Photo by Alex Brook Lynn
This is basically a journal; a peek into what I'm thinking and feeling as I paint certain pieces. Not every piece is here, but when I have something extra to add to a painting, you'll find it here. The most meaningful art for me to make is always a response to motherhood. This is a blog-like page where I share these personal paintings and verbalize the themes/concepts/methods I'm exploring.
In the Māori culture- my culture- your pepeha is an introduction to who you are and where you come from. It includes the region your family is from, the mountain you are close to or that is important to you, a body of water that is significant to you, and your family name. It's a big part of your identity. I named this piece Pepeha because I didn't know my pepeha until recently. This piece is about my commitment and the permission I give myself to fully embrace my cultural identity. It shouldn't have taken me until I was almost 30 to know my pepeha, but I didn't grow up deep in my culture. As someone who is hapa (a Hawaiian word for mixed race), it's confusing and difficult to claim your communities and identities as your own. Growing up in Hawai'i around many different cultures from across the Pacific, with the added social complexity of having a BYU in my hometown, the community I was raised in was very clear about who was white and who was brown. Maybe it wasn't so intentionally defined, but I felt it. I especially felt it, because the white kids were associated with the University; they were from the mainland, their parents were professors at the school- they were faculty kids. They had nicer houses, higher paying jobs, they went on vacations, and they lived on the same side of the neighborhood. Both sides of my family have deep ties and active roles in the whole community; the school and otherwise. My mother's side is white, my father's side is Māori. This piece is about how I grew up feeling too white for the brown kids and too brown for the white kids. No groups fully accepted me. I had a few incredible friends who understood that and understood me, maybe not even consciously, and held space for me to just be me, and I'm forever grateful for them. But all in all, I felt rejected by both sides. Both groups only saw how I differed from them, and not how we were similar. I sometimes feel like I fraudulently claim my Māori side and wear it like a shell. It's easier for people to wrap their heads around my white side, and ignore the rest of me. Which is whatever, but I'm not doing that to myself anymore.
One of my secret weapons with my toddler is introducing the same old thing from a new angle. An example of this is how Enzo loves the movie Moana, and he loves baths. Once in a while, he decides he doesn't love baths, and he'll take off running away from the tub instead of into it when I announce, "Enzo! Bathtime!" A trick I've used to get his little hiney in the tub is putting on his favorite movie on the laptop, in the bathroom, outside the splash zone, and facing the tub. HE LOVES IT. Movie Bath! I call it. The first time we did it, I brought his diaper and baggy jammie shirt into the bathroom since I knew there be no peeling him away from the screen to get dressed in his room. Once dressed, he carried the laptop out to the couch and laid down to finish the movie (yes, he watched almost the whole thing in the bath. Yes, the water was cold by then. No, it didn't matter; NYC summers are hot, hot, hot). As he lay on the couch and watched the movie he's seen quite literally 3,000 times, I chuckled at the fact that his back was turned to our big TV as he watched his movie on this new, exciting little screen. A lot of parents are understandably against screen time. We know too much isn't good. But those moments where I decide to allow myself to allow Enzo to lounge and veg and rest his little body and watch something he really enjoys (not to mention it's Moana- it's teaching him about his own culture) are beautiful moments. They're precious, guilt-free moments for me. We are all trained to look down on lounging and vegging. If you're resting, you're lazy. That's wrong. That's brainwashing to benefit the capitalist class and it's hurting us and literally shortening our lives. Rest is important. Rest is resistance. I hope to teach my little guy that knowing both how to rest and how to work hard is how he'll accomplish his goals and care for himself.
