Reflections from a Locked-down Artist. 9th June 2020
"It seems to me that today if the artist wishes to be serious... he must once more sink himself in solitude." (Edgar Degas)
There is a persistent myth of the isolated and passionately tortured artist working alone in a garret. Of course, many creative pursuits require a certain level of solitude to operate. But this massive imposition of isolation has hit many creative and self employed artists hard. In practice, many artists I know are sociable, community minded folk who have a genuine need for each other. For myself, lockdown has been a huge shock, a great big door slamming into my face. I was on course for several exhibitions and in particular a solo show in Bristol for which I was producing large scale artworks, some of which I felt were the best work I’ve ever done. My studio at Clayhill Arts in Somerset is standing empty with all those works untouched for weeks and weeks. My heart absolutely aches to be there. It feels like we’re all aching to be elsewhere.
I’m homeschooling my two kids and trying with all my power to make sure they are ok and unscathed by the deep societal anxiety that is swirling around us. My life has become pretty small and domestic. It’s frustrating, to say the least. There’s always been a tricky balancing act between my precious life as a mother and my alter ego as a painter, but now those two are coexisting within the same space and it’s a little claustrophobic.
The irony of ‘Isolation’ for me, like many parents is that I actually don’t have any of it. Lockdown has created an apartheid: some of us have no company and some of us have an excess of it. I long to see family, friends, fellow artists, school gate buddies but I am never alone.
I steal time to paint here and there. When I do find time I paint with gusto, and get completely lost in the flow. It’s a small taste of solitude, even if it gets broken regularly by the inevitable squabbles or the need to break off and make lunch / apply Savlon. In a strange way I’ve been quite prolific. The drive to create, and specifically to paint is fundamental to who I am and I seize the moments of it whenever I can.
I’ve got involved with a scheme called the ‘Artist Support Pledge’, the brainchild of London based artist Matthew Burrows http://matthewburrows.org/artist-support-pledge The initiative means I have been selling my work at a reduced price in order to stay afloat and I pledge to buy another artists work when I earn £1000. When we emerge, blinking into the sunlight I believe we still want artists to be there. That’s a theme for another article. But suffice to say this pledge has given hundreds of artists like me a focus and some income. I can’t keep up with demand, which has been a fantastic confidence boost, and made me feel like I’m not invisible to my fellow humans, which is one of the perils of domesticity: it’s invisible work, just like parenting. Feeling invisible is also one of the perils of the Covid Lockdown. We need to be seen, to be heard. Even if it’s on zoom.
Covid-19 has thrown everything off balance. To my fellow artists, and to anyone who longs to create: I hope you can. Whether your lockdown has given you a famine or feast of solitude, I hope you can thrive.