As st ben’s artist-in-residence this year, I have had the great honour and privilege of being supported (financially as well as emotionally and spiritually) in my artistic practice. This support has been a source of both freedom and inspiration. And whereas I am keenly aware of the role st ben’s support is playing in my artistic practice, I recognize that support may not be as evident to the wider community, that my role as artist-in-residence may be somewhat of a mystery. What does being artist-in-residence mean for both me and the community? How is my work shaped and informed by this support? What does my practice look like? And many may be wondering what I am actually making. I invite you into my studio practice and routine to answer some of these questions.
What does being artist-in-residence mean to me? It means that I can rest in the confidence that my skills and gifts as an artist are seen, appreciated and have a place within the church. In a place like st ben’s, this may not seem to be that unique. However, I can assure you that this support is rare in the life of an artist of faith. I know too many artists that have felt their gifts were either unseen and unappreciated in the church, or worse, they were seen as either trite or meant to be an embellishment only. Being supported as an artist within the community of st ben’s, I have felt that my creative voice is recognized as unique (as all of our voices are) and that it has a place within the church. For this I am truly grateful.
And how is my work shaped and informed by this support? Knowing that my gifts are valued and that I have a place in this community has been an invitation for me to delve more personally into living out the truth of my faith through my work. What does this look like? This support has provided me with the confidence to come out more boldly as an artist of faith in the art world. Whereas my faith has always informed my artistic practice, being able to declare the support my church has for me has allowed me to declare my faith in the church in a new way. This has been a big step for me! The art world is not often a safe or welcoming space for artists addressing issues of faith or religion. If there is any space for them, they are often met with sarcasm or criticism. Yet knowing my church believes in me, I have been granted a new faith and confidence in myself to “come out of the closet” so to speak, as an artist of faith. I believe issues related to faith need to be addressed in the contemporary art world, and st ben’s support in me has encouraged me to speak to these issues more directly through my work.
So what does my practice actually look like? Physical space is very important to me. I have a lovely little studio in my house where I try to spend some time every day. If that is not possible, I spend 2-3 extended periods of time in there every week, often for 10-15 hrs a week on average. In this space, I take care of the creative elements of my practice like the drawing and embroidery that I am currently working on. However, here I also work on the more administrative aspects of being an artist like applying for exhibitions and grants and updating my website (though the former is what I’d always rather be doing!). Having physical space that I can enter into at anytime provides a security and freedom to work as often as I am able to. This is also a gift.
And what am I actually making or working on these days? As you may recall, earlier in my residency I put out a call for rags. Yes, rags. As my residency started shortly after losing my mother, my thoughts have often turned to life, death and grief. What informs my approach to and understanding of all of these things is prayer. So I have started embroidering these rags as a meditation on life, death, grief and prayer. Through the act of slow, meditative stitching, I am reclaiming and honouring the lost beauty and purpose these rags once held. Like the stains and scars of our life, these rags speak to a loss, or a life once lived. The series is titled Work as Prayer, Prayer as Work, and these rags also speak to routine, cycles and the path that the act of praying takes as it is woven throughout our lives. Sometimes it is ever present and an anchor to our days. In my life, at other times, it is weak, doubtful, lazy or almost non-existent, at least in a formal way. Like the routine of labour and domesticity, each act (of prayer and work) leaves a trace of what was, as we work towards what will be.
I have currently embroidered eight rags, but I envision this body of work growing to include 20-30 altered rags. Should you have any rags that you would like to see go on to have another life, I welcome any contributions! I am always looking for more rags. And if you have any questions or comments about this work or my work as artist-in-residence, I invite you to be in touch. I would love to continue the conversation. More images can be found at www.carolynmount.com
With thanks for your interest and support,