This painting is about that moment after a long day when you finally get to lay on the couch and put your feet up. For me, that moment is after bedtime; bedtime is the finish line. I FEEL LIBERATED once I close my toddler's bedroom door behind me. I feel like I just clocked out for the day. I look forward to the moment that I get to just zone out on the couch. I always feel that I'm just staring into space as my mind, body, and soul are returning to homeostasis. Depending on how taxing the day is, it's sometimes around an hour that I'm just zoning out and snacking and staring into space or out the window. It's honestly a moment that I find so beautiful. I know a lot of people relate to it and know exactly what I'm talking about. We experience it after a long day of parenting, working outside the home, doing things we love, etc. We all experience it in some way. We may spend it differently. Some of us are afraid of being alone with our own thoughts and feelings so we go straight to the tv or scrolling on a phone. If that's you, I urge you to hold off on filling that void with some sort of external input, and just be with yourself. Get a snack or a glass of water and just exist. Maybe you reflect on your day, maybe it's just static upstairs because you're SO burnt out, but be self-absorbed for a moment and fulfill your needs from inside yourself instead of outside. Just try it and see what happens.
Sorting Through Records
Intended to be loose and free, this painting ended up one of the more detailed and tight paintings I've done in a while. It's also one of my favorite paintings. I feel it captures my hand and my style in a slower form of the style that peeks through when I do my quick studies. I made every mark on this painting with so much intention. When I met my husband, his apartment was full of interesting things and the trim was painted black. Since we met, we've invested in a more comfortable couch, a rug, and painted the walls white with the intention of enlarging the space and giving the art we put up on them the chance to shine against a clean background. We are still filling our walls with the art we choose together, but we have more space to do that because he downsized his record collection. The very next day after we painted and before we put anything back in our space, he went through his whole collection. Our friend, Alex Brook Lynn came by that day and photographed us in our home, photos we'll cherish forever. This image is one of them, the original is at the top of this page. Without getting into too much personal detail, for me, this therapeutic piece captures Justin in a moment of focus on something he loves and enjoys, something important to him. He's in this empty, new environment. Clean slate type of stuff. It's poetic the way he is sorting through records to make room for something new, not unlike what I did (alone) as I was preparing for baby Enzo.
Lining Up MagnaTiles
This painting took me quite a while to finish. As I explain in an older post below, when Enzo got his ASD diagnosis, I launched into this series depicting the classic manifestations of Autism in children his age. But the more I learned about the struggles parents of children on the spectrum experience, the more I felt it unfair to put my struggles in the same basket. Yes, my son has an ASD diagnosis, but he is affectionate, sleeps through the night most nights, makes communication attempts, doesn't hit other children, and so on. That said, I felt such confusion each time I looked at this unfinished painting. Where am I going with this piece? What am I trying to say, if anything at all? When I'm at this point with a painting, I just see nothing when I look at it. I don't see the direction, I don't feel inspired; I feel foggy and hazy. Unsure, uncertain, kinda blank. Recently I was kind of hit with the reality of just how delayed my sweet boy is. And that the struggles we experience with him, the deep sense of being drained and completely spent at the end of the day, the dread for days off of school; we were validated that what we're experiencing is harder than it's supposed to be. This validation kind of cleared the picture of what I wanted this piece to be. Now, this part may seem kind of eye-rolly and like a stretch but here is what I was going for: The flat, repetitive pattern on the rug resembles the pattern on the rug I chose for Enzo's room. I chose to depict it in a flat manner to kind of bring in that repetitive, groundhog day feeling most parents but especially parents of children who thrive on routine tend to feel. On the one hand, I love our routine and that he thrives in it. On the other, it can start to feel like no progress is or will ever be made, that I'll forever be a mom to a non-verbal toddler and have to call on my ever-dwindling bucket of patience constantly and forever. Lining toys up is a behavior that comes and goes for Enzo now that he is getting ABA and OT support. I wanted his hands and feet and body to give a relaxed, tender, sweet feeling. Very few things tug on my heart the way a focused, innocent, calm toddler or baby hand playing with a toy does. The lining up of toys is comforting and enjoyable to him. It always calms him and slows him down, which in turn does the same for me. I wanted the light coming through the sunny window to do what that usually does for me, which is nudge a person into appreciating the moment. Enzo won't be lining up toys forever, but he is right now and I love him for it.
