My practice: A reaction to Lockdown

The global pandemic has had a massive impact on all of our lives, it's impact will be studied for years I suspect. It’s effect will be felt for a long time to come regardless of vaccines, the mental health challenges are being battled in all of our heads to one degree or another. How it has affected me and my work has been surprising and at times very challenging.

At the time of writing , here in Wales we are still in “lockdown” due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Technically this is the third period of the severest restrictions. The first began mid-March 2020 and lasted some two months whilst gradually being lifted. By the time the winter arrived in Europe, the devolved government in Wales had begun to diverge from the UK government policy and hastened by a severe uptick in cases announced a “firebreak” lockdown in November for a fortnight and the latest – level 4 restrictions came in before Christmas and remain until at least mid-March 2021.

It’s strange to be writing now; a year after the first lockdown. From the initial reports of a new deadly virus in China to Italy’s’ horrific experience of its first wave, and the expectation of restrictions by the UK government: a lot of mention has been of “new normal” but it rocked my world on a personal level for many reasons, not least because we have young children and had to tackle homeschooling, but many more turbulent events made making a successful creative year challenging, or so I believed at the time.

In truth the effect on my art is a mix of good and bad, being a parent of young children makes quality studio time difficult to come by, even when the studio is in the back garden. On the face of it you would expect this to have a negative effect but in fact the pressure on my time necessitated a more efficient and expedient way of producing work.

I had been working on a series of landscapes based on roads in Wales. I had approached the subject in a largely figurative approach, using oils on canvas, these canvases would take many hours to complete and I produced around a dozen in the previous year and a half. My intention had always been to move away from the purely figurative approach to the subject of roads and I had started the year slowly moving away from this approach and experiment in sketch books a looser more expressive way, but the subsequent lockdown and restrictions turbo charged this change.

As well as the time limitations, looking after the kids half of the day to allow my wife to work on her business and my work at the National Library of Wales meant that it was only when the kids where in bed that I could get to create any work. The other effect was the travel restrictions. Whereas previously travelling by car would provide the perfect inspiration to the “road series” these where unlawful under lockdown. These dramatic scenes where becoming more memories than actual lived experiences.

I had source studies and photographs of course, but the experience of driving and moving through these landscapes formed basis for my understanding of the subject. It was moving through these landscapes which moved me.

At the same time, we were encouraged to take daily exercise and we would take our four-year-old and one-year-old to the back garden, clamber over the fence to a steeply rising field – we soon found a 2 km loop which climbed up the side of the valley before turning and walking towards the west to take a glimpse of the sea before dropping down and returning home. This is where Llia our youngest daughter took her first steps and our eldest daughter Eos learnt to courageously climb gates by herself. It was a beautiful time to see the seasons change and the kids grow and develop, but also challenging having to carry one or two of the children if they were fed up or tired. It was a bit like the “lets go on a bear hunt” stories but with more swearing under my breath and stroppy toddlers screaming because they wanted a particular stick or wanted to go in the opposite direction, instead of the well behaved ones in the storybooks.

This daily expedition definitely formed a replacement to the inspiration lost from the road trips. It was a beautiful spring bright sunny and dry, and we saw the seasons change from barren trees to the white blossom in the hedgerows and clumps of bright sunny gorse, the tantalizing glimpse of the Irish sea and Cardigan bay formed a new pallet that I took into my nocturnal art sessions in the studio.

I had managed to get my art supplies delivered from the highly recommended Ken Bromley website and had invested in some spray paint, I don’t quite remember what was the inspiration for those purchases but they formed a basis for the work. I liked the way the paint would drip and also dry quickly to allow me to quickly work over areas of color and add texture with pastels, chalk crayons and acrylic paints, basically anything I could get my hands on.

I began working on up to 4 paintings at a time and I worked with old thick envelope type paper in different unusual colours I had salvaged from work as my canvases.

I worked quickly and would often mount the four pieces on a large piece of cardboard and rotate them so that the landscape motifs of sky and land would get more muddled and less obvious.

I was working in a semi frenzied way, it was exhilarating and a little scary as often the results could and sometimes where disappointing.

It was at this time I received the strongest and possibly strangest reaction to my work so far, it came from a surprise source: a friend I had known for nearly 20 years, began expressing concern about my mental state, because the work I was creating and sharing on Facebook and Instagram was “a mess” and a possible “cry for help”.

The friendship needless to say hasn't survived (for more fundamental reasons than a misunderstanding of my work) . However it was a lesson on how abstraction can alienate and scare people. I think that it can disturb individuals ordered world view, and this can be a very unsettling experience. Good art in my opinion should be challanging and takes us out of our comfort zone.

As the summer month drew in, the “green blindness” set in (which I will talk more about in a later post: briefly it’s a time when Wales, especially rural Wales where I am based becomes so green I find it hard to get traction when everything is so monochromatic).

My output definitely slowed, the longer days however allowed me to complete a few studies en-plen-air and I was pleased to have that experience before the autumn and the next traumatic rupture in our lives which I will talk about in my next post.

At the end of this; my first blog post, I'm really happy to announce that some of my work from the period in question has been selected for inclusion in "Oriel_Lockdown" at Abersystwyth Arts Centre. The exhibition opens in June and my latest works included will be on sale there for the first time. Contact the arts centre for more details. Thanks for reading.