Guest Post: Art, Parenthood and Loose Parts with Susannah Wesley of Leisure

Lately a provocative conversation has begun to rear its head in the media – how to manage being an artist and a parent. One requires you to be selfless and the other selfish. Both are extremely time and energy consuming and don’t stick to convenient set schedules. So its a challenge to maintain the two, let alone – if necessary – some kind of better paying gig on top. My collaborative partner Meredith and I (aka Leisure) have been struggling with this reality since we began our respective families and one imagines artists (particularly women) have been struggling with this for generations. Our discussions have involved not just how to manage it all, but what effect our children have on how we want to make art and also what effect our art practice might have on our children – how they understand what we do and experience art in general.



Conversation with Magic Forms (work in progress), Leisure, 2016.


This year Meredith and I have been developing a work entitled, Conversation with Magic Forms. It takes its name from a series of sculptural ‘forms’ undertaken by British sculptor Barbara Hepworth after the arrival of triplets (Simon, Rachel and Sarah) in 1934. In her pictorial autobiography Hepworth describes this period as a new investigation of “relationships in space, in size, and texture and weight, as well as in the tensions between the forms,” all created within a studio she describes as, “a jumble of children, rocks, sculptures, trees, importunate flowers and washing.” Expressing the significance of the arrangement of forms, Hepworth focuses on the sensation of touch and the ‘stereognostic sense’ “a fundamental sensibility which comes into action at birth… the ability to feel weight and to assess its significance.” This fundamental observation explored by Hepworth can be seen as a potential influence on her son Simon Nicholson’s ‘Theory of Loose Parts,’ a text which advocates for freedom of individuals (beginning with children!) to have agency over the shape of the environment in which they live, work and play. Since its publication, early childhood education has put Nicholson’s theory into practice. Notably, its among the founding approaches at The Lion and the Mouse, which is partly why I became interested in their programs.



Conversation with Magic Forms (work in progress), Leisure, 2016.


Our work, Conversation With Magic Forms, attempts to evaluate the environment in which Simon Nicholson’s text might first have been imagined. The active space of his mother’s studio, where work and life were intertwined in a chaotic, creative and materially-diverse environment. Combining these concepts with ‘sculptural arrangements’ captured from our own children’s daily interventions in their physical environment, we attempt to understand a new way of being and making, seeing and re-imagining our world. There is not a lot of room for children, real or represented, within the contemporary art world, but through Hepworth and Nicholson’s example we seek to promote a more physically engaged, exploratory, and participatory understanding of the relationship and tensions between life and work.

-Susannah Wesley

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