeah, like I was saying, I think doing the stay at home mom thing is the toughest gig of all and I know that I'm not capable of that. I have an immense admiration for people who are doing that. They deserve everything, they deserve all the credit and they deserve that timeout and they deserve being looked after and acknowledged and honored and supported and I worry that they don't get that enough. I worry that even as women we don't give them that enough
so I guess then that sort of leads me into the the concept of mum guilt.
I think after you know, after the podcast that you're doing, I think you're becoming the expert on this. So I would love to know what you think on that. I think you know what I think I know that I've definitely suffered mother guilt for a different reason. There's a couple of strands of thinking here that I've got. So I think the whole thing with mum do I think, is reflective of a deeply patriarchal society that we live in. And what I'm going to say is I don't think that it's, and I'm trying to be careful about how I word this. I don't think it's necessarily men who are telling us to feel guilty. I feel like we're doing that to each other. I feel like I'll give you an example of this. When I, when I had my children, I was super, super lucky. I was able to breastfeed really easily, like I had absolutely no problem, I loved it. And it was, it was just like, falling away, oh, when my cousin had a child, not long after, and she found it incredibly difficult to breastfeed. She tried everything she could think of. And she was in agony. And I don't really know the particulars, but I know she really, she gave it a good crack. And she ended up having her her baby bottle fed and this nose. So this is like 18 years ago, too. It's not like yesterday. So I need to say things are changing. But, you know, the pressure and the judgment and the criticism that she got for that choice came from other women. And she really struggled with that guilt for a long time of like, I can't feed my child, the way everyone's telling me I should be. I'm not a good mom. And I'm like that, that is, to me, one of the most damaging things that we can do, is judging each other and not supporting each other. I think living in a patriarchal society means that if you're socialized as a heteronormative, woman, or girl, you're also taught that we're in competition with each other in lots of different ways. And I think that comes out in motherhood too. Like, if your child isn't sleeping all the way through at six weeks, you're doing something wrong. If you take a day home by yourself, and you're not working, you're doing something wrong. If you can't breastfeed, you're doing something wrong. If you don't give birth, naturally, you're doing something wrong. So I think I really feel like certainly for me, that's where a lot of guilt initially came from. I don't really do that anymore. Like, sometimes I kind of struggle with putting myself first like I bang on about that all the time. But I'm not always very good at doing that. But you know, my guilt, or my shame, I shouldn't say shame came from experiencing postnatal depression with my son. You know, I felt such shame for that. Because I really, at that time, I don't believe it anymore. But at that time, I really felt like I wasn't a good mom. And you know, and I think the other thing is, it's not always what we say to women is what we don't say to women, you know, we at that time, I know it's different. Now, I know it's changing. But at that time, people weren't really talking about postnatal depression, and I was terrified. I thought, you know, what, if I tell my doctor that something's not right, I think they might say that I don't deserve to have my child. Like, you know, I was honestly I was, I was petrified. And then, when things kind of settled down for me, and I was on medication, I just had that overwhelming shame. Like, I'm not good enough. I'm not doing I'm not doing a good enough job. Like, I'm not as amazing as that lady over there with her five kids is, you know, like, was so in love with this little baby, but I couldn't get it right. And something was wrong, and I couldn't understand it. So I think, yeah, I think that's the closest that I've really had to that full on mom guilt. And I just kind of feel like, we need to do more as women to encourage and support each other. But talk about and this is why I think your podcast is so amazing. We need to share all the crap stuff because there's so much crap stuff. And I'm sorry, being a mom is amazing. And it's an honor, it's a privilege, but there is so much crap in it. There's so much stuff that there's so much stuff that hurts there's so much stuff that's ugly and demoralizing and upsetting. And so many so many things that
other people just don't understand. But you know, we need to at least acknowledge it and we need to, we need to tell our own children. You know what? Childbirth isn't easy. And it's okay, if you feel like shit after you've had your child like it's okay. Like all of these things are okay. And it's normal and a million other people are doing it too. Because it's so and you know, like I I learned so much from that experience, and I think it's, it's certainly taught me things so that hopefully I can be a much more empathetic ache mother friend, whoever I need to be for someone else, you might go through that. But, you know, like, there's so much unnecessary suffering and all that. It's, I don't know, I just kind of remember how confusing it all was too, because I desperately wanted my son like, he was a baby I literally prayed for, like, you know, I wasn't interested in becoming a mother for the longest time. And all of a sudden, I desperately wanted and wanted to have this baby. And he didn't come for a while. And then when he did come, and then I had him and I was looking at his eyes, I was absolutely honestly, had never felt such love. But at the same time, I was petrified out of my mind. And I was really sad and anxious. I felt like oh, my God, I've, I'm going to break this thing, I'm going to do something wrong. And then the more I plummeted into that, anxiety and depression, I thought, if I say anything to anybody, they're gonna take my baby. Like, though, in