I Am. Artist. Mother. Me. Emotional repair – embroidering the moment

Oona McClure, I am. artist. mother. me. 2020
Oona McClure, Making Known, 2019 – ongoing

My name is Oona McClure and I am artist and art therapist. I consider myself British-Canadian since I was born and spent my childhood in the UK but immigrated with my family to Canada as a teen. I have called Victoria, BC (on Vancouver Island) home for the past 6 years and live in a cozy apartment containing copious books and an abundance of creative projects with my partner, Tim and our 2 year old son, Audric.

For as long as I can remember I have held a deep love for artistic communication and expression. For me the art-making process is an enriching place for imagination, inquiry, empowerment, and relational connection. My art practice can be described as ‘textile mark-making’ and the process of drawing in thread arose as a way to trace the cycles of grief and loss following the death of my beloved grandmother. In an attempt to exteriorise the circuitous process of memory and mourning, I used a sewing machine to trace the void left by losing this meaningful connection. I used each pass of needle and thread to meditate on a cherished memory, with each circumference tracing the recalled moment. Each circle was an attempt to (re)capture the essential core of what was once experienced. Yet this act of recollection marked a new, permanent memory, leaving an object to remember remembering. In recent years my art practice has been informed by my evolving relationship to motherhood. I continue to document intimate personal experiences and address the (dis)connections we have to our stories by ritualising the impossibility of returning to the origin of our memories. My artwork also wishes to honour a mother’s lived experience as complex and compelling.

I had a solo exhibit planned for May 2020 called ‘I Am. Artist. Mother. Me.’ but due to the global pandemic it was unfortunately cancelled. The pieces that were to be exhibited were an accumulation of over 2 years work directly exploring motherhood and it would of being the unveiling of the newest collection, Making Known. Despite some initial disappointment I have been grateful that the gallery (the fifty fifty arts collective) has made an attempt to creatively respond to the situation. I have been offered the opportunity to share my art via an online exhibit (check out thefiftyfifty.net) and coordinate a week long ‘takeover’ of their Instagram account. The online delivery method has also enabled me to share my work with a larger audience and a wonderful upshot is that friends that live in different places have been able to ‘visit’. Although the online exhibit is certainly not the same as an in-person show, I am thankful to still be able to share my thoughts and connect with others in this renewed way.

Oona McClure, I am. artist. mother. me. 2020

‘I Am. Artist. Mother. Me.’ is a deeply personal inventory of artwork, which I am immensely proud of creating. It features new and existing works that offer an intimate view of an unfolding relationship to motherhood. Through the process of textile mark-making, ideas around the multiplicity of self and the act of memorialising and remembrance are explored. The artworks include Marked Moments (2017-2018), Wails of Becoming (2018), My Time (2018-2019), and Making Known (2019 – ongoing). These collections strive to present a mother’s lived experience as complex and compelling. Likewise they attempt to deconstruct and augment the discourse on how and what it feels like to “mother”. The 4 collections depict the personal stages of my journey through motherhood so far. Firstly Marked Moments documents my pregnancy, Wails of Becoming is a multifaceted piece encompassing my labour, My Time symbolises my first year of mothering, and finally Making Known addresses the bigger picture of maternal mental health in the postpartum period.

Here’s a little bit about each collection!

Marked Moments documents the physical, cognitive and emotional realizations that transpired over the duration of my pregnancy. A weekly drawing symbolising the gestational age was created by inscribing paper with the equivalent number of circular marks. The work provided her the space to find a voice to express the vulnerability, trepidation and excitement associated with this familiar yet deeply personal experience. The collection of 40 works on paper was completed when the pregnancy ended, marking the culmination of one experience and the commencement of another.

Oona McClure, Marked Moments, (2017-2018)

Wails of Becoming is a series of ‘movement’ drawings (also fondly referred to as contraction drawings) that have been embroidered onto antique linen. The original drawings were marked in a sketchbook with pencil each time a contraction occurred during early labour. These embodied drawings document a period of time from 7:04 to 8:57pm on March 11, 2018. Art-making was used as a way to manage the initial discomfort and pain by focusing energy into the creative process. In the months after the birth, the drawings were transferred onto fabric once again ritualizing and deepening the relationship to the memory remembered. This collection is one of my personal favourites and marks a truly defining moment in my life. Four of the embroidered pieces are framed and hang in my living room – they always incite questions from guests.

My Time was conceptualised as a daily art practice honouring the first year of motherhood where the opportunity to sew one stitch each day would be offered. Each daily stitch celebrates the window of time that was set aside to dedicate to the practice of art-making and self-care. It equally acknowledges how the acts and demands of child-rearing are exhausting and challenging. Days, weeks and even months would pass before the opportunity or capacity to stitch arose.  This circular formation is an attempt to retain a connection to a former self while establishing a new identity. In doing so it was met with leaps and hurdles denoting the simultaneous experience of navigating the mercurial waters of new parenthood.

Oona McClure, Making Known 2019 – ongoing

As previously mentioned, the newest work in the exhibit is Making Known. This is a growing collection of ‘embroidery conversations’ which are an act of socially engaged art relating to maternal mental health. These conversations involve myself and a guest (friend) having a spontaneous dialogue while actively sewing. The participatory act intends to challenge the overwhelming feelings of loneliness and isolationism. Making Known questions how we relate and connect to others (and ourselves) by making meaning through a shared experience. These shared experiences become a lived memory through textile mark-making and signify the spoken and unspoken moments of a conversation. One friend likened this series to me art therapy-ising myself which in a way is true. As an artist and art therapist there is a beautiful overlap and one which like motherhood informs my art practice in interesting ways.

Oona McClure, Making Known ( detail ) 2019 – ongoing

Due to the pandemic Making Known has been re-imagined and I am now engaged in another participatory piece that once again challenges isolationism BUT this time through the lens of social distancing and online communication. This new project is called I See You and involves myself and a friend simultaneously drawing blind contour portraits of each other over a video call. I then memorialise the shared experience by embroidering the portraits onto an antique table cloth. The intention is to have a table cloth full of portraits celebrating moments of intimacy despite the detachment and division that can arise when having virtual conversations. I’ve found that doing the blind contours is wonderfully intimate and simultaneously ridiculously funny, which underscores that the process of making art can be meaningful, reflective and even entertaining. The project may seem serious but is immensely joy-filled! And my son even said ‘Mummy, I love your art’ when looking at this piece – my heart exploded.

Oona McClure, I See You – on-going participatory project, 2020

People often comment on the type of material I select to draw/sew/mark onto. Several years ago I began collecting previously loved household linens (handkerchiefs, napkins, tablecloths etc.) and now use these as my fabric for the textile mark-making. The work is imbued with a past story (normally unknown to me) and the current one that is being told.

Louise Bourgeois, who is my fave artist, is accredited with saying ‘the act of sewing is a process of emotional repair”. During uncertain and challenging times (like the present) perhaps more of us may find art-making to be a place to connect, contemplate and heal.

Thank you to Helen at MA for reaching out and providing me the opportunity to share my ideas on art and the maternal – it is so meaningful and makes me feel more connected during this period of disconnection. If you want to connect and keep updated on all my past, current and upcoming projects take a peek at my website oonamcclure.weebly.com or Instagram @hearten_art_therapy Until then….