Katarina sent me these questions as part of my Painting Like a Mother Residency. I spent a good two weeks thinking about them… I wish I could express clearly what a privilege it is to receive questions like this and interact with someone like Katarina, who centers her heart on what she does. A couple of times during the residency, Katarina asked me for feedback on what I thought could be better in the residency. At both times, I resorted back to thinking about the institutionalization of artistic residencies and thinking about the typical activities in professional art settings: critiques, studio visits with specialists, the creation of goals, schedules, etc. These are all valuable things, I know. Yet, the Painting Like a Mother Residency has some of this structure inherently embedded in it: Katarina's husband Robert provided invaluable technical assistance for installing my Motherhood flag and open heart to listen to my Ode to the flag, and allowed me to explain where the images in my painting come from, asking me sincere and straightforward questions; Katarina's mother-in-law Reese also asked me about my painting process. She was interested in understanding why I paint abstraction, and she was open to my answers regarding spiritual experiences and my search for what we see beyond our material lives. I enjoyed seeing Katarina's father-in-law Bob's reaction to my flag when arriving at the ranch and noticing Alenka's preferences in my paintings: she always pointed out her favorite ones, letting me know that the most colorful and the pink ones were the prettiest! On the last Saturday afternoon, after we organized the studio with all the paintings I'd done and the flag was up, we had what felt like an impromptu open studio moment with all the children, both husbands, and the grandmother, everyone talking at the same time, looking at the paintings and overall just enjoying the unique feeling that one has while being inside an artist's studio. All these moments that I'm recording here paralleled in my experience those structured art-world activities that I kept listing to Katarina: they provided me with the opportunity to build up clarity around my painting practice and to remind me, yet again, why I insist on painting. I hope some of this clarity will show in my answers below, and I know some of it will unfold over time, as inevitably, one needs time to show the results of deep and meaningful experiences like this residency.
Katarina: What do you appreciate the most in life? What do you appreciate the most in art (of others) and in your own art?
Debora: I appreciate the capacity NOT to take life for granted, to recognize that we are alive and that this in itself is SO fantastic. I appreciate art for that same reason because art is the result of an activity that makes human life evident; we make art out of a useless necessity of telling us and others that we are alive, that we are here making sense of this life the way that we can, the only way that is possible to us.
Katarina: What would you like to learn to let go of in life and art?
Debora: I would love to let go of my need for institutions in life and art. I grew up in academia; my parents were university professors, and I started going to school when I was two years old. My whole life was institutionalized, and my time and activities were always framed according to the schedule of classes and the external (to my own rhythm) demands established by the educational system. Nowadays, I'm learning to find value in activities that I generate out of my own interests and necessities. It is a deep and lengthy process to reconnect with my intuition and my body's knowledge and to allow others to live the same. To quiet down the demands that institutions and systems impose on us. It often feels hard to let go of the privileges and accolades that come with relationships within institutions, both at the material level (the salaries, fellowships, grants, etc) and the emotional level (the recognition, the titles, the certificates, etc). However, I've experienced that there is a more excellent and more exciting form of knowledge that comes from our bodies and our heritage and connection with other human beings, which cannot be accessed while upholding the shields and privileges of institutional/academic structures. So I want to, and I'm doing it gradually, letting go of my need for institutional structure and recognition.
Katarina: What do you think Motherhood gifted to you in your art practice, and what did it take?
Debora: Motherhood gifted me a sense of inevitability in my art practice, and it took, as I think for most, time for dedicated attention. I always saw myself as an artist since I was tiny, but it was as if I could avoid making art by doing all sorts of other professional activities. I was doing academic research and teaching, studying so many different topics, creating academic events, all things that consumed a lot of time and didn't allow me to create my own body of work. After becoming a mother, making art became somehow inevitable; it was as if every activity that I did with my children was an artwork in itself. So I became more and more eager to have the actual results of these artworks, to be able to hold and look at the actual paintings that I was seeing in my inner eye while taking care of my children. A little after my second child was born, I was holding him and talking with him... he was one week old. I was showing him the world around us and telling him about our family, and in the midst of it all, I told him that I was a painter and that my dream was to become an internationally known painter. It felt like I needed him to be born; I needed him, specifically, this person, to be in the world so I could voice this secret unknown to myself until then. So, Motherhood gifted me the strength and clarity to ascertain myself as an artist. It is, though, in fact, at least at this point when my children are so young, very hard to find the time to realize all that I have in mind. Materially speaking, life is very disorganized, and it takes a lot of time to clean the house, to wash the clothes, you know, the everyday tasks of the house with children.
Katarina: What advice would you give to other mothers who would like to keep creating?
Debora: Expand what you see as an artwork. Relish in the history of conceptual art, and allow your practice to become something that embraces ideas in addition to the crafty parts of painting, photography, sculpture, or whatever you dedicate yourself to. The more I lean into knowing that my practice is an expanded understanding of painting, the more satisfied I feel. Ultimately, I want to feel abundant and live in gratitude, and I want my art practice to build toward those expansive feelings. To do that, I need to remember that making art is a complex thing, not simply putting paint on canvas, but a series of many activities that will culminate at some point on an image on canvas (if painting is my choice).
Katarina: What comforts you during the more difficult times?
Debora: I take comfort in all that I don't know. Every time I feel that life is too difficult, like now with Israel's bombing of Gaza initially as a response to Hamas' attacks but, of course, becoming something so unbelievably violent and impossible to understand -- in moments like this, I take comfort in reminding myself that what I can contribute to the world is the upholding of mine and everyone's incapacity to understand life fully. And by that, I mean that there are many life events, many actions that we take that participate in the mystery of life, that have reasons that we can only account for afterward, that we can only make sense of when looking back. It comforts me not to try to explain or rationalize everything but to accept my and other's feelings.