the very, very early days before I told my doctor, I thought someone's going to take him away from me. And I think that's why I didn't say anything. Of course, I didn't want to be judged. I did talk to my parents about it. I talked to, you know, my son's grand grandmother about it as well, very early on. And they're the ones who actually kind of steered me over to the doctor to get some medication. Thank goodness, because I wasn't in a very good way. So and, you know, that, yeah, it takes a really long time to get your head around that and a really long time to, to say those words. But there's so important. And I think this is another reason why I think your podcast is so immensely valuable, because I think if someone had just said to me, 18 years ago, it will be okay. And you were going to do great. And you're going to do all these other things, too. I think they would have made a big difference. And you're not a bad mom, and you're an amazing Mum, you just need a little bit of support like everyone does. So yeah, thank goodness, I think I think things are changing. I think we are starting to talk about mental mental health in the mainstream. Much more than we did, but yeah, geez. First time mother. That's crippling. It's really crippling. But again, I think, you know, I think there's a, there's a, there's a real depth of knowledge and wisdom that comes from that experience two things.
I didn't have postnatal depression with my daughter at all. I had the postnatal depression with my son. And that was a very traumatic birth. And I think, yeah, maybe it was a PTSD thing. The I think the reason maybe I didn't have postnatal depression with my daughter is because I said, I'm not doing that. Again, I'm having this as Aryan thanks. Because, you know, I sustained some injuries and things as well. And like that was that was quite an ordeal for me. And I think because I made that decision early that might have had a bit of an impact. But I remember with my son too, like, there were nights, but I just didn't sleep. And I think that's that's the thing, you know, that was a big thing. I just did not sleep and not not because he was a bad sleeper, but I literally couldn't sleep. And I remember one of the nurses who came to the house to check in on me and stuff. She said to me, oh, when you can't sleep, why don't you just use that time to do your painting? And I was just like, I can't because I literally was paralyzed. I felt sometimes like I was paralyzed. And yeah, that's a really hard space to be in and being creative. I couldn't read a book. Like I honestly couldn't read a book. So I think to create work when you're in that space is I think it's probably impossible. It's like you barely functioning. It's like having a shower was just like, wow, this big achievement. Yep, absolutely. When you say it now, it seems like so unreal. But well, the energy that that takes is incredible. Like, yeah, it's something that you just can't be understated how, how debilitating that is and how we really need to support people who are in that
I was gonna say I've always been very opinionated. And having that experience on these kinds of issues has made me even more opinionated and more vocal. And, you know, sometimes I get quite angry. And I think because it's like, yeah, I know what that's like. But you know, that to go back to that thing about the breastfeeding thing? Yeah, I had an awesome experience, I had an awesome pregnancy. But when I hear about someone who's not having that same experience, and who's really struggling and are being judged and criticized for become equally passionate about that, because I'm like, This is not okay. Like, you know, we need to be supportive of each other, especially women, we need to be supportive of each other, whatever our experiences and choices are, whether that's around motherhood, birth career, or not, whatever that looks like, whatever our choices are, we really need to, you know, support that. I think that's the most powerful thing we can do. That's interesting, by the way, that judgment?
Yeah, it's interesting. Why do we judge each other like that? Like, is it because Is it is it going back to Days of having to compete for the affections of men or something? So you put other women down? So it makes you look better? Like, is it? Why do we do?
I'm not, I'm not really I don't really know. But I have, I have read that in a patriarchal culture, like a Western patriarchal culture, women are socialized to be in competition with each other. And we are kind of socialized to think that there's limitations on resources and, you know, limitations on access to men and all of these kinds of crazy things. Like if you want to, you know, I mean, it goes back into history to like, you look way back into history, like it was really important to be engaged by a particular time in your life. And if you weren't engaged and married, it was a serious problem, you know, and so people, like, even if you watch Jane Austen Oh, yeah, there's always threads, you know, women are in competition with each other, because they want to get the best pick of the of the man to have them, you know, to validate who they are, as women and people in society, it's crazy. I think we've been doing that for a very long time. And not just not just around men, I think, you know, just as we frame ourselves as women in relation to each other and our positions in society, we might not think that consciously, but I think that's embedded in our collective consciousness or something somewhere, it's like, you know, a baby cries. And we have that no one says, When your baby cries, you have to do the thing you are compelled, like, your, your urge is to go out and check your baby, pick it, pick the baby up and do particular things. Because that's what you're built to do. And I think there are, I mean, we're animals, I think these things are so deeply embedded in our primal brain and our collective consciousness and all those things that I'm not familiar, like, I don't have enough knowledge on that. But I think that's got a big part to do with it. But I think we, you know, we're acknowledging it and talking about it. So hopefully, that's a really big step in starting to dismantle some of that stuff.
