Birth Paintings

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Birth Paintings 1986-1989

Birth Paintings, 1987-1989
Except for one painting, which I sold to friends in 1989, I have resisted selling any of these paintings. 
They are a series, a visual journal. They are for sale only as a group.

They are watercolours.  Their sizes are represented relative to each other as closely as I could in the art print. I only used Windsor and Newton's professional artists line - I would go to the art store each month and spend upwards of $100. on professional grade watercolours for each painting (in the late 80s that was a lot of money for paint, but I used many tubes on each painting). I soaked the paper in the bathtub and taped it to a large watercolour board. Often going into a trance-like state, I painted straight out of the tube, so the paintings are rich with pigment. They are painted on Arches cold-pressed 100% cotton 300lb watercolour paper, and many of them are large, 2' x 3'. The last one in the series, "Mother and Child," is 40" x 40", acrylic paint on canvas. They have been carefully stored in temperature-controlled darkness.

What follows are some pieces I wrote 10-15 years after the Birth Paintings.

Birth Dance (Birth Paintings)

 direct link to YouTube (a video of the paintings above and a slideshow and the poem below): Birthdance

On the writing of BIRTHDANCE

Birthdance took two years to write. In 1987, after my first child, my son, was born, I tried to write about birth. At the time, I was unable to find any poetry or literature by women on what giving birth 'felt' like, on their inner birthing experience, and I wasn't sure how to express those powerful birthing hours. It took some years, and many revisions as I worked towards how to express this powerful moment of my life, and finally chose to allow the stages of labour to structure the poem. Each woman has a different experience of birth, the many stories, poems and artwork by women in the last decade or two have been an important sharing of what was previously hidden. 

Embedded below is the poem in its entirety.

Brenda Clews - BIRTHDANCE, 1989

a birth poem 
written when the 
birth paintings were being painted

 "I am heavy with ripeness. My body is a fruit opening, 
 releasing its nourished, protected seed. I am splitting, 
 stretching, gaping. I am sweet with birth. I am succulent. 
 I am a dying flower streaked with blood. "(from the poem)

(if the document isn't opening, the poem is here: Birthdance)

From Brenda Clews, Birth Paintings 1987-1989

 ...pigment of flesh flowing under my fingers, magenta, alizarin crimson, cerulean blue, cyan green, cadmium yellow, dark violet, colour so rich it's almost edible, bodyscapes of colour, landscapes of fertility, erupting in the swirl of water and paint...

When I was pregnant, my body changed in fundamental and drastic ways. It was a crisis: the freedom of an old self was dying to make way for the mother I would become.

The "Birth Series" paintings became a visual journey of my changing body, a way to comprehend what I was undergoing in the tumble of hormones as my belly grew. The paintings focus on the woman who conceives and carries a baby into life, who nourishes and awaits the child who will hopefully emerge from the nine-month gestation of her body like a dream become real.

In reaction to an increasing invisibility in the world: the averted gaze, perhaps arising out of a cultural discomfort with the swollen belly, I wished to present the pregnant body as sensual and sacred. Despite my desire to confound the categories of alluring woman and maternal body, I found myself deep in the mystery of creation itself.

At the beginning of the series, the body is portrayed clearly; as the forces of labour, birth and then breastfeeding unfold, the clarity shifts into flowing colours suggesting the transformative experience that carrying and delivering and breastfeeding a baby is.

These paintings are about a rite of passage, about the strangest body on earth, about the mind-blowing transformation of skin, belly, heart and perception of the self, as a woman ripens and delivers her fragile and beautiful fruit, the newborn, a miracle of the world.
A version of this piece was published as an artist's statement in "Mothering, Popular Culture and the Arts," Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering (
), Spring/Summer 2003, Vol 5, No 1, p.198, and where the painting in the upper left hand corner, "Bloom," 13.25" x 9", watercolour on paper, 1986, was the cover. [Also the poster for their 10th Anniversay Issue features another of my birth paintings, "Dawn."]


Notebook of the Maternal Body

 If the document is not opening, The Notebook of the Maternal Body is here

The video is hosted at YouTube.

How Can We Be Different & the Same? 
A talk culled from my work on the maternal body, prepared and videoed in 2004,
presented at an ARM conference at York University in 2006.

This was my last contribution to the field of maternal studies.
In 2010 I edited the video, adding sepia tones, layering images.  

How Can We Be Different & the Same?

The video is hosted at Vimeo
where you can see it in larger size. 

 One of my birth pieces, written back when ...revised slightly for this videopoem. 

 I wrote the prosepoem, whispered it into the mic, composed the sound patterns, 

 shot and edited the video, yeah. ©Brenda Clews 2014. 

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