Thursday, May 28, 2015

Painting Parent -Alia El-Bermani

Cygnet 30″ x 20″ oval
How many children do you have? What are their ages?  I have two children.  My daughter just turned 11 and my son is about to turn 9.

Nest 8″ x 8″
How did your artistic career begin?  My career started in California after graduating from Laguna College of Art and Design.  At the time I was working in a gallery part-time to pay the bills, and keeping 4 days a week sacred for the studio.  A wonderful gallery in Santa Barbara named Sullivan Goss Gallery took a chance on me by including my work in a few group exhibitions which led to several solo exhibitions in the years to follow.  I currently am represented by Haynes Galleries in Nashville, TN and Thomaston, ME.

What is your Parenting/work/art situation?  Now that my kids are older, I have more time than ever in my parenting life.  They attend a year round public school – which means they go to school 9 weeks and then have a 3 week break all year round.  It is very different than a traditional calendar school year, but it works well for our family.  Instead of having a 2-3 month break over the summer (which tends to be high season for getting works created for fall and winter exhibitions, the breaks are spread out in more manageable chunks.  Also, when they are “tracked out” on their break, there are plenty of enrichment and care options within the community to squeeze in more studio time if I need it.  So these days, I have about 6 hours a day in the studio. 

Paige at Mirror 36″ x 24″
When do you make time to do your art and do you have a regular art routine? I do have a regular routine – I think that is key for me in finding balance and having a clear focus of how I need to use each day.  Tuesdays I volunteer in my kid’s school for about 2 hours, so I have gotten in the habit of making that day a business day.  I return emails and phone calls, deal with packing/ shipping works and any other computer heavy business on Tuesdays.  Otherwise, the other days are for research and painting and that is all.  All household chores are done at night or early mornings before school.

Do your children get involved with your art?  Do they inspire aspects of your art?

Sienna As Archer 48″ x 36″
Both of my children have been wonderful subjects for me to paint.  My daughter is currently at this awkward age of transition between childhood and adulthood.  I think we are both using my art as a way to explore and figure out this age of transition.  I was a natural parent when they were wee ones and toddlers.  I had an innate instinct about parenting these young children.  But this advancement towards teenage-hood seems daunting, uncharted and frankly, I have payback coming.  Painting her in this age has helped me better understand her and her current needs.  I recently did a painting of my daughter Sienna as an archer.  It was such a wonderful experience to see her gain confidence and empowerment as she saw the work being created.  I did a blog about the experience which you can read here:

Guardian 48″ x 36″
As for my son… he had a very rocky start to his life.  He had a rough delivery which left him with hemiplegic cerebral palsy.  Those early years of his life were the toughest years for our family.  I gave up teaching at a college to devote my time to his care and advocacy.  That in itself was a full time job but I don’t regret a thing.  At nights I would paint and I somehow managed to keep my career as an artist alive.  Though the physical, occupational and later speech therapies seemed arduous and unending, that diligent work quite literally changed his life.  His original diagnosis predicted that he would never be able to run, or play on a jungle gym.  I think now, the lay person would have no idea that he had any issues.  I can happily share that he is now a pretty mean, left back, defensive soccer player, as well as talented hip hop dancer.  But that time in our lives and my feelings of inadequacy (at being able to do it all, and be his best advocate) and the deep sense of loss of myself haunted me for years.  Those complicated feelings all manifested in a painting of him titled Guardian.  This work features him at about age 3 ½.  By that age, he had already overcome much, but still you can see his tenuous right hand awkwardly being hidden and in his left hand he holds a rock.  At his feet is a flightless crow.  It appears that the crow has a broken wing.  You aren’t sure if he caused an injury to the crow or if he is protecting the crow.  And then if you know something about crows, you may know that they often will feign injury to lure predators away from their young.  It is ambiguous who the guardian in this unlikely relationship is. 

Mourning Dove, Innocence 12″ x 9″
How has having children changed your artwork?  Before children, I was creating works that exploited the psychology of my sitters.  I seemed to be attracted to their angst or neuroses.  It was fashion to paint the ugliest bits of people.  After having my daughter, I almost immediately realized that I did not want to highlight that part of our humanity.  I wanted to shine a light on the beautiful aspects of being human.

How does making time for artwork influence other household tasks?  Our home is a mess and I try to be ok with that.  All household tasks are secondary to art.  My husband too is an artist and we both understand and respect the urge to create over all other aspects of life.  There will always be laundry and dishes, but ideas are fleeting.

Becoming 24″ x 24″
Have different ages of your children been more difficult to make time for artwork and in which ways?  Yes indeed.  As I stated above, the young years of especially my son and the special care that he needed was the most difficult time to make time for my artwork – but I did have the dedication and drive to make the time I needed to continue.

How do you encourage your children to be artistic?  My children are both naturally gifted.  My daughter has an incredible wrist and can draw amazingly realistic images from her imagination.  She seems to understand perspective better than most adults.  While, my son tends to be more sculptural and think and create in 3D.  It’s fascinating to watch their development.  I have tried to make Sundays a studio day for them.  My daughter has taken to it well, learning how to draw from life in charcoal.  My son seems too loose interest pretty quick though.  I am hoping this is more of an age/ developmental thing than a real disinterest in learning from me. Really though, I can’t blame him – most times I’d much rather be outside playing too. 

Do you feel extra pressure as an artist to raise your children to be artistic?  No.  I actually have purposefully resisted pushing them in any direction.  They are their own people and my biggest goal for them is to find their own happiness.  If creating makes them happy, I am so ready to help them – but I have no need to push them into it if it’s not in their heart.

Have you seen your children take inspiration from your artwork?  I think I have seen my husband’s art actually influence my children more.  He is a character designer for video games as well as a comic artist.  For my kids, drawing monsters is way more appealing than painting another nude or still life.   

As He Worked 12″ x 9″
In what ways does being an artist make being a parent harder or easier?  Financially having both my husband and I as artists can be a disadvantage to parenting.  We have made it a priority to live well within our means so that we can afford to make art that is meaningful.  Often that means we have to say no to birthday parties and the various activities they would like to participate in.  But in other ways, being an artist means that we are creative problem solvers and can easily maneuver the varied aspects life with children can throw at us.  We are fun to do homework with, and dinner out always includes a draw-off.     

Do you think being a parent affects the way you are perceived as an artist?  I’m not sure how others perceive me.  I think maybe especially as a woman painting my children could be dangerous; could be seen as merely a sentimental (and therefore less valid or worthy) act.  But I don’t really give a hoot.  I am living an honest and fulfilling life and I am grateful for the beautiful family I have and the perspective it grants me. 

Are there any other things about Balancing Painting and Parenting that you would like to share?  Well, back when I was in the midst of the care for my young son, I wrote a blog about motherhood and Art.  In it I shared this quote by Andrew Wyeth. “One's art goes as far and as deep as one's love goes.” I think that ‘love’ Wyeth is talking about is as much the love the artist has for her subject and process as well as the love that’s put into the artist from those around her.  Having a loving family has been a wonderful thing for my life as an artist. 

Here is a link to that blog post in full:

Space Between 36″ x 48″