March the 8th is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate and highlight the valuable contributions women make to our world. One day is not enough, so this is part of a month-long series of posts celebrating female artists from Australia.
Today’s feature artist is Rachel Power, a writer and visual artist best known for her book of interviews with artists who are also mothers, exploring their experience of feeling torn between their creative drive and their devotion to their kids.
1. What art do you make?
I write. I also do a lot of drawing, but not in any professional capacity. Recently I contributed some monoprints to a group exhibition, Intersection: The Art of Motherhood, at Red Gallery in Melbourne, and it felt really good to have a that chance to work on something visual. Writing is so cerebral.
2. What is one of your proudest achievements as an artist?
Undoubtedly my proudest achievement to date is the publication of my book, The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood, which features conversations with women artists (writers, visual artists, musicians, actors, dancers and film directors) about how they combine their two greatest passions: art and family.
Affirm Press has recently republished a new edition titled Motherhood & Creativity: The Divided Heart.
When I started editing this book I had no idea if it would be of interest to anybody beyond myself – but as it turned out, I wasn’t alone in feeling torn between my creative drive and my devotion to my kids.
I get loads of letters and emails from its small but devoted readership and it feels incredible to know that it’s played even a small part in helping people stay on track with their art, whatever the constraints and heartaches.
3. What has been a challenge recently, and how did you overcome it?
Getting The Divided Heart back into print was a challenge – and for a time I considered self-publishing, though I had no idea how I was going to raise the capital for this. In the end I was lucky enough to find a champion in editor Aviva Tuffield at Affirm Press and together we made it happen.
Writing itself is a permanent and ongoing challenge for me, especially on top of family responsibilities and full-time work.
I am not one of those writers who the words pour out of; it’s more of a “getting blood out of a stone” scenario. But I feel a deep need to keep trying – to keep grappling with the world around me and try to describe my experience of it. Writing is the only thing that makes me fully alive and engaged. Otherwise I fear I would put all that energy into online shopping or something equally unfulfilling and expensive!
4. What are you most excited by creatively right now?
Right now I’m very excited about writing fiction, but I have no idea if I can do it. Which is kind of why it’s exciting. The same themes still preoccupy me – the pain and vulnerability that comes with being a parent, the subtle complexities of long-term relationships, how to hold down a day-job and keep your creative self alive! But I think I’ve explored these to death in non-fiction and the only way I can move any deeper is through fiction. It’s a long-term goal!
5. What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given about growing your career as an artist?
“Advice” can come in unexpected forms sometimes.
Recently, a dear friend of mine who runs a café told me that all he wants to do is “smash it out and make people feel good”.
He was talking about making coffee, but the words immediately resonated with me. I wrote “SMASH IT OUT” on a piece of paper and stuck it above my desk. I can’t think of a better approach to writing, especially a first draft.
The piece of advice that I give everybody – especially women – is that you have to give yourself permission to be an artist.
Permission is a significant word. Beyond that it’s all about discipline. By and large, women are still very bad at putting themselves first, as we’re taught to put the needs of others first and we have so many other demands vying for our attention.
Musician Clare Bowditch and I were neighbours for many years when our kids were small, and I learnt so much just from watching her. She was embarking on her career at the same time as having her first child and I would often be at her house when she’d say to her husband, “OK, the breast-milk’s in the freezer, I’ll be back in two hours”, walk out the door and go somewhere to work on her lyrics or whatever. It sounds pretty basic, but this is harder than you might think for a mother of a new baby. She has been a great model for me of a woman taking herself seriously as an artist.
I also firmly believe that your only responsibility as an artist is to keep mining the thread of whatever it is that’s preoccupying you, and that will give your work its best chance of speaking to others.
6. Where can we find your work and connect with you?
Motherhood & Creativity: The Divided Heart can be found in bookshops or ordered at www.affirmpress.com.au/motherhood-creativity.
You can find my blog, The Rachel Papers, here: rachel-power.blogspot.com.au.
My twitter handle is @thedividedheart and Instagram: @therachelpapers.
Clare Bowditch will be launching Motherhood & Creativity: The Divided Heart at Readings Carlton on Wednesday, May 6 – check for full details here.
I will be hosting a panel discussion between Jane Caro and Claudia Karvan at the Sydney Writers Festival on May 24. Details here.
You can catch me speaking about creativity and motherhood on Triple RRR on April 10 at 8am, and on PBS Radio on April 13 at 1pm.
I will also be appearing at the Williamstown Literary Festival in June and at the Melbourne Writers Festival in August.
- Get more inspirational reads like this sent straight to your inbox – subscribe here.
- Interested in working together to make your creative dream a reality? I’d love to hear from you.
You might also enjoy:
- Celebrating female artists: Introducing Malia Walsh, theatre & circus artist
- Celebrating female artists: Introducing Shu Shu Zheng, writer, visual artist & musician
- Celebrating female artists: Introducing Maria Blackwell, visual artist
- Celebrating female artists: Introducing Sarah Jane Pell, extreme artist & space/summit/sea explorer
- Celebrating female artists: Introducing Xanthea O’Connor, living statue, musician & arts manager