As I write this, I am just wrapping up the process of creating a body of work for a gallery opening. The past three months have been full of painting. I wish I was better at calculating the hours I spend in my studio so I knew exactly, but every spare hour that I’ve had, I’ve been digging deep into this process of building up a body of work. Though it can appear to be a seamless process, there are always unique conditions that need to be worked around when prepping for a gallery show. This was the case last summer when I was making paintings for an installation to take place in New Hampshire, 1,000 miles away from my home state of Tennessee. The gallery space was large, with a lot of height and space to be filled, but coming from such a distance, I had to figure out a way to make shipping and travel affordable. I ended up making a trifecta of large paintings, 4’ by 5’, on un-stretched canvas. They hung on the gallery walls as tapestries, garnering a larger than life presence as the three mother figures loomed over the viewers. Six small paintings (easily transported), were hung in a grid nearby.
For this current show, the unique condition to consider was not transportation issues, but rather space. The gallery dimensions are smaller and I am less inclined to pack as many paintings in the space as possible, preferring to leave appropriate viewing and breathing room for each one. I created smaller paintings this time and chose to make a larger collection than I know will be necessary to hang in the show, so that when I am in the space I can swap things out and have a lot of flexibility when deciding what will be hung. I also really wanted to take this opportunity to make my own frames and stretch my own canvases for this collection. With my husbands help, we worked through some errors but finally came up with a beautiful frame. Building our own will save me money in the long run, and I think it makes the paintings feel that much more unique and special.
Like many artists, my work is rooted deep in my identity and consists of processing who I am and what my life is about during this season; painting acts as a vehicle to process the narrative of motherhood. I parallel the action of painting- structuring, tearing down, and reworking- with the process of mothering. I am ever learning, and growing as a mother, ever needing grace and finding things within myself to change or make new.
When I’m painting, I focus on the tension and inspiration that exists when I consider my roles as an artist and mother. Soft, bodily abstracted shapes act as metaphor for the mother figure and I consider how I can push, pull, load down or build up and elevate these shapes. I am playing with painted constructions of balance, confusion, pressure and harmony. The work is playful and expressive and I lean on a color palette that is drawn from my environment, filled with fleshy tones, pre-school primary colors, and colors referential to gendered identities.
I love using visible rainbows or inverted wombs to stand as hopeful symbols of carrying, comforting, inclusion. Loose, gestural marks drawn with acrylic and pastel represent the many untamed responses my body has when mothering; joyful trembling, outburst of rage, body shakes and surges of tender emotions.
This process of painting and learning how to exist in the world as an artist is one that feeds me, sustains me, and supports me in my quest to mother my children with care and intention. The latest body of work I created for my upcoming show has inspired me to take a deeper look at the ways I consider my own identity as a mother, and has pushed me to incorporate ideas into the work about ways in which the mother figure is considered in our society as a whole.
Kaylan Buteyn is a painter who lives in rural Tennessee. She is the mother of two children, Finley Reynolds (age 5), River Rae (age 18mo) and is expecting a third baby due in April. Her husband John is a musician and professor, and the two love creating a home full of music and art for their family.