A painter, a writer, photographer, mother, and activist, amongst other things. Originally from Oklahoma, Erin has been calling Ireland her home for the last 12 years and currently resides in Loughrea. She spoke to Julia Monard about pregnancy and motherhood, grief, love, community and the strength of women.
Generation 20 is a photo and interview series by Julia Monard focusing on the new wave of artists in Galway.
What brought you to where you are now?
I’ve always wanted to be an artist, even as a kid. When I met my now husband, I was trying to decide if I wanted to move to Ireland for love, or if I wanted to go to art school in America. I decided that I could only have the opportunity of that love once and that I could always teach myself art. I’ve been painting ever since I moved here 12 years ago. It was through my infertility journey that I started painting images of motherhood. I painted all the time as my way to manifest a pregnancy and what I have now. I am in love with women, their bodies, pregnancy and motherhood, I find it really beautiful.
How has your art changed since you became a mother?
I really like to show the rawness of it all, especially the postpartum. I also try to make my children’s childhoods as magical as possible and bring that magic into my art. I want my children to grow up seeing themselves in art, as well as seeing different bodies. I like to capture what we are right now – I really love having the messiness and mundaneness of every day in art and finding the beauty in it with our kids.
How did you pick up your art form?
I’ve been painting all my life; my parents always encouraged us to do what we wanted to do, to follow our dreams and they were quite creative. I love watercolour, because it can’t be controlled very well; it’s soft and gentle and it’s cheap. I started with watercolour because I could afford it and it dries fast. I just find it really easy – it flows naturally for me. When you’ve got kids, you could be working on something and it dries quickly, instead of an oil painting that could be sitting there for weeks and nobody can touch it. It’s portable and that fits in well with motherhood.
What is your process of creating?
It depends – I have been busy with activism and things always change with the kids, so you have to bend and go with it. Before kids, I used to love working all night; that was my time and that was when the muse was there. Now, I have conversations with the muse -we’re in a relationship together. She has to work with me and she can’t control me. Though I still get into bed at night sometimes and I can’t go to sleep because I need to draw something. Right now, I like to get the kids off to school, I tidy up a bit, make myself a coffee or a tea and put on music. If I have commission work, I try to start with that or I look for things that I am inspired by.
You created the series In Her Shoes – Women of the Eighth. Do you combine activism and art?
Everything within my activism is the point of view of a mother and an artist. In Her Shoes – Women of the Eighth began as an art story in January 2018. When I started talking to people about why a woman deserves reproductive healthcare in their home, I felt that if they’d ‘walk in her shoes’, they’d have a better understanding. I thought about the personal artefacts of people, women especially – their dresses, their lipstick, and their shoes just sitting there. We all have these things in our lives that are really personal, and you can connect with them. I wanted to tell their stories with items that belonged to them, so people would relate and realise that it could be anybody. I feel that, ultimately, art is very much about human stories.
How would you like to see your artforms represented in 2020?
One area that is important in my art is storytelling – that genuine, honest life. I tend to lean towards girls and women and their stories and experiences of being in the world. Something I would love to focus on is gatherings of girls and women and doing art with them. Creating that safe environment for storytelling and also, finding their voices and expressing themselves through their art in different mediums. Looking at the regular things in life and the rituals that we all have and viewing them in different perspectives and appreciating them more.
What would you like to see happening in 2020 for children?
I have been frustrated by the fact that there is a lack of art in primary schools. I am surprised that there isn’t an hour a day in the curriculum where they are doing some form of art. It’s not until secondary school. At a young age, when all children are brilliant artists is the best time to nourish what they’re already naturally doing.
“At a young age, when all children are brilliant artists, is the best time to nourish what they’re already naturally doing.”
Has there been a defining moment in your life that has altered the way you look at things?
There are a lot of defining moments – it’s hard to pick one. Going through infertility at a young age has given me more compassion for other women. Having a miscarriage definitely impacted how I felt about my connection with women, life and death, pregnancy and birth and the scariness of restrictive laws. My homebirths were transformative and my connections with my midwives were really beautiful. My mother’s early death and coming to face that. I’d spent last year avoiding grief, even though I looked the most powerful to everybody else, doing big and scary things. Coming out of that has shifted my perspective. I feel grateful.
How does Ireland play into your story?
Ireland is my home. My family came from Ireland a long time ago and being here feels like I was welcomed back. I am one of our first ancestors that came back. Every day, when I am outside in the grass, I just think about who was here before me. People have accepted me here. Irish people are just sound. They’re really laid back, compassionate, empathetic and accepting of things that you wouldn’t expect.
What is it like living in Loughrea?
Living in Loughrea has changed a lot for me because now I have community. Loughrea is incredibly safe and it’s become a melting pot of people within the last ten years. My daughter can walk to school and it’s very multi-denominational. She’s in classes with children from the Philippines, China, and Brazil, Turkey, Lithuania. It’s incredible that they’ve got the world in a classroom and in our estate. My kids are getting to experience different cultures in a small town that didn’t have that before. It’s been really interesting and beautiful seeing the things that she’s learning in class because her friends are from another country and culture.
If there were no limitations, what would you be doing?