Goodnight Enzo Moon
In this piece that captures a moment amidst our bedtime routine chaos, I used a backdrop of the classic Goodnight Moon children's storybook curtains. Interesting note: on the cover, the curtains are depicted as they are here; red-orange and green. But in the book, in the rabbit's actual room, they are yellow and green. I remember learning in a college color theory course about the way certain colors vibrate when we observe them next to each other, it's called chromostereopsis. It's kind of something to avoid because of how jarring it can be to observe and the way it burns an afterimage into your eyes because of color spatial relationships- one color seems to come forward while the other seems to recede. It always confused me a little why Goodnight Moon's illustrator chose these stimulating, uncomfortable colors to be used side by side throughout the whole book when it's supposed to be a calming, time-for-bed story, but apparently, it works since it's been a fan-favorite for decades now. Enzo went through a phase where we read Goodnight Moon literally 5-10 times a day. Kids get addicted to this book. Maybe it's those colors? Either way, during our chaotic dinner-bath-bed nightly routine, Goodnight Moon is never very far. This tender moment from right after a bath was drenched in the anticipation of a reading or 5 of Goodnight Moon. It's the dichotomy of loving the routine, which we both thrive in and also dreading the Groundhog Day feeling I think many parents experience. It's the buzzing colors in one of the most beloved bedtime stories; that's the exhaustion and sometimes dread of toddler battles existing alongside and enmeshed with those tender, perfect moments of bedtime cuddles. During our bedtime routine is also when my little guy who is still severely speech delayed at 2.7 years old, will exclaim a new word or phrase for the first time, will pretend to feed his lovey, a raggedy, stained fox, or will suddenly stop moving, look me in my eye and stroke my cheek soooo gently and quietly say, "soooooft." It's a chaotic but special time in our household.
Exploring My Muse
My husband is my number one muse. I've been becoming more and more comfortable with myself and exploring the far corners of my beliefs and identity. As I do this I become less and less concerned with depicting my muse how he wants to be captured and in a way that pleases him or validates his narrative of himself. Instead, I'm slowly starting to capture him as I see him and the energy I feel vibrating off of him. As we both work on ourselves, explore our own identities, and are honest with each other, the narrative he has of himself and the narrative I have of him become more and more aligned. Hopefully one day we are on the exact same page. Or maybe not? Maybe the point is to be on our own pages with an understanding and love for where the other person is.
I did a lot around the house to manifest spring toward the end of this past winter. Things like tidying up our balcony (I know, spoiled), spraying down our window screens, and donating clothes to make room for the spring outfits I brought out of storage (and yes, bought). One of the most enjoyable of these spring-manifesting activities was repotting some new plants for Enzo's room because the old ones had died of neglect over the winter. In an effort to be like those annoyingly perfect mom-fluencers that make you believe that with the right color paint on your walls and the right brand of pots and pans, you too will love and cherish domestic work and toddler meltdowns, I, of course, enlisted my 2-year-old's help with these new plants. I stepped away to capture this photo (note the winter coat because remember, we're manifesting spring, not enjoying it) to undoubtedly post to my IG story to get some heart-eye and hand-clapping reactions to apparently feel better about myself? who knows. Of course right after this photo was captured, the two plants "we" had just planted came tumbling down. Just another day in Motherhood; trying to be fun and it ending with big clean-ups and cranky toddlers.
Soon after my son was diagnosed with Autism via Early Intervention, I dove into an idea of a series of paintings capturing the classically Autistic things he does that I find so adorable. It was going to include a lot of lining toys up, hand-leading, spinning, jumping, rocking, running, wearing headphones, etc. It was going to expand beyond just what my son does and I was planning to capture other family members and classmates with the same diagnosis as him. The more instruction, therapy, and socialization he got, the more his classic displays of autism started to disappear. This is the whole point, right? Replacement behaviors to help him function in society. But the more I learned how to just plain old parent, and the more structure he had in his life, the more his OT started to suggest maybe he doesn't actually have autism. "He's so expressive, affectionate, emotional, and engaging." He no longer lines toys up and stacks them or spins and rocks. So was the original diagnosis wrong? Did his autism just go away, which obviously is not a thing? Was it so mild that with just a little extra attention, most of the original issues are almost undetectable? Was I just an ignorant mom that didn't know how to parent? Am I still that?? He still has a speech delay and sensory processing disorder, but I think we are all realizing that maybe that is all independent of autism for Enzo. Maybe the LCSW who diagnosed him was quick to give it a label because she knew that was the best route for him in terms of getting services. Because here in the land of the brave and free, we like to withhold everything from people, including children/toddlers/babies, if there is a possibility that someone might pay for that thing for said toddler or baby. So back to the paintings, I felt a weird privilege and a feeling that I didn't belong in this realm of parents of children with autism. Like how dare I try to lament alongside parents who deal with huge challenges like toddler insomnia, non-verbal teens, and aggressive outbursts toward people who aren't sympathetic to a child's position. I felt this was not a group I truly belong in just because my toddler used to line up his toys, has to jump and spin a lot, has a speech delay, and has trouble transitioning. These challenges are real, but they're not of the same caliber. I've reeled this series in and now just capture my little goob as he is without a need to embrace a specific community for him.
