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Datebook: Nature And Nurture Inform B-N Artist's Work

Artist Jessica Bingham embraces the ephemeral around us in her work, incorporating memories of childhood, flowers from summers past, and the ever-shifting moments of motherhood.  

Her latest work is currently on view in a show entitled, “Tending Place,” at the McLean County Arts Center in Bloomington. 

Bingham is the curator at University Galleries in Normal and welcomed this opportunity to showcase her artwork, created as she balances her work at the Galleries and her new role as a mother. Motherhood is a big part of how she navigates her life, said Bingham. 

“My work is informed by being a mother, seeing myself as a mother and being in this part of my life right now and really embracing that,” she said.

“Even before I was a mom, I was really interested in the dynamics of being an artist and a mother, and also an educator and a curator and navigating all those different aspects of my life. This is who I am.” 

Often, her young daughter is at her side, painting, as Bingham creates in her studio. 

“Watching her paint, she’s very interested in painting. She sees me painting and I encourage her," she said. "It’s a way for her to explore materials. Watching that and allowing that to inform my practice has been a really special thing.” 

“At the beginning of being a new mom, it was very hard to make work that felt true and honest to that time because it was so tiring. I would baby wrap her, so she was always on me. But even making paintings, they felt a little forced.” 

“Now, 2 1/2 years into being a mother and growing this relationship with her, it’s so much more fluid and it feels more natural. She’s definitely been a part of it.” 

There’s a strong vein of nurturing running through Bingham’s work. 

Along with motherhood, there’s the land, too. This past year, Bingham planted her first garden. Her work relates to gardening, featuring dried flowers that Bingham grew. The garden took on an added significance due to pandemic restrictions and accompanying stresses. 

“We’re all going through this year together and separately. I watched people start to garden as a form of release and trying to find a collective joy when we couldn’t be together. I hope people can see it (the artwork) from that perspective. Gardening is a form of dealing and thinking about this year, of connecting and rooting themselves to the ground as a healing process.” 

Bingham relates her current work back to World War II-era Victory Gardens. 

“That idea of resourcefulness, resilience and community. I think that these COVID gardens parallel that in so many ways,”  she said.

Memories of a childhood friend also influenced Bingham as she created works for “Tending Place.” 

“I lost my closest childhood friend in 2015. It felt that my childhood had fallen apart from this loss. The only way I could continue and the right way for me to grieve was to make paintings and sculpture installations.” 

Creating the works was a way of preserving that happier time from childhood, when it felt as though it had shattered, said Bingham. 

“I was trying to metaphorically gather these pieces and all of these memoires and ideas of this person and our shared relationship and piece it back together in a way that I could keep. I think objects and the process of making, we can take a lot of that grieving and put it into something else, and that can hold some of that space and that weight.” 

Bingham’s works are on an unframed canvas, cut into random shapes and adorned with the dried flowers from her garden. The canvas has found new life in Bingham’s work, having once been a part of paintings completed long ago, or remnants she collected from collaborators and friends. The works in “Tending Place” reflect the turn of life in the garden – what was once a particular creation now feeds something new, growing and evolving, always ephemeral.

“Tending Place” continues through Feb. 19 in the Brandt Gallery of the McLean County Arts Center in Bloomington.

   

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Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.