– as told to The Silver Women
Women who inspired you as a young girl?
There’s no simple answer to this. In fact, I feel the need to confront some of my demons to talk about the women who inspired me. As a child, I struggled to find inspiration from the women in my life (or any woman for that matter).
I grew up in a post-war immigrant extended family household, who endured the post-traumatic effects of the war. My grandmother worked physically hard, lived in fear of things and had difficulty seeing positivity in life. ‘Nana’ was less than modestly educated, always talked about the past, and cried with hope for the future. My mother endured and sustained a history of hardship but remained determined to raise five children while living with depression and anxiety. Her dedication showed through her giving us the things she lacked herself as a child.
As narcissistic as it may sound, I think it’s ok to feel inspired by yourself at times. It’s ok not to feel inspired by others. It’s ok to feel your own sense of empowerment through one’s own sense of survival. I’ve needed to find that inspiration in myself. You have to when you’re constantly exposed to others dealing with post-traumatic events. I survived relatively well in this environment through my art practice – a huge feat in itself.
“I give my Nan and my Mother credit for doing their best even though both were blinded by their own traumatic experiences; they were and my mother still, very generous and committed women. Their brand of love wasn’t that of kindness and gentleness, but a more hardy and loyal kind of love”
Women who inspire you now?
My beautiful longtime artist friend Natalie O’Connor lights my life. As does my wonderful bunch of women in my artist collective ‘Movers and Shapers’. I founded this collective late last year, and it’s been a huge success so far. It’s just nice bonding with other women and starting our own modern-day art movement. Australian social commentator, writer, and lecturer Jane Caro speaks her mind and has so much wisdom to share. So she’s certainly on my list. I have so much respect for women who say it as it is. My three sisters, Joanne, Phillissa and Frances, they are all wonderful mothers who give to their children with such selflessness. There’s my friend Mealsy, who inspires me out of this world. She’s a total hoot and is one of the most transparent women I know. My work colleague Jeannette Siebols has been by my side for 18 years and is like a mother figure to me; she inspires me to be understanding and teaches me things in her own maternal way. Dolly Parton because she is carefree, honest and positive about her self-image. Dolly doesn’t seem to care one bit about what the world thinks of her. She is very accomplished, more than just a booby blonde; she is deceptively intelligent. Oh, and Drew Barrymore for her resilience, transparency and the fact she has reinvented herself. She has endured a difficult childhood and has certainly risen above the negative impact of her past. She projects forward and doesn’t look back with remorse. She is one of those women who has grown from the inside out, not the outside in, not that that matters, but I just find that so appealing.
Most valuable lesson taught by your mother?
My mother taught me to live my life how I want to live it. My Nan taught me to be careful and make calculated decisions before taking a risk. She also told me when dating guys to observe how they walk (Ha! Ha! old fashioned I know). She believed this revealed a sense of their work ethic and character. She liked a man that walked with purpose and didn’t scuff his feet.
Have you made career changes over the years?
Not at all. I’ve imagined it but nearly died at the thought. I would always choose the life of an artist. I was born to be creative. Having spent many years teaching art, I recently stepped into a role at my local regional gallery assisting the curator there. It’s a shift, more than a change.
Through the decades!
20’s: My time at college had proved very fruitful. I had earned a prestigious scholarship at the Art Gallery of NSW to further my studies. My 20s were an extremely focused time. I was not easily distracted during these years and I was set on ticking off my achievement list. I think I had the balance right. I started part-time lecturing fresh out of university and worked at three different universities, while also teaching at the original college where I started. I was also trying to build my career as an artist, working in my studio. I really knew what I wanted and had a clear goal-set and no time to waste. I was on a mission to conquer and discover all I could – and even won a couple of art prizes and married the love of my life, Steve. This all set me on a positive start.
30’s: My husband and I sold our apartment to buy a house with a yard for a dog (and maybe some kids. Ha! Ha!) To be honest, these were the hard yard years, up and down and sideways. With the birth of our beautiful daughter came joy and postnatal depression, and blood sweat and tears that comes with working hard to pay off a mortgage. Followed by years of health issues and health scares, in and out of the hospital. So far, I’ve managed to keep my head above water, with the occasional gulp. In these years I experienced that the art world was less empathetic towards women who were mothers; I felt like I wasn’t really considered a “serious artist”. It was around this time I felt like I was losing my identity so I had to reclaim who I was. Was time to take a different look at the world, so I started making art in other ways, documenting and processing ideas about the reality of motherhood, taking photos and working in other ways that were very different to working uninterrupted in the studio for hours on end.
