Artist Julian Meagher On Creating Through The Parenting Fog
The Design Files September 2019
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Julian and Beejal met through a mutual friend at a Sydney restaurant. Beejal placed her copy of Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test on the table and from that moment, Julian was hooked. Romantic painter met enigmatic scientist, and the rest was history. They’re a complementary pair. Very non-psychopathy, as far as I can tell.
Julian is calm, almost meditative during our chat, a reflection of the tranquil nature of his paintings. Since becoming a father, he’s learned how to relinquish control and let his work breathe, painting in the cracks of time that parenting allows.
We talked about the dance of co-parenting, good days, bad days and riding waves of doubt and exhaustion to continue to create.
Are you excited about the new baby?
We’re pretty damn excited. She is due to arrive in November, so we’re getting close now. I’ve watched my friends have their second, and I realise that one plus one is not going to equal two. However, we have a much better idea this time on what’s ahead, and how to handle the different stages, and seem to have conveniently forgotten how hard it was last time.
In my experience, it’s 10 times harder, but 10 times more fun. What’s Lucian like?
He’s a sweetheart, we’ve been really lucky with him. He’s sensitive and considered but also really cheeky at times. I wasn’t expecting to see such a strong sense of his character so early on.
Has fatherhood influenced the way you paint?
It’s changed both how I paint and what I’m painting. I’m now painting unashamedly romantic landscapes. I can only work in the windows that parenthood allows, which I think came at a really good time in my practice. It’s very different to years ago when I used to paint until midnight. If I’ve got say, four or five hours to make a section really hum, I have had to embrace the real positives that come to painting with immediacy.
One of the biggest challenges in painting, or any creative outlet I would imagine, is to not overcook it. Fatherhood has forced me to let the work live and breathe on its own. I am painting with a lot more freedom. When I start a work I feel like I am actually now taking a run-up before I jump off the cliff. Fatherhood has forced me to accept that I’m not in control of anything at all, and nothing is really about me, so I feel more comfortable taking risks. I’m making a lot more failed paintings than I used to, but I’m making a lot more really successful ones too, I think.
You know how you have those days with kids sometimes that are just so hard and nothing you feed them or do is going to solve it?
I know them well.
I find if I can just go with it, it can actually be a very beautiful way to live. You can’t be the driver on those bad days, you just need to go along for the ride. And I like being the passenger now. I get to see more. I get to look out the window at life. This release has translated to the studio as well, which has been an important move for me.
These days I let the painting do more of the work. I used to hold onto the outcome of my paintings a lot more tightly. Now I can be halfway through a painting and shift direction entirely on it. I’m getting a lot better at letting go.
How do you keep creativity flowing through the exhaustion that parenting brings?
Making time to be in nature, smaller goal posts and being okay with not much happening sometimes, and just making up for it next time. These days if things aren’t going well I just go home early and then I might come back to the studio and try again in the evening or on a Sunday afternoon.
In terms of keeping things flowing, I really just need to start. Any magic happens on the canvas for me. I think Picasso once said that, ‘Inspiration has to find you working’. I honestly believe that. Creativity is always in you whether you’re exhausted or not, and being exhausted is sometimes quite nice, I am a lot more vulnerable and fuzzy, and care a lot less about the little things.
Through the fog…
Yeah, and artists are already in a kind of fog. I think I’ve lived my whole life in the fog. I find that even when I’m outside the studio, talking to people, sleeping, there’s a part of me that’s still with my paintings. I’m probably always working through them somewhere in my subconscious. I’ve always been a bit vague. Although I think I’m a bit more hopeless than I used to be and now have the best excuse in the universe.
How do you and Beejal share the parenting load?
Beejal is an environmental scientist with normal work hours, while my hours are more flexible. She can sometimes work from home which is a bonus. I think that makes the parenting juggle a little bit easier.
We work together as a team and don’t plan much ahead which suits both our personalities. I believe parenting is like dancing the tango, it’s a very equal partnership, but one partner leads and the other follows in unison, hopefully. That’s what makes it beautiful.
In our parenting dance, my wife leads and I follow. It just doesn’t work if we’re both trying to lead. As I’ve gotten a bit older I’ve realised life’s not always about being right, it’s not about doing it a certain way. It’s about making the dance beautiful.
We’ve also got a great support network with Lucian’s grandparents, which really saves us at times. I can’t tell you how much I value that.
Your paintings in your upcoming show are truly breathtaking. I just want to keep looking at them. What do they mean to you?
Thank you. They’re landscapes, but they’re also portraits. I’m chasing a feeling, like the moment when the sun shares the sky with the moon. Or when you are by the ocean at night. They feel truer to where I’m at than my paintings have in the past.
Darsh is Lucian’s middle name, which in Sanskrit means ‘first sign of the moon.’ He would point to the moon constantly as a baby, it was his second word, and look at things in a joy that I’d lost. I started looking at the moon again, wondering about how long it’s been there and how much it quietly influences the world around us.
I think parenthood really makes you think about yourself and your place in the world. And about the kind of world you want to create. I’ve become a lot more passionate about what kind of environment we want to live in in the future. Because suddenly you feel hugely responsible for that future.
Do you think being aware of the environmental issues and having kids anyway makes us optimists or fools?
Optimists, I hope. I have more hope than I ever because I have to, but also because kids give that to you. They’re so pure and experience such wonderment with everything. They don’t need much. They just need you to be there. Everyone could take a leaf out of their book.
What’s your experience with self-doubt?
Crippling, always and forever.
Any advice on how to not let it stop you doing the thing?
I saw a good therapist and started looking after myself a lot better. Her best piece of advice was to be kinder to myself. That said, healthy self-doubt is necessary and even motivating. If I get to a stage where I think something’s good that usually means I’ve reached the end of that road. You’ve just got to learn how to live with it and keep producing through it. I try and take what I can from it then park it away somewhere when it’s stopped being useful.