It’s not easy, being Jasmine Mansbridge.
Having an easy, successful life is the one image she wants you to discard. She has made an art form, literally, of not following the rules and conforming to norms expected of her, but she doesn’t want another person with artistic talent and passion in abundance to read this and think that parenting five children while managing her career as an artist is easy.
Being born with an incandescent energy and a visceral need to find mental respite from the furious pace of her own mind is clearly not an easy way to live – but for someone born to live life at twice the pace of the rest of us, it is a great way to live.
She returned at 1.30am last night, but is up bright and early in the studio, having farewelled her youngest three kids on their way to school. She is applying layers of white paint to three large canvases arrayed in a semi-circle on easels in the corner of the room, and the orderly queue of six more untouched canvases nearby are a harbinger of more deadlines ahead.
Jasmine just finished a mural on the side of a building in Johnston St, Collingwood, and needs to paint multiple works on canvases for two exhibitions slated for later in the year, while also juggling commissioned works which will feature in high end renovated homes across the planet. There’s a trip to London imminent and of course her annual trip to paint in Hong Kong.
Then there are pick ups, drop offs, washing, cooking and the insatiable thirst for care and love that five young souls require. All must be choreographed from her home base, a light-filled studio at the back of a vast block in the centre of Hamilton.
She chooses not to sacrifice either family time or painting time and as a result, is lucky if she gets five or six hours of sleep each night. Fortunately, living in Hamilton means that the time lost to picks ups and drop offs is minimal and warm, caring people who can help her support the family have been easy to find. Rural life is not always easy for an international artist, but it is possible – and she notes it is a place where you can start up a business or a career with a very low cost base relative to the city, making creative careers sometimes more attainable.
She ponders the nature of time in her upcoming exhibition on the Gold Coast in August– influenced by an interest in establishing a career internationally, she finds herself painting for Australian shows in the morning and talking with clients or colleagues in London and Europe as the sun rises on their day. The concept of the world living one long day across multiple longitudes is fascinating – and only possible because she works two days in one, completing works by day and by night.
“The challenge for me is to switch off and be present when I am with my family,” Jasmine says.
“That is something I have to be really conscious of, so that I am not thinking of work all the time.
“I paint the large scale works in my head before I start painting, and the thinking time is really important. Once a painting I am working on is resolved, I just have to do the boring, repetitive second and third coast and I can use that time to problem solve for other works. So I have to be careful that problem solving doesn’t flow over too much into family life."
“I can paint and talk because I have so many kids and they are always talking to me, but also because that’s the way I grew up.”
Jasmine is a poster child for the virtues of ignoring convention.
Her parents were involved in the church and teaching, and she grew up with four brothers but no TV and minimal possessions. While there was heavy theological regulation, the other constraints were minimal – with schooling being experimental at times. I didn’t spend a lot of time getting a conventional education.
“I could pursue my own interests, which were always making things, drawing and building,” Jasmine says.
“The installations of my childhood were drawing in the dirt, or made objects from nature, but I had had no exposure to the wider art world, it was just an internal drive to paint and make art, for as long as I can remember.”
Her time spent in the Northern Territory strongly influenced her approach to art. She appreciated the importance of art to life, the lack of barriers to participation and the way painters worked within a community, painting on the ground and talking as they worked to others around them.
All of which were important in shaping the way she approached life, but do not account for her success, fuelled by a burning talent.
As a child Jasmine won an international art competition when her teacher entered a picture of a giraffe she had drawn on her behalf. More than three decades later, the accolades were nice, but Jasmine most profoundly felt regret at not getting her painting back. It is an insight into her mind and its capabilities that she still remembers how she resolved the patterns on the hide of the giraffe – the shapes and colours being much more important to her than the form of the animal.
She married at 17 and had her first child at 18, then found herself alone in a world where young motherhood was not a favoured status. Alone all day and night, with the first of five babies that refused to sleep, she found herself and her solace in paint.
“I have spent most of my life waiting for my children to go to sleep so I can paint but although my youngest is four and they are going to bed at regular hours, it is a habit I don’t know I will ever shake” Jasmine says.
She paints during the day, but also paints almost every night, seven nights a week, working on canvases til midnight or 1am. Even on holidays, she packs small canvases on every road trip – and finds her happiness in her art.
“Your mind slows down when you paint and I get really immersed in it,” Jasmine says.
“I work for myself, but of course I also work for a lot of other people. A lot of artists don’t like commissions, because there are some set parameters around the work that you produce, but I like it – I get to work within those parameters to create a work that I think is really good.
“I call it creative commerce – it’s an exchange of creative energy for money. There are deadlines and expectations to be professional, but I am getting paid to produce things that I get really excited about.
“I obsessively love what I do, I could just paint and not do anything else. Parenting and caring ends up being forced self-care, because in caring for them, I also care better for myself, in terms of stopping and eating and making food. It’s a great balance, but it’s not easy. A lot of mental energy is required to keep track of everything.
“I was quite a hyperactive, busy child. Painting is the opposite of hyperactivity and it slows down the brain so you can concentrate. It’s very therapeutic. I feel like I need to paint every day to be happy.”
And what makes Jasmine happy also makes others happy – as people all over the world get to gaze on the acrylic offspring from her studio.