Q: Firstly, tell us about yourself!
A: I live in Eugene, Oregon and I am currently working on a variety of projects to include collage, painting, sculpture, and installation. I have difficulty with focus! I have four children; my oldest is 26, my youngest is 9 – he was a beautiful surprise.
Q: How do you continue to engage with your art practice alongside raising children? Do you have a dedicated studio space and routine, or do you work from home in between other things?
A: Despite the fact that my children are mostly older, I still am their mother and that means I have transformed from being their daily caretaker to a life coach, assistant financial planner, grief counselor, crisis interventionist and more. My youngest has forced me to start over at the age of 44. So, right when my oldest was finishing high school, I had a newborn. I have a stunning light-filled space in my present home just off my kitchen that I use as a studio, however it doesn’t allow me to create the large-scale works or be as messy as I prefer. In the past I have made larger sculptures in my driveway and garage and smaller works in my family room or in my classroom space at the school where I taught art. My hope is to build a studio on our property sometime, but that’s currently a dream. My husband has a demanding job and I often am parenting alone, so I have to be very intentional about my practice.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you and how much time do you manage to carve out for your own work?
A: I use almost 100% of my youngest son’s time at school for my art. I also need exercise to maintain sanity and so on good weeks I drop my son off at school and either exercise or begin work. I am a list maker and daydreamer at once, but fairly productive. Summers have been hard and in the middle of a great deal of guilt, I have had a nanny and solicited the distraction of camps for my son in order to keep my practice going. This fall, in my pursuit of an MFA, I will also schedule childcare for a few hours a week after school. However, I am also the coordinator for everything that is involved with managing our home and lives so there are definitely interruptions. I have deliberately made scheduling of these interruptions to occur on specific days of the week so that each week maintains a certain rhythm.
Q: Have you come up against specific challenges as an artist and mother? What were they and how have you navigated these challenges?
A; Probably my biggest challenge has been my upbringing and my marital partners’ (I am divorced and remarried) lack of understanding of the art world and therefore at times unintentional lack of support. While my parents supported me as an artist during my early schooling, I had immense pressure and expectation to be financially stable. I was not strong at ignoring this pressure. I have also experienced divorce, single parenthood, a five-year time period in my current marriage where my husband’s job necessitated he live in another state and I stay in the city where I shared custody with my ex-husband. Messy, yes. My practice has flourished and waned based on the presence of said support. It has been a grieving process of sorts to only now be truly heading toward goals I had established many years ago. I think life has a way of offering us pointers or guides and too often I had to ignore those in lieu of addressing immediate family needs.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
A: The best advice I have been given may sound cliché, but it is to listen to and follow your passion – listen and let the process lead you. I say this despite my not listening to it myself when I wish I had. Because I have held art making at bay for significant chunks of my life, I have so much stewing in my brain that I have to be deliberate about focus. At some point, I just started making – creating – and let concern for the results dissipate. I definitely do not want my children to lack support. I think life is the most fulfilling when we are doing what we are truly meant to do.
Q: Who are your role models? Who or what inspires and encourages you?
A: I have gathered a collection of artists whom I am currently using as mentors of sorts; there are several, but include Howardena Pindell, Tara Donovan, Lorna Simpson, Annegret Soltou, and Linden Eller. I am intrigued by their work for different reasons and I am motivated by the inspiration they provide through their work. I am also moved by nature and our human stories. The older I get the more taken I am with the natural world and the connection we can make with others, assuming we meet each other with grace.
Q: How has the experience of motherhood impacted your practice on an emotional/intellectual level? Has it made you view yourself/your work differently? Are there things that influence your work now that you didn't think about pre-kids?
A: Motherhood. It is everything to my practice in the sense of it defining such a part of who I am; yet it constantly impedes my art as well. My children’s joy is my joy. Their suffering is my suffering. And when they suffer I struggle to focus on my work. At the same time they are teachers and I have found that listening, having patience, and moving alongside their development stimulates my own intellectual development. I work differently mostly because of how I have to structure time. I can’t spend 12 hours or more straight in the studio working. I can’t get lost as easily. It is a balance of having one foot in one world and the other in a completely different world. But, my work after having children cannot be separated from them. I am influenced by how they see the world, how they inform and interrupt my world, and my art, in turn, is intrinsically tied to them.
Q: If your child(ren) were asked “Tell me about your mother” what do you hope they would say? Are there particular things you are trying to show/teach them as an artist, a mother, a woman?
A: My children, I believe, would tell you I cry easily, I am intense, I adore them, I listen, I am impatient, I am organized, I am creative, and I would do anything for them. In fact, they would tell you I would drop everything for them if they needed me. As far what I have taught my children and continue to teach them, I would have to say that they need to love themselves, to love their bodies, to be aware of others and show kindness, to know equality with others and honor that, to listen. I have taught them that women are strong, capable, and independent. I have taught them that artists are not special, but see things differently. And I have taught them that creativity is about problem solving and problem solving can have a million different faces.
Q: What drives you to continue to create work?
A: I think that I was born with a creative urge that can’t be contained. It is a constant. It is an impulse. A very dear friend generously called it a Divine Impulse and I am ok with that.
VICTORIA SMITS was born in Chicago, Illinois and spent most of her childhood in Rochester, New York. She has lived in Los Angeles, New York, Michigan, and Guyuk, Nigeria. Victoria Smits is a mixed media artist and former art and English educator currently living with her family in Eugene, Oregon. She received her BA in art, English, and secondary education from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI and her MA in secondary education and creative writing from the University of Buffalo. Victoria is a mother of four with a blended family and span of 17 years between her oldest and youngest child. Her creative practice is informed by her passion for seeing the connectedness of humanity and the leverage memory has in forming a context for living. Her background as an art educator guides the varied media that emerges in her work; she explores story, memoir, and record keeping through printmaking, painting, collage, sculpture, and installation.