“Motherhood was giving me an edge I didn’t know I had.”
It wasn’t until one evening when feeding my then two-year-old (multitasking of course) and reading the local newspaper, I found an advertisement for an old upholstery factory space for rent. I phoned the landlord right away. I packed up my daughter and rushed off with her, dinner in-hand, to inspect the property. That same evening, I paid the security deposit in preparation to start a communal artist studio. From that day I never looked back. This ended up being an adventure with a group of women who accompanied me on a creative journey. It was the next stage of my career as an artist, and I was able to make art on weekends and any other time I had available – even managing to have a few exhibitions in between. I used to take my daughter to the studio on occasion and work while she occupied herself. The hardest part of these years has been overcoming the overburdening sense of guilt for pursuing my passion over the idea of being a full-time mother, even though deep down I know I go above and beyond as a woman and mother, I was never really satisfied that I had done enough. At the time, all I wanted to do is override my self-doubt and survive the guilt and sustain. My first child was my last child, and I had a hysterectomy by the time I was 35. I achieved my first gallery representation in my late 30’s and have gone on to win prizes and be acquired into a few collections. So my 30’s were the beginning of some exciting fruits of some very hard labor – a labor of love for my daughter and my art practice.
40’s: This is just the beginning. I’m discovering that turning this corner is not quite a corner at all. It’s more a balloon ride. You go up and up and start looking at everything from above. It’s quite liberating actually.
“I am grateful for the challenges I have had in my life. A rollercoaster ride can make for rewarding art making.”
Thoughts on aging,
The downside…The fact that as your age goes up fashion goes down, there are not enough funky clothing options for the aging woman. Also having to unlearn things I did in my youth, and wishing I knew then what I know now. But I guess that takes the fun out of being young and makes getting older rather boring because I would be none the wiser.
The upside…Being a visual person, I love the fact that aging is like poetry in motion. Like a piece of driftwood or antique furniture, the object at hand has a history and an intrinsic quality of experience – a sense of having lived.
Your advice to young women of today?
Don’t be afraid to say ‘Don’t f@#k with me’
Live in the present.
Find your balance of work and play.
-Louisa Chircop xo
Images courtesy of Louisa Chircop unless credited otherwise.
FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS!
‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck:
A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life’ by Mark Manson
Sometimes I need reminding!
Song: I love too many.
My favorite song of my childhood and today is still ‘Pure Imagination’
sung by Gene Wilder, because I’m still a big kid.
‘Harvest Moon’ by Neil Young ‘Clair de lune’ by Claude Debussy always gets me reflective and creative. “Moonlight Serenade’ by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra.
If you haven’t already noticed by now I do love a moon-themed song;
I wonder what this says about me?
Flower: Blue Cornflowers and any wildflowers. Singapore orchids for when I am feeling cultivated.
City or place: Venice, and anywhere in Europe. I also LOVE Tasmania.
Places that have a tactility, history, and culture, where you can get lost exploring and have a sense of solitude. I also love big cities.
There is no solitude but you can still get lost!
Film: Definitely ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ (1971) directed by Mel Stuart.
I do love the Australian films \’Two Hands’ (1999) Australian comedy crime film directed by Gregor Jordan, ‘Shine’ (1996) directed by Scott Hicks and ‘Samson and Delilah’ (2009) Directed by Warwick Thornton and any artist documentaries or art films.
Nothing beats a fresh baguette filled with freshly shelled king prawns and a spread of roaring forties King Island blue cheese and a glass of Australian sparkling wine. If I’m feeling naughty, rum and raisin ice cream (drool). Asian inspired seafood dishes are a weakness, as are olives and salty cured meats, cheese and wine. Simple peasant dishes rock my world and remind me of my childhood.
Makeup product you can\’t live without: I can’t live without Too Faced ‘Better than Sex’ Mascara.
I go natural on lips or natural glossy tints in color.
Skincare product: I’m very basic in my skincare. I use any Neutrogena as a face wash. Swisse Micellar makeup remover. As a moisturizer, I love Palmer’s Cocoa Butter skin perfecting Moisturizing Day cream with SPF15 factor. But I must admit since discovering Chanel Le Lift eye creme I cannot live without. My 12-year-old daughter even commented, it’s amazing and feels fantastic around the eyes
Oh, so many! Any artist whose work embodies a psychological edge and reveals something of the human condition, I’m in.