Weed Whacking Birthday Party
My nephew lives a very different life than my son, but one very similar to my own childhood. My son's childhood is more like my husband's as far as the urban environment, the NYC brand of cultural diversity, city noise, etc. At 9 years old, my nephew was given some PPE so he could safely weed whack- his favorite activity- without putting his eyes or head at risk. Pictured above is how he spent his birthday; enjoying his new present and doing his favorite activity. It reminds me of the simple and humble activities I occupied myself with as a child growing up in the countryside of our very remote island. Spending hours in the waves at the beach, making potions with mud and leaves from the yard, riding my bike for hours around the neighborhood, wandering the fields and mountains behind our houses, sneaking into church buildings to run around, etc. My nephew and his siblings play in the same yard that I did as a child, they eat some meals at the same table, watch Disney movies in the same living room that I did, go to church in the same building that I did. They enjoy the same Sunday, the day of rest routine that I did; church followed up with a big family meal and then lounging in the rarely used AC or as we called it, AirCon. My son's childhood is not exactly what mine was, but it's the one I'm creating for him and I feel such a sense of pride and ownership in that. There are a lot of differences and deviations, but it's beautiful and it's unique.
Balcony Espresso in Leather
This piece had me thinking about the ratio of the size of the brush, to the size of the canvas. I have an easy time painting so small- this piece is 5"x5"- because I love the ratio of the brush to the canvas and the small amount of paint it uses. I have a scarcity mindset around using a lot of paint with a giant brush that is the same proportions to a big canvas, that a size 4 brush is to this 5x5" canvas. Our eyes also take in information differently at various scales. AND we paint with different joints as the prime mover at different scales, i.e. wrist vs elbow vs shoulder. It's a lot to consider, much more than just, "Is my brush big enough for this canvas?" This is why I tend to stick with my quick studies being so small, and it's also why I should stop doing my quick studies so small.
In January of 2022, we lost one of our best friends; our cat, rugby. He had bladder cancer and we don't have nearly enough money to give him the $10k surgery every 6 months to cut the tumor back until his little cat body can't take it anymore and we have to euthanize him; we just skipped every step but the last one. It was such a hard decision even though it wasn't really a decision. He did everything with me. When I was pregnant, I think he knew what was happening; some online forums suggest he may have known even before I did. As I was clearing out the smallest room in our apartment for our soon-arriving infant, (yes, Enzo now occupies the biggest room in the apartment), Rugby followed me around and basically did all the chores and moving with me. When we were done, he sat next to the door to the balcony (yes, I thought I was going to raise my kid in that room) and basked in our hard work. I sat on the floor next to him and did the same. He was an empathic and loving cat. He looked after baby Enzo and would follow me around while he cried and cried because of his colic which I like a fancy way of saying "crying a lot for no apparent reason, but probably something to do with their little underdeveloped, fourth trimester bellies." Rugby was a special cat and we miss him every day.
