Interview with 'Konstmamman'
Updated: Apr 23
Therese Vinterbarn Ekström aka Konstmamman
Describe your your family dynamic and art practice: I live with my partner Mattias and our four children, Estille 14, Bascquat 11, Kino soon 7, and Okki (Lilla O) soon 4 years old, in Skåne, Staffanstorp, a small town between Malmö and Lund in the south of Sweden. We live in a three-bedroom apartment that is quite crowded, but we hope to move to a bigger apartment in May.
I often start with a photograph that depicts a subject or a movement. The subject is usually my children, my own childhood, or various hand movements as a starting point. In my art, I always return to myself, my history and my experiences.
My creation is my way of trying to understand the world and life, my way of processing my thoughts and memories. I am very curious about and interested in details, both literally and figuratively, and enjoy the the meditative process of building a large drawing with small, thin lines; the drawings often consist of many layers of lines.
I often draw hands, fingers and I always draw from a photograph. Everything that is not said but sometimes unconsciously seen in how we hold and tie our hands I find exciting and telling. Everyday life becomes statements and movements into telling still images.
Have you got any upcoming events or plans that you can share: I will exhibit drawings and prints at ABSmåland @absmåland in Malmö throughout July. In October.
I had a planned exhibition with my art colleague Maja Carltoft at Gallery "Lord and Lydia" in Gothenburg which has unfortunately been canceled due to covid-19.
Collection of drawings
What is your story on becoming a mother: I never dreamed of having children. I honestly thought I did not want children until I met my partner Mattias, in 2003. Then I felt that I wanted to start a family with him, that it somehow felt right. We had an early miscarriage, and it has really affected both Mattias and I. And myself as an artist. In 2007 our daughter Estille was born. Between all our children, we have had miscarriages. Almost every other pregnancy has ended in miscarriage. The thing is, Mattias and I have been able to get pregnant easily, perhaps too easily. There have been four early miscarriages and four children.
When I was pregnant with Okki, in 2016, Mattias mother, my mother-in-law, Lisbet, was dying of cancer. It was so incredibly tough for us. We mourned. Mattias was with his mother every waking moment. I went back and forth to her at the hospice, took care of the children, and missed Mattias.
I then suffered from depression and was sent to the psychiatric emergency room by my health centre. I got medication and started taking a weak antidepressant during my pregnancy with Okki, and I felt better. Then my father betrayed me and my family, which has yet not healed.
My mother-in-law was buried on Friday 21 April, and Okki was born on Monday 24 April 2017. She was born with a planned caesarean section because her sisters were in the breech position. After two caesareans, we did not want to risk more complications. We had the nicest birth and baby bubble I ever had! It made a big difference not to be completely defenceless, which I am without antidepressants. I have been battling with depression since I was 18 and have had therapy and been medicated, but I have always stopped while I was pregnant. But in consultation with psychiatrists, doctors, and midwives, I have been taking them regularly since 2015. They advised that it is worse to end up in depression than take a milder antidepressant. At least, that was the case with me.
Our three daughters were born by caesarean section. However, our son Bascquat had a natural birth. (named after the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat with a different spelling due to brain fog after a long birth).
Then Mattias and I were separated for about a year. We lived in separate apartments and had shared custody of the children. We took a few days each. Then Okki was only a year old. It was hard because we had been together for so long. We had a house together and worked at the same job. But at the same time so liberating to be able to test my own wings. I had to start over in so many ways. Live alone, look for a new job, decide what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. I started drawing and creating even more. It was a release for the grief. After some time, we found each other again, and now we live together. A year ago, my uterus was removed due to health concerns.
Has your approach and methods to your work changed since you became a parent? It really has. I plan my days and my time more. I have an irregular schedule and sometimes have days free in the middle of the week (working as a sales advisor with responsibility in a large clothing store). I have to be flexible to find time for my art. I have been diagnosed with HSP - highly sensitive person, and it is difficult for me to work when everyone is at home. Sound and external stimuli distract me, especially since I currently have the easel in the living room. Still, at the same time, it was a conscious choice to be close to the children and thus be able to draw more often. Kino and Okki became very sensitive after I separated from my husband, Mattias. They want to see where I am. So the strategy is to draw when the children are in preschool and school, or I sit with headphones, preferably with an audiobook.