I want to do everything. I want to travel all over Ireland. I want to write books. Limitations are difficult. What is a limitation? Is it monetary? Is it time? Is it responsibility? Is it the limitation of your own fear? It’s a hard one. I’d love to be able to go away for a month at a time, rent a little cottage, disconnect from the world and just work intensely. I have simple dreams – to show my art in a gallery, to illustrate and write books, to have workshops with kids.
What do you think is missing in Galway in terms of culture?
I think there’s a mixed mark in bringing in larger corporations for things like the Christmas Market instead of extending that to local artists and having that at affordable rates. I feel like that’s diluting the culture that’s already here, which is the most intense and beautiful and wild. There are so many incredible artists here that are not discovered, and they can’t get into the markets because it’s too expensive. I don’t think there’s anything missing, it’s just that there are too many rules and regulations that restrict artists. Like the buskers in Galway really struggling to have their space and small entrepreneurs starting out and not being able to sell their coffee in Salthill. Instead of looking at what can be nicely packaged and sold, and what is just for tourists, look at stuff at grass root levels. Because the real stuff is for tourists too – that’s what they want. They want authentic experiences and art and to support local artists.
What lifts you when you’re down?
My kids. Swimming in the lake. Music. Dancing in the kitchen. Being barefoot outside – I have to. That’s the one way to come back.
What is the most inspiring place for you?
Ballyconneely. It is otherworldly and magical. It makes me emotional thinking about it. It so ancient, peaceful, humble and raw. I stayed in my friend’s cottage just off the beach, in the mountains with a lake on the other side. Every 15 minutes a storm comes, and rainbows are every five minutes. It’s so green and the people are so wonderfully nosy. You’re invited into everybody’s house for a cup of tea, or most likely whiskey. Their houses are the sweetest and they’re living the most simply. They’re so welcoming with their nosiness because they want to know what you’re doing. It’s the same out on the Aran Islands. It’s so beautiful and rugged, it’s the end of the world. You think about who stood here before and the ones who left – that was the last place that they saw. I always feel a huge sense of coming back when I’m there. That’s where my ancestors were.
“Right now, more than ever, people have found their voice and are rising and finding a lot of freedom.”
How would you describe Generation 20 in your circles?
Fierce. I think that right now more than ever. people have found their voice and are rising and finding a lot of freedom. There’s a lot of shifting for a lot of people – a lot of healing is happening right now. So much has changed very quickly. Conversations are open. People are in community and ready to be taken care of and to care for others.
What are some daily struggles you face?
Grief is the most difficult, because it’s every day. It can also sometimes be the relationship you have with yourself, the ugly voices you have at the back of your head. Choosing to love yourself is a daily thing. I don’t think I struggle in the way people tend to think of artists – not all artists come from a place of struggling; it doesn’t have to be hard. That can sometimes be a misconception and it can hinder artists if they think they can’t be happy making art. A lot of my art comes from happy places. Right after my mom died, I made some of the most indescribable pieces of art, but for a year after that, I wasn’t able to make anything – it didn’t flow. Being in the right place with my life, my body, my hormones, and mental health allows it to not be a struggle to create.
When did you feel the happiest?
In my pregnancy with my first baby. That was the time I fell in love with myself. I loved her, and I loved knowing that I had to be a powerful woman for a daughter in the world. Giving birth to my babies and breastfeeding them. Being in the relationship with my husband brings me incredible joy and gratefulness. Being home.
What are some of your creative highlights?
Paintings that are now hanging in the intensive care unit in one of the hospitals in Dublin to help mothers release their stress and pump milk. And anytime somebody buys my art and wants to hang it in their house – because it becomes a part of their memories, their home.
What would you like to see Galway 2020 achieve for your generation?
I would love to see 2020 really sink deeply into the roots that are there and lift them up, instead of making things shiny and pretty. Trust the artists, go back to grassroots art. You have all these people that have just come in and made it their own and have become the regulars of the town, these characters. Galway is a village really and it’s so sweet and perfect as it is.
What would you like the legacy of 2020 to be?
I can give you a quote by Rupi Kaur that represents me right now, but also what I can say for 2020 and all the projects I’ve done. ‘I stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me, thinking what can I do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther.’ I did In Her Shoes through the grief of my mom. I did it for me and my daughter, but I also did it as a legacy for her. It was really important for me to do something big. Legacy work – you don’t know it’s a legacy when you’re doing it, but you also do, because you’re trying so hard to change something. I try to be the change I want to see in the world for my kids. When somebody is saying ‘I wish somebody would do this’, know that you are somebody. I hope as a legacy of 2020 for people doing their art and making things in whatever field there in – that they’re inspired to be that person to just start. There’s no right or wrong way of doing it when you do it with intention and integrity.
Generation 20 is a photo and interview series focusing on the new wave of artists in Galway. With each interview and portrait, we aim to uncover their motivations, aspirations and frustrations. To get the full authentic picture and find their common link, bring them all together and into the light. How does their journey relate to Galway and where would they like to see it in 2020? We want to see the people in the budding stages of their expression, those that are quietly grafting and doing wonderful things.
Open, bold and colourful, this is #generation20.
Photos and interviews by Julia Monard.