In all of the things that I've said, I should also, you know, definitely point out that in all the the competitiveness and things that we've been talking about, there are some amazing communities that you find that you do find for yourself, where you do get that support, and that friendship, which is absolute gold. And, you know, for me, I've found that with two, two women when my son went to kindy. So it took me took me a long time to find that, but, you know, I've maintained those friendships for the last 14 years now, and I always will, you know, it's incredible. What we've, you know, the friendship that we've given to each other this whole time, it's unconditional, you know, like, it's it. Yeah, it's really unconditional. So there is there is all of that richness and beauty there, too. But, yeah, I really like it, if that became the norm, like if that was the biggest story, and the other things that we that we've been discussing were, you know, rare incidents. We
can talk about, you know, what in history that used to happen,
and yeah, exactly. The you know, what you're saying now to about the competitiveness thing, I actually get such a thrill. I'm always so excited when I see anybody regardless of gender, or whether or not there a mum or dad. I get such a kick out of seeing people take their own initiative and do their own stuff and make their own things happen. And so, yeah, I'd like to tell you that You know that you're taking your own initiative to do this podcast. When I, when I first found out about it, I was so excited about it because I thought, wow, this is, this is something that you're doing. It's your own project because you care about it. And it's meaningful, and it's, you know, sustaining you, it's wonderful, but you're also giving such a gift to so many people. So well done. That is a fair, that's a very, very long way away from being competitive. That's, that's incredibly generous. And it's really wonderful to see.
Thank you. That's very kind of you.
Okay, it's exciting. It's wonderful. And and you know, what, it's actually a really brave thing to do to, to do a podcast and to share and, you know, to talk to people about all this kind of stuff.
I'm at the moment, I'm taking some time out to experiment and explore in my practice, because this year already I've had working for exhibitions. And I've been teaching and studying as well. So I'm sort of on a little bit of a, like, I've got little bits of paid work happening. But in terms of exhibitions and stuff for the rest of the year, I don't have anything on the go. At the moment, I'm just taking this time to play with ideas and materials in my studio,
and have a bit of a break to probably for exhibition.
Yeah, oh my gosh, though, they were amazing. But because of COVID, it meant that some exhibitions were pushed forward. And all it was all just in the timing. So, you know, three exhibitions, were pretty much back to back. And to two exhibitions that I had opened in the one week, that was pretty intense. It was pretty intense. And so it was kind of like, Yes, I need time to recover. I also need time to just play. Like, I just need to play with my materials. And I've already I've already got ideas for my next series of work, but I just want to explore the potential of different techniques and materials at the moment. Um, to kick that off, we then just take a bit of a breather
you know, Oh, tell you something really funny. I'll never forget this. When I was doing my PhD, I had to, I was doing full time study. And then I had to go down to part time and stuff. So my PhD took a little bit longer than I thought it would. And I remember my son said to me, one day, see that little girl walking around over there. And that was my daughter. He said, that's your PhD. Because I, when I was doing my PhD, six months in, I fell pregnant, I didn't realize that this was going to happen, fell pregnant, and I had my daughter and I'm still doing my PhD when she was like, three. You know, I kind of submitted not that long after but he was like, there's your PhD running around over there, mom, and I'm like, Oh, my God. Oh, my God. It was and it was quite startling, because you already knew like I was when he said that I was sort of like in the process of winding it all up. And you know, I was on the homestretch. But he was like, there she is. A PhD.
That is gone.
Yeah, it's like, making visible the the length that it has taken me to do this thing. Yeah.
And all the effort that you've put into here, rather than the PhD. It's just yeah. That is hilarious. Thank you very much, Melanie. It's been an absolute pleasure having you on. I've thoroughly enjoyed our chat and all the best with everything you've got coming up.
Thank you so much, Alison, and congratulations on a fantastic podcast and wish you all the best for the future in this fantastic project that you have. It's been really fun talking to you today. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you so much, Allison.