"Mom, you don't even know how kids think!" said my daughter as we drove to school one morning. I thought about that all day. I don't know how she thinks. I can make guesses according to the clues she gives me in her words, actions, and body language, but I can't get inside her mind. I'm left with my experience of our relationship, my feelings about the emotional intensity of our interactions. Sometimes when I'm with her I feel big, sometimes small, sometimes far away, fragmented, happy or angry. How do we influence each other's identities? When is an identity finished? When is a work of art finished?
I have been drawing and painting the figure since 1980 and more intensively concentrating on working from life in the last fourteen years. In 1990, I started a series of self-portraits in my studio, with the self as both observer and subject, and executed in charcoal or black, white and gray paint, to refine my drawing skills and understanding of value (light and dark) relationships. That work culminated in a series of life-size self-portraits which documented my physical and emotional changes during pregnancy. From the birth of my daughter in 1992 until 2004, I documented our relationship in a Mother-Daughter series.
My work explores combinations of two seemingly separate ideas – two individuals, a parent and a child, wet and dry media, drawing and painting, abstract surfaces and representational images. I want to subvert the figurative tradition by pairing gestural and defined forms, mixing drawing and painting, using truncated poses, or texturing the picture surface to contradict the image. Traditional studio practices are reversed by drawing over a painted surface or painting on paper. I also scrape, spray, collage or add monoprinted images over a drawn or painted surface. Pairing separate studies into diptych or triptych format, whether on paper or panel, serves as a formal link to the content of the work.
I feel the female gaze and female narratives still need public voices, and would like to reclaim the richness and ambiguities of the mother-child relationship. I have documented this particular relationship in an ongoing series which continued until my daughter was 11. At that point she asserted her independence and/or growing self-consciousness and asked me not to draw her. Psychologically our relationship and our identities are always changing. We exist in overlapping spaces or in physically separate spaces at various times. We move towards or away from each other in a mutual search for separate yet related selves.
After realizing the importance of presenting women's images and stories in a public dialogue, Libby completed a chronological series of life-size pregnancy self-portraits, shown in a solo show entitled Regarding the Self. In 1993, she began exploring the rich and ambivalent experience of parenthood in a Mother-Daughter series.
In 2004 she began work on a project to recreate the history of women at Colby College. That work was exhibited in the fall of 2012 as a solo show entitled Hidden Histories: a project by Maggie Libby, held in conjunction with Colby College's 200th Bicentennial. The show included interactive installations of hinged canvases, altered books, printed Braille names of graduates, an invitation to write on museum walls, along with paintings, large scale drawings, mixed media pieces and original archival materials from the college's Special Collections.
Margaret Libby Emma Dreams 1998 Mixed media/paper 38" x 50" Private Collection