jen groeber: mama art

4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.

Mama Makes Art (and I Ain’t Lion)

second skin, cabot

second skin, cabot
11 x 33″
woodcut on paper
2013
Jennifer Groeber

second skin, mica

second skin, mica
11 x 33″
woodcut on paper
2013
Jennifer Groeber

So I have an art exhibit hanging somewhere. (At Pingree School, Bertolon Gallery, opening party at 6 pm on Nov. 5th, 2013, but who’s asking?) I write this because the concept is obscene. I have an art exhibit of 35 prints from the last three years hanging in a gallery. I. Have. Art.

Well you get it. I’m shocked that I sloppily, hastily, disorganized-ly somehow pulled it off. I have four kids between the ages of three and six who are with me seemingly every minute of every day, except maybe date night. Or if I can convince my husband to watch them while I go for a 25 minute run.

There is no spare time in my life to return phone calls or write or even to take a shower. Seriously. It took me over two years to get a haircut even though I knew I was going to formal events with coven-style-hag-hair. Two years, people! That’s how busy it is.

But somehow I spent evenings and stolen chunks of time sketching, carving wood, cutting paper, collaging and printing. For once, I am proud of me.

The final piece for the show was to be one in a series based on my children’s Halloween costumes from last year. They each dressed as these darling animals; a bunny, a dinosaur, a dog and best of all, five-year-old Jasper was a lion. While all his cohorts were vampires or ghouls or ninjas or pirates, my sweet boy let me squeeze him into a brown fuzzy zippered-up-the-front lion suit. With a fluffy orange mane. And tail.

Halloween 2012And so this series is called Second Skin. Because I understand that last Halloween was likely the last one that, given the opportunity to transform into a gun-wielder, a hooker, an otherwise rule-breaker or trademark character, my kids would choose Innocence as their second skin.

I hung the show leaving room for that one last print, Jasper’s lion, which needed only the final touches of carving in order to print. I traced and cut the collage paper, prepared the plate, got the ink, organized my studio, set aside a precious hour-and-a-half (an eternity!) and printed.

second skin, jasper

second skin, jasper
11 x 33″
woodcut on paper
2013
Jennifer Groeber

It’s hard to explain what it means to me, this show, these woodblocks I carve, the carefully prepared collage paper, the physical exertion. I don’t think even I knew what it all meant exactly until Cabot ran her finger right across the image on that still-wet print, smearing the ink across the details and into the margins.

Because making art means ME, not just Mama, but the me who existed before Mama, before Tim and Maryland Institute College of Art, before Yale and high school and any art teacher I ever had. Before I knew what art was, I made art.

When I found the damaged print and screeched, “WHO DID THIS? GET. IN. HERE!!” in my best Mommy Dearest voice, I felt such rage, defeat… and betrayal.

Four sets of padded feet ran in to see what was happening, and four sets of eyes looked to the print, to me, to my tears, to the print… and they totally got it, too. Jasper burst into tears. Three sets of feet took a step backwards leaving only wee, three-year-old Baby Cabot to face the music. Mica turned to Cabot and threatened to hit her. It got heavy for a moment. Maybe more than a moment.

Jasper the Lion, October 2012

So for all kinds of reasons, I haven’t gotten around to reprinting the lion, to scrubbing down the plate, drying it, tracing and cutting and collaging and so on. This week it all feels so overwhelming. But I will. I will print an image that tries to capture my children’s innocence, that memorializes this time in their lives, for them, and for me. Because even as they wear me down, way down, way,way, hag-hair, Faye-Dunaway-as-Joan-Crawford down, I know that they are my inspiration.

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One comment on “Mama Makes Art (and I Ain’t Lion)

  1. Margie S
    March 7, 2014

    I get it, they don’t , but I do. Hang in there, it will get better. Says the one whose children are post toddlerhood, and pre rip- roaring teen. Lucky you, gray hair doesn’t seem to be your issue, I walked around with a perpetual gray strip down the middle- I was often confused with Pepe Le Pew.

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