Firstly, tell us about yourself! Where do you live, what sort of art do you make and how many children do you have?
Hi! My name is Alexandra Knox, and I am an artist / professor / new mother living and working in South Carolina. I received my MFA in Studio Art from the University of Oklahoma and my BFA from East Carolina University. My work has always been autobiographical in some way, and most recently focuses on my experience of birthing my first child this past summer and how my body and identity has changed postpartum. Our baby’s name is Fox Koval Whitis.
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?
I am very fortunate to have a supportive husband (we met in graduate school, he has a MFA in Painting, so he totally gets the hussle). We both work full time, and my sister is living with us for about a year to help us raise our first baby without having to use daycare. It is hectic, but we make it work. Ultimately, we tag in and out for creative/personal time in our 700 square foot studio on our property. It truly does take a village, but my baby has initiated what I think is some of the best work of my career.
What does a typical day look like for you and how much time do you manage to carve out for your own work?
A typical day for me varies depending on my teaching schedule, but I am gone all day usually 2-3 days a week for work. Otherwise, I am taking care of the baby before work and all day on Fridays, and usually spend time cleaning and keeping my house in order, running errands, etc. I typically get studio time in on the weekends when my husband is home, usually around 5-10 hours a week. Most recently, my 6 month old has been hitting the hay around 8:30, which allows for extra evening studio blocks.
Have you come up against specific challenges as an artist and mother? What were they and how have you navigated these challenges?
This has been an interesting experience in terms of combining work, an infant and art (among other things) because I could not have started making the work I am making now without having my baby, but it is incredibly difficult to get anything completed in a timely fashion because I have a baby. I have navigated this major challenge by simply communicating with my husband when I really need time in the studio, whether it’s for creating/making or just to clear my head. He does the same. We make a great team.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
I wouldn’t say that anyone has imparted advice on me that has stuck out, but I remember reading a blog while I was pregnant about not losing your identity in your children, and that really stuck with me. I am a mother, but I am also an artist, professor, partner, wife. I think it’s important to carve out time for myself to ensure I keep my identity through motherhood.
Who are your role models? Who or what inspires and encourages you?
Anytime I feel overwhelmed, I immediately think of famous women artists that have children. The big ones are Tara Donovan, Carrie Mae Weems, Sally Mann, Kara Walker and Ann Hamilton. I admire their work, first and foremost, and also their abilities to balance work and motherhood.
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?
Motherhood has most definitely impacted my practice in positive ways. I never waste time anymore. The biggest change for me has been how precious my time has become. When my infant takes a nap, I waste no time getting something done during those moments. Every minute counts. I treat my studio practice the same way; if I have 2 hours allotted to get work done, those two hours are spent wisely and are used to “make”. When I am cleaning/driving/etc, I use that time to think about my work, to plan, so that my hands-on time is used efficiently.
What drives you to continue to create work?
My job definitely drives me to create work. I am going up for tenure next fall, so it’s imperative I constantly make new work, get into shows, etc. It’s also innate in me to create. If I wasn’t a professor, that drive would be entirely rooted in my desire and emotional need to make art.
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?
I would hope my son would say that I am hardworking and dedicated; that I am warm and loving, and that I am a good teacher. I can’t wait to teach him how to weld and build things. My husband and I have already talked about the creative qualities we want to instill in him as he grows up. He should have a pretty interesting upbringing with two artist-parents!
Anything else you would like to add?
I am so excited to be a member of Spilt Milk! I really admire and enjoy seeing the various types of work from women in the same boat that is Artists/Mothers. Keep up the great work, ladies. We’re doing a great job.
Alexandra Knox is an artist, professor and new mother living and working in South Carolina. She received a MFA in Studio Art from the University of Oklahoma and a BFA from East Carolina University. Her practice spans mold making and casting, construction, installation and performance. Knox’s work is most often autobiographical and draws references from her surroundings on the two-acre country property where she and her family reside. She was a recipient of Oklahoma’s Art 365 Grant in 2012 and has exhibited her work nationally.
“My most recent body of work utilizes themes relating to body and identity, from the perspective of a mother, partner and individual. I am interested in the ways the function and purpose of my body has changed, including sexual objectivity to now something that provides food, nourishment and comfort for another. I approach these ideas through various methods, including casting, construction and performance. While the different series in this body of work investigate separate ideas relating to motherhood and the pre and postpartum body, a shared use of material can be seen throughout. Construction materials such as gypsum board, 2x4s and joint compound reference community building and the domestic lifestyle, while beeswax, horsehair and salt lick blocks allude to the forced domestication of farm animals. The aforementioned materials act as metaphor, suggesting the labor intensive role of a woman and mother in the household, with a specific focus on body and identity.
These themes are especially present in the series Housebroken, comprised of twelve different pieces, examining the social constructs created by parallel human and animal domestication. Utilizing architectural materials from the man-made to animal by-products, this work alludes to society building at large. While horsehair traditionally reinforced plaster walls, here its hidden femininity is made visible. Likewise, beeswax references the matriarchal domicile and offers an alternative framework for the conventional organization of power.
Ritual explores ideas relating to motherhood and sexuality through performative action. As a new mother, I have experienced a fundamental shift in my identity as a sexually charged being to a source of food and nourishment. While these functions are viewed as traditionally exclusive of one another, they are indeed conjoined in the postpartum body. When I nurse my son, I immediately feel the need to quench my thirst and replenish nutrients. I now find myself contemplating the purposes of my body, struggling to negotiate sexual objectivity and my body as a food source. Ritual aims to compound the objectivity and question the function of the female body by incorporating materials associated with nourishment (calcium, salt, iron) and sexually overt actions. Ritual consists of twelve acrylic mounted photographs measuring 18”x27”.