Name: Jessica Gardner
Current Location: Manassas, VA
Education: MFA Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA.
Post-Baccalaureate Study in Ceramic Arts, School of Art and Art History, University of Florida, Gainsville, FL.
BFA, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Alfred University, Alfred, NY.
Preferred Art Medium(s): Clay, wood and textiles
Children (ages and genders): Daniel, M, 3 and Mathew, M, 1
Website address(es): www.JessicaGardnerStudios.com
What is your background (where are you from, education, important details, where are you know, etc.)?
I was born in TX, but grew up in upstate NY. I did a lot of local theater as a child and always enjoyed art. I was also in plays in college (and my sister is a professional actress), but I found my love of clay early on and knew that is what I wanted to do. I went to Alfred as a functional pottery student, but by senior year I was creating perforated sculptural teapots. It was during my post-bacc at University of Florida that I became interested in figurative and progressively more conceptual work and started working with slip-dipping. I worked with hollow slip-dipped children’s clothing through graduate school and continued with that series until recently when I shifted my focus from childhood development to my experience of motherhood.
Was there any part of your formal or non-formal training that prepared you for being a creative maker and mother simultaneously?
To pay my way through school I worked in residence life and as a sub in the local k-12 schools. I thought that this was preparing me for motherhood, but have found that most days I am learning on the job. I read an article at one point (not sure where) that said each child is an assignment and that some assignments are easier for some families than they would be for others. Example: having an outgoing child when you are an introvert or vice versa. What really stuck with me about this idea is that my children are who they are. My jobs is to do my best for them.
Are there any women that you find to be an inspiration for you as an artist/mother?
Going through school it seemed like all of my mentors had chosen not to have children. It was disheartening and worrying because I knew that children were a part of my life plan. In grad school I met Holly Hanessian and a few other artist mothers like Rhonda Willers and started to see that there are professional artist out there making it work.
I also find my mother inspiring. She is not an artist, but she is an incredibly hard worker. She drove my sister and I to endless music, dance and theater activities. She somehow found the money for costumes and all the other things that go with these pursuits. It’s because she worked so hard that my sister and I are living out our dreams today.
Can you talk about how you balance your role of artist and the role of mother? Did you take time off after the birth of your children? How did that work? What about childcare? How did you navigate making artwork?
When my first child, Daniel, was born in February 2014, I was working full time in Student Life and adjuncting as an art faculty member at Northern Virginia Community College. I had not been in my position long enough to qualify for family medical leave so I took off 6 weeks and then went back part time until August. It gave me 2 days a week home with Daniel which was great, but financially stressful. I also felt like I was trying to squeeze a full work week into M,W,F. During the week Daniel was (and is) in daycare and during my Saturday class my husband watched him and sometime brought him to visit during my class lunch break.
When Matthew was born in February 2016, I was in my first year of my full time faculty position. We had a lot of difficulty finding subs and I ended up having a 5 week maternity leave, but did not teach over the summer to spend more time with him.
Both boys are in daycare when I teach now and it is always my goal to race over and pick them up as soon as I can. To be honest, I often feel torn between work and home and am still trying to find the balance.
The only way I make any artwork these days is if I have a show deadline. Applying for shows forces me to prioritize my studio time. I no longer make larger figures that require uninterrupted hours, but instead I focus on multiples and small parts that can make up a whole piece. By working smaller I can make work after the boys are sleep.
You have a body of work that directly uses imagery of motherhood as a visual vehicle. Can you talk about the Motherhood in Modernity series? Where did it come from? Why did you choose the specific objects used in your sculptures? What is the next incarnation of this work?
The Motherhood in Modernity series stems from my feeling of inadequacy as a new mother. I started to feel that the modern expectations of motherhood are unfairly oppressive and unique to my generation. Mommy Blogs, Mommy Wars, Breast vs. Bottle, Sling vs. Carrier vs. Stroller vs. Who knows what!
I cannot pinpoint when it hit me, but motherhood has always been hard and it has always come with unrealistic expectations. The internet adds a new layer of pressure, but historic rendering of the Madonna do not have her looking exhausted or covered in baby food and spit up.
For me the Madonna is the ideal mother, held up as an unattainable goal. This series puts this perfect mother at the center of real life challenges like laundry and breast pumps.
The next step for this series is an installation I am working on. My previous piece, Mother’s Mediation, was a daily practice where I slip-casted or press molded figurines and altered them to how I felt about motherhood that day. This piece got me into the studio and thinking critically about where I was at in my art and life that day. My installation is the next step in that process.
