Helen Sargeant ©, Before I was a mother, Possible Date 1997, London.
Helen Sargeant ©, Before I was a mother, Possible date 1997,  Lola’s house London.

My eldest son becomes a teenager this year, its hard to remember back to a time when I wasn’t a mum. Yesterday a friend asked me ” What did you like to do before you were a mother ?” I honestly found it difficult to think back to a time before children. I guess I probably did a lot more dreaming and went out more. Time was expansive it continued forever over the horizon, there was an abundance of it. Time now is fractured, broken up, distilled, interrupted. I probably make better use of it now, yet I still haven’t come to terms with the frustration that I feel when I am unable to create.

A burning desire to want to get pregnant, to have a baby began after I graduated from Winchester School of Art in my early 20’s. I knew it was something that I wanted to do, yet it all seemed completely unattainable. I played out pregnancy in my friends bedroom, stuffing a football up my top. It was fun, I imagined myself with a baby inside. As the ball dropped out of the dress that I was wearing, I remember laughing with my friend  at the ridiculous fictional birth.

Pregnancy was a subject that occupied my thoughts and creativity. I painted Mince Her in 1996, 4 years prior to being pregnant with my first child. It was painted during a residency on the site of an ex mental hospital. I was interested in interweaving my own personal narratives together with those that had once lived on the site. I was thinking specifically of the women who were incarcerated on the site for having children out of wedlock.

Helen Sargeant ©,Mince Her, oil on canvas, 180cm x 150cm, 1996
Helen Sargeant ©,Mince Her, oil on canvas, 180cm x 150cm, 1996

When I look at this painting now it seems to me to be more about my desire as a young woman to become  pregnant, and of girlhood lost. Its a phantom pregnancy.

It also made me think about Paula Modersohn Beckers Self portrait on Her Sixth Wedding Anniversary 1906, the one she painted when she was not actually pregnant that was a “metaphor for how she felt about herself as a young artist: fecund, ripe, able for the first time in her life to create and paint freely in the manner that she wished. What she is about to give birth to is not a child but her mature, independent, artistic self.” (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/great-works/modersohnbecker-paula-selfportrait-on-her-sixth-wedding-anniversary-1906-744437.html)

Paula Modersohn Becker, Self Portait of her Sixth Wedding Anniversary, 1906
Paula Modersohn Becker, Self Portait of her Sixth Wedding Anniversary, 1906






About Helen Sargeant

I am a visual artist, mother of two children aged 12 and 4, and co-founder of the MeWe arts collective. I intend to use this site to explore how my personal experiences as a mother informs my arts practice. To reflect upon the maternal in relationship to memory, loss, and mental health in particu…Read more

Website: http://helensargeant.co.uk

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2 Responses to “Phantom”

  1. Frances Earnshaw

    Stunned by your painting, “Mince Her”.

    It evokes a visceral feeling, physical yet ethereal, like feelings I get when I see marks made by very early people, a swirl in stone you can put your hand on, but created so long ago you are not sure if it was made by a member of your own species.

    It also makes me think of things I tried to draw when I was first at art school, which related to surgery I experienced at age ten, a lung operation, being handled in unconsciousness, my lung touched by men I did not know, my body scarred, things which happened “behind my back”.

    We assume we operate with physical autonomy, but this is so often and so casually taken away from us. Illness takes it away, doctors do, pregnancy and birth do. We have to suck it up… it is part of being alive to experience the rough reminders of the closeness of death.

    There are mad sort of metaphoric elements to your painting. The protuberances coming through those holes, are they like musical notes, cries…? What are they made of, “woman”?

    I would love to come to your studio to see this painting in person!

    I so enjoyed the MeWe meeting last night. Shouldn’t have had the second glass of wine, though!

  2. Helen Sargeant

    Thanks for your kind and perceptive words. You would be welcome to see my painting, although its not in my studio, its rolled up under my bed. A bit sad that that is where it is. I would like to resurrect my painting practice. Once I get some work and more money in I will be able to afford some stretchers then I can back to it. I like working big, body sized, moving paint around exploring its physical visceral properties….I’ve been working on some new drawings that would be great as paintings. Been thinking about the body and gender and the representation of the child’s body and the mothers, how to incorporate these ideas into my work. Always thought that the protuberances were a bit like shafts of light, she looks like she is taking off. I gathered lots of x-rays on site and referenced these to make the painting. I love all those primitive cave paintings. Especially the Hand Paintings at El Castillo in Spain see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/16/el-castillo-neanderthal-cave-paintings_n_3287867.html


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