An Interview With Denise Gasser

Posted on May 01, 2017

I first discovered the art of Denise Gasser, in particular her "Art After" series via her instagram feed several months ago. It was an inspiring, "why didn't I think  of that?" moment. Denise's work captures beautifully the tensions of every day life - the organic against the man made, the reality against the dream - themes that I explore within my own practice. Motherhood is not only symbolically represented in her art but in her "Art After" series motherhood is the art itself. All mothers can recognise the interruptions that are recorded within these paintings, the sibling fight, the demand for a drink or the out of the blue question. Denise shares with us today her experiences as a mother artist in a refreshingly honest interview that I am sure all mother artists will relate to. 



Tell us a bit about your art. What inspires you to create?

Tension is a theme that comes out a lot in my work. This balancing act of opposing forces is very compelling to me, and works its way into almost everything I create. Tension between organic and geometric shapes and forms, foreground and background, reality and dreams. I’m currently working on a series based on Stanley Park, the amazing forested, urban park here in Vancouver, BC. These twisting trees, developed in soft charcoal and submerged in thin, dream-like layers of paint, are interspliced with bold, colorful, geometric accents. This extreme contrast of organic and geometric captures the amazing intersection of deeply rooted wilderness and vibrant urban activity that makes Stanley Park such a Vancouver tradition...and my own personal haven.

Has motherhood changed your experience as an artist?

Absolutely yes, a thousand times over. Motherhood changed everything for me. I think the most significant thing that changed was my appreciation for studio time, and recognizing that painting wasn’t just a luxury, but a necessity for my well-being. When you find yourself so completely absorbed in the needs of another human being, your time is not your own, your life is not your own...and in many ways it’s one of the beautiful attributes of motherhood. But if you aren’t careful it can consume you so entirely that you find yourself an exhausted shell, struggling to remember who you are. I stopped painting for many months after having my first son. But when I finally got myself back into the studio...I can’t even describe the utter relief I felt. It was like a small void within myself was being filled with warmth, strength, and vitality. I began to recognize that making time for art was absolutely imperative.




Tell us a bit about your process. Do you involve your children with your art at all or is your time spent creating time for yourself?

It’s 100% time for myself. I have tried to do real studio time with them painting along side me, and it’s pretty much a disaster every time! Ha ha. But I do take them with me to explore, and photograph, and gain inspiration. Stanley Park is one our our favorite places to spend time together, so it works out really well. When it’s time to actually get to work, I wait until nap times, preschool hours, or after they are in bed at night. That time alone is precious to me, and I nearly cry half the time for the sheer relief of the quiet space to be alone with my thoughts and my work. My Art After series is a totally different story, but I’m sure I’ll get into that more later!

Describe to us your workspace. Where do you create?

We live in a very small apartment in Vancouver BC, so space is not something you mess around with! For several years I had an easel and metal cabinet set up right in our kitchen against the wall. This was actually an amazing solution. It kept my work and materials right out where I could see them, and remember them, and access them frequently. Just in the past year, as the size of my paintings was increasing, I moved my studio space to our unusually large utility room. I’m telling you...this utility room is bigger than our living room! It has a large window with good natural light, and a beautiful concrete sink. It’s been really nice to have more space to spread out and work at a larger scale.




What positives does being a mother bring to your artistic practice?

Being a mother of two boys (soon to be three) constantly forces me out of my regular routines and comfort zones. I find myself spending a lot more time outside, which is so good for me. We go on walks, run errands, get forced into conversations with strangers (because kids are always a conversation piece), play pretend, do weird crafts, experiment on the piano...all of these things get my mind working in a new way and keep things fresh in the studio. Immersing myself in the children’s section of the library has been wonderful too. I am constantly amazed by the incredible illustrations that fill those books, and they have inspired me to loosen up a bit, explore with color, and be more playful.

In turn what challenges does it bring?

Time. Time is the hardest thing for me to let go of. It takes everything I have just to squeeze in a few hours of studio time in a week. IN A WEEK!!! It’s really a struggle for me to continually find acceptance for this stage of art and motherhood, and not resent it for its limitations. I have described this before as running in waist high water. My mind is moving a hundred miles an hour, I have all of these ideas and goals and plans and no matter how hard I push, I just can’t seem to get there.  I can’t move forward with any amount of speed or clarity. This phenomenon is very frustrating at times, but I am learning to be okay with a slower pace, and to appreciate the strength I am gaining in the process.



Being both a mother and an artist can be a difficult balance. How do you try and manage this?

This is where my Art After series comes in! I started this series shortly after the birth of my second son, when art making was starting to feel impossible at this crazy stage of life. Here is a brief description of the project:

Art After, is my attempt to harness the tension that exists between my vital roles as artist and mother. Bridging the gap between mental aspirations and physical reality, I embrace the interruptions that typically hinder the creative process. The content for these small (5x7inch) paintings is pulled from scattered fragments of daily life with my children. I create each piece in one sitting, working without stopping until I am finished, or until I am interrupted. At that point I stop working, and cannot revisit that piece. I carefully document the start time, end time, and the nature of the interruption that forced me to stop. These small artworks, in their varying levels of success and completion, come together as a rich tapestry to represent not only the struggle, but also the beauty and triumph I experience as I continue to make art after becoming a mother.

I think this project has saved me. It reminds me that even a few minutes of art is infinitely better than no minutes. It forces me to paint something, anything, even in the middle of chaos. It constantly surprises me what comes out when I work quickly, instinctively, and don’t take time to second guess myself. It keeps me looking for inspiration when I’m out with my boys, and allows me to break free from always working in a specific series. It also gives me confidence knowing that no matter how crazy life gets, I can ALWAYS make a little time for art, and it will ALWAYS be worth it!  Baby boy number three is due this March! I’m definitely nervous for the changes he will bring, but I know Art After will carry me through.


Where can we see more of your artwork?

My Instagram is @denisegasserart, or find it at www.instagram.com/denisegasserart. I’m sharing my entire Art After series there from the beginning...interruptions and insights included.

My website is www.denisegasser.com




For more art by inspiring mother artists by following our Instagram feed @ArtistMeetsMother. Are you an artist balancing motherhood and art? Join our community and tag your art with the hashtag #artistmeetsmother.


A refreshingly honest interview with mother and artist Denise Gasser about her experiences of balancing art and motherhood - Jenna Michelle Pink

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