For self-described “mom artist” Carla Cope, her new mural, “Burst,” at K-Bay Caffé could be a metaphor for where she sees herself in her life and career.
Cope just turned 39, and said of nearing 40, “It’s not a midlife crisis. It’s a midlife reckoning.”
The 16-foot mural on K-Bay’s west wall comes in two pieces and shows a star blazing in the center and the halves of a black hole at the ends. It also can be flipped, so the black hole — a collapsed star — could be in the middle. That shining star could be her.
“At this point in my life I can focus, use my hyperfocus, and make the work I want to be making,” she said. “It’s a lifelong path. It’s this doubling down moment.”
But the black hole also could be everyone. Black holes, Cope pointed out, get balanced by the combined gravity of other stars.
“It’s not like we’re falling toward this whirlpool,” she said. “We’re also suspended by the things around us. To me, that’s a metaphor for our community.”
Cope has been an almost lifelong artist who knew from age 2 she wanted to create. The “art kid” in classes, Cope was born and raised in Homer, the daughter of Tom and Sue Klinker. Homeschooled in high school, she was one of the early Connections students. That gave her the opportunity to do things like take art classes at Kachemak Bay Campus with artist and teacher Karla Freeman — “awesome,” Cope called it.
She earned her bachelor of fine arts from Oregon College of Art and Craft and lived and painted in Oregon, Wisconsin and California before returning to Homer to raise a family. Cope is married to Dan Cope and they have two girls — Elaina, 6, and Nova, almost 4.
“It’s interesting being in the town I grew up, marrying someone from here,” she said.
“Burst” came about after Halloween while Cope had been playing around with the idea of light and color in her art.
“I wandered into K-Bay one evening, and (K-Bay owner) Michael (McGuire) asked me if I had any work about light that would be good in the month of December,” she said. “… I thought about it a day. I looked at that big huge wall. I came up with the idea of one big painting on that wall that’s about light.”
Cope said she got “thinking about gravity, especially this time of year when we’re weighted by the darkness, but there’s also this spark of inspiration and beauty and quietness.”
The show at K-Bay also includes smaller works on the theme of light and stars.
Over the past decade, Cope’s reputation as an artist has quietly grown. A member of the Bunnell Street Arts Center board of directors, she regularly shows there, with a show last May and pieces in shows like November’s 10×10 exhibit. Cope also has helped facilitate community murals, including a recent piece at her daughter’s school, Fireweed Academy, and at the Homer Council on the Arts and the South Peninsula Athletic and Recreation Complex, or SPARC. Creating art for sale can enhance her career, she said, but so can community contributions.
“This idea of giving, fostering this idea of connection among people — I get a lot of satisfaction out of that,” she said.
Being a mother and an artist also has its challenges. At last May’s show at Bunnell during her artist talk, someone asked her how she found time to be an artist and a mother.
“That was a big spark for me. I said, ‘You have to fight for it,’” she said of her art. “I had to make that a priority. It’s easy not to do that. It’s easy to put it aside and be a martyr. I’m not my best self that way.”
The artist-mother conversation happens a lot among women artists who are mothers, Cope said. She listens to a podcast about artist moms. Right now she’s working on a project with another fellow mom artist.
“I notice since having kids there’s this increased need to make and demand that, ‘Yes, I am an artist. I have to do this,’” she said. “…There’s also this looseness that happens. … You have to be selfless. At any time you might be interrupted.”
Cope also is doing an open call for a show that’s about making work at night. She said that in some artist circles people say “you can’t be a serious artist if you’re making art on your kitchen table at night. This is the answer to that. Yes, I can.”
Women’s work and being a mother also gets devalued, she said.
“After I had my first daughter, somebody asked, ‘What do you do all day?’” she said. “How do you answer that? I’m caring for a human. I want to talk about the experience of being in a body, a female body, being a part of a community and raising somebody.”
Some parent artists also have the idea that they should put their work on hold while they raise children, and that they can do art when their kids are grown or out of the home. That’s not for her, Cope said.
“I want to be serious about work,” she said. “… I feel like there’s time lost there. There’s a lot of thinking and doing and practice in that time. … If you were to wait until your kids were out of school, there’s so much time there you could have been working.”
That’s what Cope does and wants to do: work. Artists can have talent, but what makes an artist often has to do with “the drive and the want,” she said.
“Those are the people who end up getting somewhere, wherever that place will be,” she said. “….I think the drive and the practice, kind of single-mindedness you have to devote to anything, is where you gain skills and confidence.”
Cope said she feels like she is on the cusp of change.
“Sometimes I feel like we’re on this precipice. There’s this anxiety. Things are changing but there’s also hope and community,” she said. “… There’s this rapid change happening with me. I don’t know where it’s going, but I’m just following it.”