Adding more abstract elements to my paintings has been a challenge since my training is in traditional oil painting techniques. Flat, graphic elements never had a place in the methods I was trained in. I'm creating more space for me to play with abstract elements. Do they put a figure or object in an abstract environment? Do they give the figure an abstract energy in a realistic environment? Is it just play or inspired by something specific? This piece started as play, but it morphed into abstraction inspired by elements in the reference photo. All NYC playgrounds have the classic cast iron fence around the perimeter to keep kids safe from wandering into traffic. Our local playground fence is surrounded by a perimeter of greenery; trees, bushes, and grasses. In the rectangular openings between the cast iron rungs, the greenery shines thru. These green rectangles represent that thin row of nature as a faux green backdrop to our urban playground experience; the sharp rectangular shapes a nod to stiff urban structures.
I've been trying to do more quick, warm-up paintings. I really want to add more abstract, stark, colorful elements to my paintings. I've been very inspired by more contemporary figure painters, living and not, and I hope to continue to follow my inspirations and implement more play in my studio. I've found so much success doing that with these quick paintings. I'm forced to get out of my head and just put paint down without overthinking and rethinking. I finally forced myself to put some flat, abstract pieces down, and I loved the outcome! It was so hard to do and felt so contrary to what I know about painting, but it turned out exactly how I wanted. What I learned from the exercise was this: A lot of the traditional practices I learned when learning the medium, are not exactly guiding me to follow my inspiration. I often paint what I think Im supposed to- a concept that is present in many corners of my life, I've realized- and I ignore what I want to see and make. I have so many outside voices that are disguised as my own (or maybe as God's?!) floating around in my head and clouding my artistic decisions. These quick paintings are helping me to force out what I truly want to create.
Pink Sun Shower
Bringing color into our apartment was a way for me to cope with the long winter '22-'23. This Fuschia shower curtain felt like the right choice while browsing online- an all-in type of thing. When it arrived, I felt like I was back in my early 2000s bedroom I shared with my cool, older teen sister with the curtains we painted pink and black. I really regretted it. Then one afternoon I was sitter-vising (what my sisters and I call when you set your kids up in a safe activity where you can mentally check out and sit back a little more than usual) Enzo while he took a shower to make it thru a long winter day indoors, when the sun hit this hot pink curtain just right—the nasty pale, creamy pink tiles of our rental light up in a Fuschia glow. Enzos little toddler tush poked out from behind the curtain as he fussed with the faucet and I knew it was a moment I would cherish. Surviving a New York City winter as a stay-at-home mom is no joke. Color helps you thru it.
Reading in the Window
Quick studies and warm-up paintings have become my new favorite things. I get to paint whatever photo I find on my phone with no expectations. Just getting my eye ready for my painting session and my mind in the zone. I've found that the quicker I paint, the more my unique style comes out. Under a time crunch, you don't work and rework and rework any given area to death; you just try to make the most exact mark on the first go and move on to the next. I like setting 20-minute timers and then usually adding another 10 min of finishing touches because I can't help myself. This was one of the first warm-up paintings I did when I decided to start implementing them, and it excited me to see my style really shine thru. It was so hard for me not to go back and fix the things that bother me- my hair is too big, my face could use a touch more information, etc. But I love it more because I didn't do those things. I let my mistakes shine and leaned into my weaknesses.
Justin & Enzo Deep in Conversation
Stepping back long enough to let my husband and son experience each other without me has been an embarrassingly challenging task. I feel the need to rescue my husband from crying and tantrums, and rescue my son from dad's inefficient (not actually inefficient, just not moms way) way of doing things. It's annoying- to them and to me. Kids need to get used to dads way of parenting, and dads need to get used to parenting. This day, at the playground, dad got up to follow enzo out of the swings area and over to the big grassy area. I sat back. Eventually, they ended up on a ledge together, enjoying each other, and I was so grateful I sat back. They looked deep in conversation, such a sweet image and a glimpse into their relationship.
