When I was a kid, I used to make calendars for my mom each year for Mothers’ Day. I would hand-draw each month’s dates (there was no Microsoft Office then to help me out), and then collage images at the top, making a theme for each month. There’s no telling how many hours I spent making those, but I really always liked cutting out the pictures and categorizing them, finding connections between the images.
A few years back, I was given an old wallpaper sample book, filled with a French motif called “Joie de Vivre,” (literally “joy of life”) used in English to express a cheerful enjoyment of life; an exultation of spirit.” Much of my art was already contemplating the roles of women, specifically in relation to men, children and the household. As a wife and mother, much of my time is spent taking care of others’ needs and figuring out how to capture this joie de vivre in daily life. As an artist and a female, I find myself questioning the traditional roles of women, constantly assessing my own beliefs versus the values of the community in which I was raised, and those that are commonly accepted in my part of the world. The Joie de Vivre imagery was a perfect fit for a mixed media series I call “Domestics.”
I’m typically a joyful person. I think I’m generally an optimist, and I know I’m definitely an idealist. But I have to say I found some of the images in the joie de vivre wallpaper book to be quite comical, with their corseted milkmaids, singing shepherds and dutiful women going about their chores with cherub-like children dancing around their feet. Is this truly the joy of life? (I personally have not been able to enjoy the task of getting work done whilst tending to my children. Maybe some people are able to find pleasure in that, but it just makes me frustrated).
I’m also intensely interested in the preconceptions our culture has about the male/female relationship, as well as the natural differences in modes of communication and disposition between couples. It looks so simple, when pasted to the bathroom wall, but we all know that it’s much more complicated.
What, then, is the key to a successful relationship? Can we complement each other as equals, or will one always seek to have an advantage over the other? Can we ever truly know another person? Are we ever completely honest, without holding back? If so, is that wise? Can you have a successful career and still maintain closeness with your family? What in daily life can be a source of joy?
Perhaps there are more questions than answers.
“I cannot expect even my own art to provide all of the answers – only to hope it keeps asking the right questions.” – Grace Hartigan