Alexandra Carter speaks with Matresence curator Catherine LeComte Lecce:



1.) Can you share your background and artistic journey with us and how you came to pursue painting?

I began painting when I was really young, so it’s always been a part of my life. My mom is a decorative artist; while I was a kid she always had a studio where she was painting custom designs on tiles or floorcloths. Meanwhile, my father was a cranberry grower, and that aspect of our lives came into my work in a big way later in my life, especially when thinking about family building and equating the ideas of agricultural fertility that I grew up with to the fertility of my own body. I was always drawn to painting the figure and making images that were highly narrative, referring to the experiences of my own body, as do the works in this show.


2.) Can you walk us through your artistic process for High Priestess and Metrium, your featured pieces in  Matresence? What inspired these works?



Both of these works were made after the birth of my first child, and before the birth of my second, who just arrived in March of this year. 

High Priestess reflects on my fertility journey: I had to do IVF to achieve both of these pregnancies, and it was such an intense, trying process. At the same time, it opened my mind to the intricacies of the human body: the female reproductive system and all its complex hormonal firings, and the beauty of an embryo becoming a human life. The image in this piece is inspired by the multiplying of cells in an embryo just after an ovum is fertilized. In that sense, it is a hopeful image (the days in which this cell growth happens can be such a nail-biting experience for IVF patients). The big red orb-like shapes reference the fruit of my upbringing, having grown up on a cranberry farm, and even include photographic image transfers of fruit from my family’s farm. This nod to agricultural fertility is likened to the fertility of the female body. The faces in this image were originally based on my toddler’s face, but I abstracted them a bit to become more versatile, as if they could be children or adult, doll-like and static. The painting is composed in a way that suggests a tarot card, hence the title “High Priestess,” taken from tarot archetypes, hinting at the fortune-telling nature of my family building process.

I painted Metrium while pregnant with my second child. It meditates on pregnancy as well as the continued mental trauma of my fertility journey. In both stages, whether trying to conceive or finally pregnant, I always felt like this vessel that needed to mold to the whims of my reproductive system, to the demands of pregnancy, and to the child I already had. I needed my uterus to be the “perfect” vessel for embryo implantation —  soft, sticky, and safe — while my body needed to be strong yet soft, a happy home for my toddler to cuddle and yet fit for the marathon that is birth (the title Metrium is taken from the name for the all-important lining of the uterus, called the endometrium).  So I started making images of blobby bodies like this, which really refer to the intimate physical demands so inherent in the everyday life of a mother. There is so much touch and contact we have with the beings we grow inside and then outside of ourselves. It is beautiful and yet overwhelming. I read a passage from “Art Monster” by Laura Elkin (who wrote the book while she herself was pregnant) discussing Chris Kraus and Adrienne Rich. The passage resonates so much with my continued impulse to explore the body-as-blob, also touching upon my interest in the monstrous feminine:


In I Love Dick (1997) Kraus describes the monstrous as ‘the Blob’: mindlessly swallowing and engorging, rolling down the supermarket aisle absorbing pancake mix and jello and everyone in town. Unwise and unstoppable. The horror of The Blob is a horror of the fearless. To become The Blob requires a certain force of will. The Krausian monstrous: instead of making ourselves small, we allow our monstrous selves to grow unignorably large. Unwise and unstoppable! If Adrienne Rich calls herself a ‘poet of the oppositional imagination’, perhaps the art monster is a poet of the absorbent imagination, the aggregative imagination; she is the thief, the collage-artist, the collector, the weaver, the Blob, whose mode of subversion is to overwhelm, in an ars poetica of excess. (Art Monsters, p36-37)


It is this “ars poetica of excess” and this idea of absorbing everything around us that the maternal figure in my painting is getting at. She envelops her baby, almost swallowing it. But also, the baby is part of her. They are enmeshed and inextricable. This is how my experience of motherhood has been. My body is needed and, yes, kneaded to excess.



3.) What specific challenges did you encounter when you first became a mother while also balancing your career as an artist?


I think the greatest challenge is just keeping a level head with all balls up in the air. Caring for children can be thankless, repetitive, mundane work, yet it is also energizing for these other beings to rely so much on us, and to love in the unending, instinctual way that they do. For some reason it aligns so much with the creative process. My drive to make artwork has never wavered since having kids–in fact, I have probably been more motivated in the face of the obstacles it presents. So the biggest challenges have been in trying not to get so overwhelmed by the expectations I have of it all–my expectations to be the caring, present mother they need but also to keep creating work on a consistent basis. In my first months into motherhood, I wasn’t in the studio as much as I like to be, and felt like part of my identity was sorely neglected. I’m kind of in that stage right now with my second kid, but it’s even more complex now that there are two of them. There is a hunger to be in the studio making work that I just can’t always satisfy in this stage.



