Before the pandemic and the birth of my infant back in March 2020, I considered myself a ceramic artist who made some installation and mixed media work. Having a baby in March during a worldwide pandemic necessitated some changes. For a while the university ceramics lab where I work was shut down, and all teaching went online. Then because of new Covid-19 restrictions the studio needed to be radically repurposed and all my things moved to another area. This new space took awhile to become workable. Though I have a supportive husband who has also worked from home during the pandemic and shares childcare equally, nursing made finding longer chunks of time to go to the studio difficult.
I needed new ways to make art. I experimented wildly; playing with the supplies I had at home and using up sketchbook after sketchbook. After doing this for a couple of months, I found that I was becoming more interested in collage, which was easier to do piecemeal throughout the day. I studied different collage methods and practiced layering multiple media.
I’ve settled upon making collages from painted paper. These collages use odd juxtapositions to visualise the surreal feeling of the pandemic. My two daughters; one 10.5 months, the other 15 years old, act as inspiration, collaborators, and occasionally saboteurs as I create these images and narratives. The works are anchored in time to the pandemic because I utilise my growing/changing daughters as models, but they also capture the way that time has lost meaning and days blend together with their dream-like imagery.
The main “media” for my current work is paper bags saved from grocery pick-ups during the pandemic. They are readily available, free, and have an interesting base colour. They also show the crease lines from being folded. The brown bags are painted with acrylic then cut up and pieced together. The resulting collages are layered with oil pastel, paint pen, and pencil. I’ve found additional visual inspiration in Russian Icons, marine life, common household objects, and the plants in my garden.
This semester, I’ve resumed teaching in the ceramics lab and am working to rebalance child care with longer hours away from home. With this change of place and pace, I’ve started creating more sculptural work. I’m considering how these distinct bodies of work (sculpture and collage) might overlap, or if I want to keep them separate. Regardless, these collages have become a snapshot of this particular time that evolved from the constraints of working from home with children and limited materials.
Tara Carpenter Estrada is a professor of art education at Brigham Young University (BYU). As a practising artist, she makes mixed-media and ceramic art that is shown in national and international juried exhibitions. She presents regularly at conferences including the National Art Education Association and the National Conference on Education for the Ceramic Arts and her writing has been featured in Visual Inquiry, Art Education, and the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative. She is currently editing a book called “An Artist and A Mother” with submissions ongoing for Demeter Press.