I am intrigued by your series Growing UP. You describe that body of work through the statement “I believe the fluid nature of time plays into the push-pull of accepting our adult selves while still striving for child-like happiness and contentment”. Visually speaking, much of the imagery in it feels like someone talking about children from the perspective of the parent/observer. How do you think about the narratives in this series and the imagery now that you are the parent and not just the child? Has the experience of motherhood changed your perspective on this series? Now that you have children do you think you will go back to the imagery and objects used in your growing up series?
The Growing UP series began during my post-bacc at the University of Florida. This work is based on childhood development theory and these slip-dipped empty children’s clothes are intended to invite viewers to be introspective about their adult personas. This series has often been interrupted as a longing for children. I did not have children at the time and the assumption was often frustrating, but understandable. The truth about the series is that they are self portraits and portraits of those close to me. I would ask a question about my reaction or actions and try to answer it using a developmental theory and milestones. By leaving the figures faceless I was hoping to make them more universal and approachable. Creating a self-reflective moment rather than a empathetic one.
When Daniel was born work changed immediately, but perhaps too literally. Between teaching and children, finding time to create large figures was nearly impossible.
I figures I did make were weighed down by clocks. But the more I explored this idea of the weight and pressure of time, the more I knew I was on the wrong path. I was holding onto the figure, the past research and not accepting that that body of work was done.
I cannot say that I will never go back to larger scale work or these figures, but I am no longer interested in making work about childhood development, now that I am knee deep in the actual process!
We put, (as a society, art community, friend) expectations on women and in particular mothers in our society. Can we talk about expectations for a minute? How do you manage ideals and reality? How do you examine this duel in your work?
I have found that my biggest challenge as a mother is living up to expectations. Many of the expectations are my own, adapted from family history, media, etc. It is hard to explain how overwhelmed I felt when making realistically unimportant choices before my first child was even born. I felt as though choosing the wrong carrier or bottle was then end of the world. Marketing, aggressive opinions of other mothers online, etc. did not help, but there is also a hormonal and natural imperative to want the best for your children.
I still struggle with expectations and my work is an outlet for me to examine situations to understand where the pressures are coming from. Through my work I am trying to point to moments when expectations overshadow the joys of motherhood.
Here are some examples:
“Supply and Demand”, documented my diminishing breast milk supply as I finished pumping for my second child. Even though I was working full time and trying my hardest, somehow not making it to a year of breastfeeding felt like a failure.
“Crying over…”, is a piece that depicts spilled breast milk in bright graphic colors. It references this notion that breast milk is liquid gold and reflects a real moment when I spilled breast milk and burst into tears. The pressure of breastfeeding and the pumping process itself had become too much that day.
“Sleep when the baby sleeps” addresses the most frustrating advice I get as a mother of young children. This Madonna has been layered with over-fired decals reminiscent of faded traditional wallpaper, articles about sleep deprivation and mommy blog quotes. Her precarious tower illustrates realities of early motherhood and the ridiculous idea that frequent sleep is an option.
“WOH (Work out of the Home)” uses an altered Madonna figure and Mommy Blog acronyms to talk about how divided I feel between work and home. Trying to be a successful artist and professor and a good mother simultaneously often feels impossible. No matter how organized I try to be.
What are you looking forward to in your studio practice?
I have two shows coming up that I am excited about. One is a solo exhibition here in Virginia in September and the other is an NCECA conference concurrent exhibition titled “Crowns”. I cannot wait until March 2018 to see the work that the artist/mothers in this show create. Being a art of a show that talks about motherhood in art is so important to me. I want the experience of young female artists to be different from mine. I would like them to see that motherhood changes you, but doesn’t mean that you have to loose your art side.
Are there any projects, hobbies, or activities (ex. Running, knitting, tea connoisseur, arts organizations, volunteering, etc.) outside of your artistic practice that you feel passionately about? What are they? Do you find them feeding your practice? If so how?
I don’t really have hobbies. I love to read, but do not get to as often as I’d like. My sister has published several tween novels and I haven’t gotten though the last two. They are great reads, but after work, play time with the boys, dinner, bath and bedtime stories, it’s studio or house cleaning time, then sleep, repeat.
Teaching informs my practice. I love seeing how students push themselves and problem solve. It was a multiples assignment that I gave my Design 1 class (I had been assigning it for years) that suddenly inspired me to make multiples of my own. I also firmly believe that as an art professor I should live what I teach. I encourage students to apply to shows and make work they are passionate about. I hold myself to the same standard.
Anything else we should know?
Thank you for including me in this amazing project. My children are young and my artist/mother balance is still a work in progress, but seeing other amazing mothers tackling the daily challenges is encouraging and inspiring.
Finally, just for fun. If you were to make a playlist today what would be your top 5 favorite songs?
The Band Perry – Comeback Kid
Bon Jovi- Livin’ on a Prayer
Sugarland – Stuck Like Glue
The Wheels on the Bus
The Paw Patrol theme song (don’t judge they are seared into my brain)