Enzo's first day riding the school bus to school was hard for me. Even though he is getting taken to a center where he receives therapies to address his speech delay and sensory processing issues, I felt overwhelmed with guilt for handing him to a stranger on a school bus, while he was screaming and crying. The more we've done it, the more we've both gotten used to it. Intellectually, I know he needs it and it's good for him. Emotionally, it's a struggle every morning. The first morning he took the bus, I missed him, felt guilty, and was anxious. I decided to paint but didn't care about anything that wasn't about him, and painting him felt a little too on the nose. On Valentines Day, I "heart attacked" his bedroom door. He loved it so much, especially pulling each heart off the door and throwing it on the ground. He spent the whole day saying "heart!" I knew he felt loved because something was done for him, and I was right there celebrating with him as he played with the paper hearts. They sat scattered on his floor for days and days; reminders to both of us how much I love him.
Art Breaking the Family
This painting was a therapeutic piece for me to create, where I was trying to conceptualize the isolating feeling of existing in your nuclear family without the village that it apparently takes to raise a child. On top of that, we are a family of two artists. Art can consume us and our loved ones but it can also edify. We have the power to make art a positive element in our families.
Stopping for Potatoes
As mothers, we are expected to chain our errands and spend hours and hours tending to things the entire family benefits from. Yet, when our male counterparts do that, they are heralded as heroic and generous with their precious, diamond-like time. I was jealous of the way my husband was undoubtedly perceived by strangers on the street as he pushed his son home from the playground with the bag of potatoes I asked him to pick up. When I do this, I'm considered "in the way" and people are upset I bring a bulky stroller into an over-crowded Brooklyn produce market, but when he does it, he's "such a good dad!"
Portrait of A Mother on A Beach Vacation
This painting was done out of the grief of mourning my favorite activity being any kind of enjoyable; going to the beach. When I saw the photo my husband snapped of me helicoptering our 9 month old baby at Brighton Beach, what hit me right in the face was my "Lifeguard" shirt. Our vacation to the beach was anything but relaxing for me as I felt my role on the vacation, and as I started to realize, my role in our species, was literally just guarding life. No more carefree hours of soaking up sun rays. I thought the next year would be different, but instead, I did MORE rigorous life guarding when my son could walk and run. I wonder what this summer will be like...
Portrait of the Mother on a Beach Vacation 2
On top of the themes I discussed in the painting above, these two pieces were a space to play with composition. I enjoy square dimensions much more than rectangular canvases which I think plays a big part in why I prefer the composition of this painting. This piece is a lot smaller and on a scale I'm more comfortable with. My favorite part of this composition is the figures in the water, which, of course, since we were at Brighton Beach at 9 am, were all old Russian women.
Enzo at the Covid Circus
With not much outside the home to entertain babies and toddlers during the span of the COVID-19 pandemic, most mothers had to get creative in order to not lose their minds. The Added labor of having children in places that don't really cater to children (cities) is apparent in the fact that families- only those with the luxury to do so- with young children FLED from cities and into rural and suburban areas when the pandemic began, "hightailing it out of town on their privilege," (Tone Tank, Quarantine Dreams). Me and Enzo got a $19 circus tent from IKEA and "went to the circus" in our living room by filling the tent with books and toys.
Gifts of Letting Go
One of the most useful lessons I've learned since becoming a mom is that it's ok- even good- to let go. Releasing control of situations with your baby/toddler not only gives them the opportunity to organically explore the world and experience natural consequences (world's best teacher) but also gives you a chance to sit still for a moment and enjoy seeing your child experience the world. This was a moment when I sat back and instead of policing Enzo putting sand in his mouth, his diaper, and his hair, I just let him explore. We sat in the sand for MINUTES, which is rare for this hyperactive baby. We sat long enough for me to pull out my phone and photograph him. I'll always cherish the times I was rewarded with a beautiful memory just for sitting back and allowing myself a second to breathe. As mothers, we are socially and culturally expected to watch over our kids like a hawk. If you don't have eyes on your kid 24/7, you're an awful, selfish, inadequate mother (we even harbor these judgments against our fellow mothers). While this is obviously not true, it's still the expectation that we mothers expend our "endless" time and energy as helicopters over our kids. When we sit back and release a little control- when appropriate- we get rewarded with beautiful memories and effective lessons taught by natural consequences. The fact that this natural and universal loophole exists, gives me hope that there really is a God, and she's a feminist.