Firstly, tell us about yourself! Where do you live, what sort of art do you make and how many children do you have?
I live in Providence, Rhode Island, and make paintings, drawings and animations. I have two kids, my youngest is three months old and my oldest is four years old.
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?
Having children completely changed my studio routine, but it needed a change. I used to think of the studio as having generic office hours, now I’m more aware of what particular hours are most creatively productive and for me. I’ve found this to be the very early morning. I work in a mill building less than a mile away from my home. I like to begin my studio day when everyone is asleep, then I’m far less distracted and it gives me momentum that carries into the day. This is the time when I engage in the physical process of painting or drawing. If I can work from 5:30am to noon I can get a lot done. The rest of the day is more reflective. I leave the studio in the early afternoon but I can absorb what happened there, I research new ideas and tangents later in the day. In the afternoon I can be on the playground with my kids thinking about a problem in the studio, I love that. I spend more time outside and I’m still engaged in the work. I remind myself this is temporary, that my schedule will change again in a few years and that it’s important to maintain the practice even as the routine shifts.
What does a typical day look like for you and how much time do you manage to carve out for your own work?
Now that I have a newborn so all bets are off! But normally a studio day consisted of getting up at 5 and heading to the studio with coffee and breakfast, staying until about 11 or 12 and then coming back to be with kids the rest of the day. I also teach at a university, so those days are similar in terms of starting early. I arrive at school around 6:30 am for a 9:30 am class. I prep for class and take care of university email in this window. I teach until 3:30 pm and then have meetings with students or faculty during office hours until 5:00 pm, sometimes later.
Have you come up against specific challenges as an artist and mother? What were they and how have you navigated these challenges?
Longing is a challenge. You want to be alone in the studio with your own thoughts and needs so you can digest the world around you. Simultaneously you want to be present with your children, have an endless afternoon on the playground, in the woods, or at the beach. I do think the pull in each direction keeps me from burning out. I’m very grateful for both the studio time and the kid time separately because I return to each one renewed and more present.
Weaning, 60” x 48”, Oil on Canvas, World Lit by Screens, 24” x 18”, Oil on Canvas.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
When I was pregnant, an artist told me that before he had kids a bad day in the studio would totally wreck him, but after having kids a bad day in the studio was just that: a bad day. It ended and he went back the next day. It’s been true for me that kids are like this reset button, their immediate needs overshadow everything and I’m forced to compartmentalize in a way that helps me to clarify my own work.
Who are your role models? Who or what inspires and encourages you?
I see the subject of children or the influence of raising kids show up in lots painting recently, ranging from the political to the personal in a very genuine way: Sangram Majumdar, Erika B Hess, Aaron Gilbert, Katy Schneider and Patricia Schappler.
Nursing, 60” x 40”, Oil on Canvas, Quilter, 60“ x 48”, Oil on Linen.
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?
Spending a lot of time with children brings my assumptions about perception into question and gets me to rediscover the world in this fresh way. That’s my favorite thing. Listening to them interpret the world I think I know and hearing a new story.
My work is about moments of transformation and since having kids that has heightened. I am interested in depicting new narratives of mother and child, both separately and in double portraits. I’m interested in how we develop a conscious sense of who we are and subsequently how we deconstruct ourselves, in order to start all over again. At the core of my imagery is a focus on the essence of these transitions, our awareness of mortality and a compulsion for re-invention.
What drives you to continue to create work?
Just as my kids help me rediscover my world, art has always done that for me too. Old art, new art, it all sparks a sense of being connected to a form of cultural expression that feels very generous. Being part of that conversation is a driving force.
Suzanne Schireson lives in Providence, Rhode Island, USA and has two small children. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at the Woodmere Art Museum (Philadelphia, PA), Cade Tompkins Projects (Providence, RI), Smith College (Northampton, MA), The Sori Art Center (Jeollabuk-do, South Korea), The Beijing World Art Museum (Beijing, China), the Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra (Guwahati, Assam, India) and The Carrousel du Louvre (Paris, France). She is the recipient of a RISCA Fellowship for Drawing and two Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grants (Montreal, Canada). Suzanne attended Indiana University (M.F.A.), the University of Pennsylvania (B.F.A.) and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (Certificate). She is an Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
“I am interested in an alternative mother and child narrative. At the core of my imagery is a focus on the cycle of transformation one undergoes through giving birth, our awareness of mortality and a compulsion for re-invention. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley writes ‘The world to me was a secret, which I desired to discover; to her it was a vacancy, which she sought to people with imaginations of her own’ (1818). Shelley’s words capture my interest in the idiosyncrasies of creation, the value of exploration in this practice, and art’s own integrity to bear unforeseen meaning through the process of being made.”