Alex McQuilkin: Art Mamas

Artist Highlight for Mother's Day


"Strolling DIA Beacon with my daughter- the Flavin room was my son’s favorite also :)"

As a new Curina artist, can you share some details about yourself?

My name is Alex McQuilkin. I live in Beacon, NY with my husband and my two children (Elliot 4 years old and Sunday 6 months old). I work mostly with painting and video to examine the subtle and insidious ways that contemporary culture influences the private self. My current series, hand painted renderings of wallpaper, takes the idea of the home interior as its starting point and draws upon the visual language of mass-produced textiles to comment on gender roles and class structures. My recent video work similarly explores mediated images of women and the connections that have been stitched between consumer culture and female identity.

"Working in the studio with my 6 month old daughter"

I received my MFA from New York University in 2008 and have since taught art at NYU as well as at Parsons School of Design. Five years ago, my husband and I moved up to Beacon when I was pregnant with my son. Living in Beacon is amazing- there is such an incredible community of artists here. I am part of a phenomenally inspiring and supportive critique group up here- we initially called ourselves Ladies of the Hudson Valley. A number of the members of this group are also mothers, and I have found so much strength and solidarity with these incredible artists/moms who are all also constantly working to balance studio time and family time in so many creative ways.

What is your studio experience like as a mother of two?

Well, it depends on the day! When I became pregnant with my first child, one of my very first reactions was anxiety about my studio practice and how to maintain it with the added responsibility of being a parent. I think there is a lot of messaging out there that tells women that we can’t have it all- a vibrant art career and a family (unless you have a lot of help or are independently wealthy.)

So I felt really scared at first- afraid of losing connection with my practice, afraid I wouldn’t have time to make the work the way I wanted to, afraid I would somehow be left behind or forgotten if I took any time off. And in my postpartum period after my son I was really obsessive about trying to maintain the exact same studio practice as before. That turned out to be a recipe for a lot of stress and frustration and forced me to let go of control and adopt a more fluid relationship to my work, which in turn has benefitted the work tremendously.

"Installing my solo show in LA while pregnant and with my 3 year old son (tip: give them bubble wrap!)"

With the birth of my second child this past year I have been much more open to allowing the process to alter both me and my work. You know, it changes you psychically when you birth another human being from your body. In a way its like it splits you in two and you have to put the pieces back together and they never fit back quite the same. And since the work is an extension of you, of course it's going to change too. I’ve switched up some of my materials and ways of working to allow for shorter bursts of work and have embarked on a large-scale embroidery project that is portable so I can work on the couch next to my son after school or on my train rides to the city to teach etc.

Its been a pretty beautiful experience and has led to some work that otherwise I don’t think I would have ever come to. So I think the experience has been largely one of relinquishing control and allowing life to mold the work a little more organically. At the same time, it has been important to capitalize on any moment I can to be in the studio.

I have so many artist/mother mentors that I look to for inspiration- Anne Truitt, Alice Neel, Ruth Asawa, Simone Leigh to name a few. All of them had different experiences but the one thing I learned from all of them is to stay close to your practice no matter what. In Daybook Anne Truitt talks about the importance of getting to the studio even if it’s just for 5 minutes at a time. I never understood that fully until having kids. As my friend Jessie Henson said to me early on “I no longer need to stop and get a coffee and a muffin before getting to work”. Loie Hollowell said something similar recently in a podcast. As a mother you become incredibly efficient with time.


"Finding inspiration with a newborn. Finding small moments to fill the well."


Art Mamas is such an amazing not-for-profit founded by Helen Toomer and Katy Donahue. Can you tell us about your experience and upcoming residency?

(Its not a residency. I won a one night Art Mamas escape at the Walker hotel in Tribeca alongside 7 other members of Art Mamas.)

Yes! Art Mamas is amazing- thank you Helen and Katy for starting such a necessary organization of artists and art professionals! I joined after having my daughter and it has been such a wonderful and supportive community. I have met so many incredible women- even apart from the motherhood connection. We meet monthly on zoom and talk about all sorts of things related to the struggles (and the joys) of wearing so many different hats on a daily basis. Especially during covid it has been such an important community. So many of us are dealing with the realities of school closures and no childcare and trying to navigate this crazy time and it is such a comfort to meet all these incredible inspiring women who are doing it all too! Because honestly sometimes I am so sleep deprived and I think omg I can’t keep this up! And alone I probably couldn’t. Art Mamas is a big part of how I keep showing up every day knowing I’m one of many incredible women doing it with me.

Art Mamas

Image courtesy of Art Mamas

In collaboration with the Walker Hotel, Art Mamas organized an Art Mamas Escape where 8 of us were nominated and chosen to have a one-night stay at the Walker Hotel during the weekend of NADA. It is literally going to be the first time in over 4 years that I have spent a night away without kids. I love my kids to death, but I can’t tell you how excited I am to shower without 4-year-old barging in and have an uninterrupted night of sleep for the first time in 6 months. It’s not something I would have given myself, which makes it that much more special. And after so much time with these ladies on Zoom I am so thrilled for and IRL meetup.

What is your favorite thing about mother’s day?

My favorite thing about Mother’s Day today is the appreciation and gratitude I feel for my own mother. Since having children I have so much more respect for what my mother gave to me and my siblings. All the hours of sleep deprivation, all the diapers changed, the tantrums endured, not to mention the sacrifice of her own career to stay home with us. I think of how hard it must have been for her to manage the three of us mostly by herself. Mothers are total heroes. (As are fathers by the way.) But I think mothers get overlooked and taken for granted a lot by children- they are often the closest ones and take a lot of crap. That was the case for me and my mother for a lot of my life. I think about this constantly since having children- how phenomenal my mother is for all she did for us, so often with little to no appreciation. Mother’s Day is a good reminder to reflect on that and to show that appreciation.

"In the studio"



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