Words: Clare Dwyer Hogg

For your project ‘Golden Gravidation’ you’ve painted the scars and stretchmarks on women’s skin – how did you get the idea?
I was having a coffee with friends who were saying how they felt their bodies were ruined after children. I have a five year old and a two year old (art had been on the back-burner for a while!) so I understand, but thought that was awfully sad. One said she wished she could fill in her stretch marks. And then I remembered Japanese pottery repair, and it all came together.

Japanese pottery repair?
It’s the ancient art Kintsugi, which is an amazing process. When pottery is smashed, it isn’t thrown away. Instead, they bind the pieces back together with gold and lacquer, and it becomes even more valuable. It holds more honesty and importance.

What do you do?
The women come to my house, sit on a big green Seventies reclining armchair in my conservatory, and I make them a cup of tea. Then I start painting their stretch marks or scars. I use gold face-paint mixed with a fine dusting of gold glitter, and it can take anything from an hour to over three hours. While I’m painting, they talk to me about their experiences. I’m booked in to paint a surrogate mother, and have already painted women who have had miscarriages, and one who has had a lot of fertility treatment, and all she has to show are the scars. The stories are so moving.

Why 79?
79 is the atomic compound number for gold. I’m over halfway now. My mum is going to be number 78 and I’ll be 79. But the idea has grown. Now it’s not just mothers: I’ve painted the head of a woman with alopecia, and the scars of a seven year old who’s had open heart surgery. People get so much out of it, I’m currently booked up until January.

What’s the reaction?
Of the 45 photos I’ve taken for ‘Golden Gravidation’, just two women didn’t like theirs. I delete anything immediately if that happens. Lots of people cry. Others are very nervous. But most of the subjects love the result. What is of paramount importance is that the woman sees what I see. So I don’t crop images, use photoshop, or editing software.

Why do you think people are so moved?
It’s a process of accepting their bodies. There is a huge amount of pressure surrounding how people think they should look. I started this project at peace with my own body, but it has highlighted to me that no two photos I’ve taken are anything alike. And that the bodies you see in magazines don’t actually exist! A huge amount of mothers have come forward to say thank you, even if they weren’t confident enough to do the process themselves. Every day I get comments on my Facebook page that are so moving they make me cry.

What do you want the public to think?
I feel very protective of all the women I’ve shot, and haven’t wanted to expose them to criticism, but now they’ve really become a community. I don’t doubt that there will be negative comments when I exhibit. But I want people to look at them and think they’re brave. To think that normal bodies look like this, and should be celebrated.

More in Features


By , 4th July 2024
‘A standout literary thriller.’ THE FT ‘Ingenious, intriguing, colourful and very entertaining, this is the ideal summer holiday novel.’ LITERARY REVIEW

From book to screen

By , 28th February 2023
Free resources and tips for would be screenwriters, from a complete novice - and some professionals - as I navigate the process of adapting my novels for TV and film

Observer New Review Q&A

By , 22nd March 2022
An interview with Stephanie Merritt about Edith and Kim, the perils of writing about family, and why female spies often get overlooked

Researching Edith and Kim

By , 17th November 2021
From a compendium of stories about life at the Bauhaus to a Modernist memoir by the founder of the iconic Isokon, here are some of the books that inspired my forthcoming novel