4.) What advice would you give to other artist mothers?


Be creative with how you handle the challenges that caregiving presents to your schedule. For me, this meant changing up my usual routines as well as my husband’s so that he could take over sometimes and give me time in the studio. One piece of important advice would be to never stop making and promoting one’s work. Don’t lose the momentum you’ve garnered in your career–instead, use the positive existential energy of parenthood to give you a greater sense of purpose in making your work. Perhaps this is easy for me to say given that my personal life is such a source of imagery for me, so naturally parenthood has become a core part of my subject matter. But I want my kids to see me creating my work throughout their childhood, to see my dedication to this creative pursuit. To keep that pursuit healthy and thriving, amidst the chaos of tending to the other parts of my career (my day job) along with daycare drops, meal prepping, feeding, all of it. Seeing both of my parents in that way had such an impact on me, so I hope to continue that.


Don’t give up on common artist career boosters like residencies, and art world socializing like going to openings, museums and art events. Keep applying to residencies and when you get in, see if they will accept bringing your children, and/or bring family with you to help with childcare (I’ve brought both my husband and my mom to residencies with me). Keep going to openings with your kids! I wish this was more normalized. Yeah, it’s a handful to make sure the kids interact with artwork while keeping a safe distance. But I think it’s so worth it, to make these outings both time to connect with my peer group as well as with my own family. Art is good for everyone!



5.) Have you found any support networks or communities that have been particularly helpful in your journey as a mother artist?


Yes, I think instagram in general has lended its hand in bringing more artist mothers in dialog; I feel like there is an increasing sense of an artist-mother community on there. 


I’ve also enjoyed being a member of groups such as Spilt Milk run by Lauren McLaughlin and Art Mamas Alliance run by Helen Toomer and Katy Donaghue. Kaylan Buteyn’s Artist/Mother podcast and her group Thrive Together Network is also a great resource. 


There is also a wonderful podcast called Postpartum Production by Kaitlin Solimine which features creatives of all kinds (writer, performers, visual artists) and what it means to create in the postpartum period. I was a recent guest on her podcast (episode 1 of season 3, a season centered around the theme of birth and artmaking) and will be featured in a part 2 episode later this summer.



6.) How do you navigate the complex concepts of fertility, maternity, and the monstrous feminine in your paintings, especially as both an artist and a mother? Do you find that motherhood has altered or deepened your understanding of these themes?


Motherhood has truly exploded my understanding of these themes. It has deepened them, invigorated them, and underlined all the inklings I feel I could only guess at beforehand. Ever since giving birth to my first child, I was struck by the monstrosity of it all. There is a particular monstrous quality in being pregnant, in giving birth to another body, and then having that body outside of your own but still so reliant on it. I see this monstrosity as an empowering quality of strength, not an object of fear or disgust. Hence my interest in the idea of “the monstrous feminine” has grown in my matrescence. The monstrous feminine is an idea grown out of feminist film analysis that the female reproductive body is the core of monstrosity, challenging patriarchal views of woman as victim. 


I’ve always been interested in the body as something that resists containment: it leaks, bleeds, and explodes out of itself. That is why I use the material I do: watered down puddles of saturated acrylic ink form figurative shapes on top of misty, translucent drafting film (a.k.a. mylar), a nonporous substrate which emphasizes the liquidity of my marks. Our bodies become even more full of liquid in the state of pregnancy, when we develop liters worth of amniotic fluid and our blood volume increases. Then there is the act of giving birth–which is such a literal expression of these ideas I’m getting at, of the explosive, erupting body. A body which can’t contain itself. For me this was evidenced especially by my most recent birth, which was particularly explosive, when the fetal ejection reflex kicked into full gear! The bodily experience of postpartum is also fascinating to me — the feeling of gravity and weight fluctuating so quickly, becoming an empty bag all of a sudden, and continuing to bleed from the uterine wound left by our child. I reflect on all of these states in quite a visceral way in my work.


My perspective certainly challenges the feel-good, warm-and-fuzzy narratives we see in art history and pop culture of mother and child; I want to represent the ambivalent nature of motherhood while still celebrating it. The mothers in my paintings are distorted, morphing into their own monstrosity, exerting their power in bringing forth life, and still, in some way, glorious.