My high sensitivity has become more apparent the bigger my family has become, which feels a bit like a catch-22. I wish that I was a calm bread making mother with children around my legs and an easel next to it. Still, honestly, I am susceptible to stress and like to surround myself with structure and order so that thoughts and feelings do not get tangled up.
When I went into therapy in 2016-2017, my psychologist took up HSP, and I understood that it was part of my personality. Together we could find tools and strategies to make my everyday life work. When I was expecting Okki, I started my own company as an artist. I started making prints of my drawings to sell in various design markets. Becoming a parent, I have become less shy and dare to take more chances with my art. When I exhibited design markets around Sweden, Okki came along nestled into a baby wrap on my chest. I sat and breastfed and talked about my art. I started drawing on smaller surfaces, on A4 paper instead of large paintings in the studio. I set up a temporary art station in the kitchen to stand and draw while the pasta was boiling, Okki was rocked to sleep in the sling, and Kino drew next to it with the children's channel in the background. I took the opportunity to draw while Okki was breastfed from my left breast because I am right-handed
Can you describe a moment or a piece of work or inspiration that you feel was a turning point in your life? When I heard Neneh Cherry's summer talk on P1. Her mother, the artist Moki Karlsson Cherry (Okki's name is after Moki), said: "It's just one thing I have to tell you, and that is that life is big, do not divide it. You can be everything; a woman, a mother, an artist. Do not divide yourself. Everything is connected. Share your life with your child; otherwise, you may lose yourself."
Do you have someone that inspires your art practice or reflect ideas with: Frida Kahlo, both her personal struggles and her art, she also suffered from many miscarriages. Emma Ahlqvist @fromthepine and her book "My body created a human".
Lee Nowell-Wilson @leenowellwilson, Elin Sandström @eplet and Louise Bourgeois. I discuss pencils, art materials and technique with the artist Dea Svensson @deasdrawings. I admire his style of drawing.
How is your experience with the representation of female artists combining motherhood within the art world / your community: I I think there are more and more female artists who combine motherhood and art.
This makes me so happy because that's what I want to achieve, hence my name, Konstmamman/The Art Mother.
I want my motherhood to be seen because I am so incredibly proud of being a mother. Perhaps because I did not think I would have children, it has meant so much to me as a person and artist. The theme of motherhood and parenting, the everyday life with children, should be as respected in art as any still life or war depictions. I have tried to walk away from my pictures of children and miscarriages, but I always return to this, so now it must be so. I can only draw what I feel strongly about. Do you have daily routines or rituals that help you get into work mode:
After the children are left in preschool and school, I clean my drawing desk and tidy the space. I can not concentrate if things are messy. I have a cup of coffee next to me and an exciting audiobook or an episode of Creepypodden from Swedish Radio - I love horror! How do you relax / where do you source your power: Have a good sleep, watch horror movies or have a good workout. Where's your private space or studio to reflect and develop and execute ideas: In my old house, I had a studio in the basement with a lot of space. When I had my own 2 bedroom apartment, I had two drawing desks in the living room. Now that we all live together, six of us in a three-bedroom apartment, I have a desk in the living room. We will move to a bigger place in May, and then I will finally get a room for a studio!
(How) Has the pandemic changed your artist/work practice: It is not so different for me. Everyone is isolated in their chambers and struggling as I always did. Now it is the same for everyone. Everything It is taken care of via social media and email, and it is a pretty good set up for a shy person. But the sad thing is that the design markets are now online (it is incredible that it works). Still, you can not meet the other artists, designers and makers. We try to get to know each other and help each other on chats online. It is frustrating that exhibitions are postponed, now that it's finally starting to happen more in my art. What excites you most about your future: That I can exhibit my art more.
What advice would you give to emerging artists/creatives entering motherhood: Let the child/children be involved. Create when time allows. Even a small contribution is good enough. Some days are better than others. Some days nothing can be done, but let it be so. Show your family that your art is important. You work with your ideas in your mind, even when you do other things, so breaks are good. The child/children need to get your full attention to create a close bond between parent and child. Could you see yourself as a mentor to another artist/mother? What would you be good at mentoring? Yes, that would be nice. I'd have their back and say:
-Just take that thought and go through it another time; how can you make this work with a child next to you?
Queen of Fucking Everything