During the first Lockdown, back in the early Spring of 2020, work came to a halt… or perhaps more truthfully, I came to a halt. The World had changed, and I found it impossible to settle to anything creative. The trouble is, when I am not creating, I don’t know what to do. I feel lost.
Thankfully the weather was glorious and being outside is the best tonic for a wounded soul. So, gardening and household projects kept the demons at bay, and for a while, it even felt like being on holiday… a rather unsettling holiday with a dreamlike quality of seeming both familiar and yet somehow terribly wrong. The birds sang their socks off and the garden burst into Spring vibrancy, but all around was silent, as though all humanity had disappeared and we were the last people left on earth.
After a few months of gardening and interior design therapy, I literally ran out of things to make, mend, repurpose and up-cycle… I’d reached the end of my ‘to do’ list, a thing I had never achieved before in my whole life!
My good friend and painting buddy, Helen, came to the rescue. She set us a Covid Challenge. I had to paint from one of her photos and she from one of mine. We take inspiration from quite different things and so the seascape she gave me was truly out of my comfort zone. I set her to paint an untidy corner of my in-law’s garden with an ancient apple tree and decrepit greenhouses… she likes order and large vistas! However, the project was a great success, getting us both painting again (whilst quietly cursing each other under our breath!). And by doing so we managed to make this new, uncomfortable and shifting world feel more bearable. We’d made our small world feel a bit ‘normal’ again.
Having completed my seascape I started to realise we were actually living through something momentous, which ought to be recorded in some way. And for me that meant painting the pandemic. I knew the paintings had to reflect the shift in what had once seemed ‘everyday’, so I chose to use long, narrow canvases, reasoning that in order to fit my vision to this format I would have to play with perspective and twist and turn the landscape and buildings… and this felt entirely right as, to me, everything felt twisted and odd.
I also realised I had to limit my vision to my immediate surroundings. This was important as we have all been confined to our own small spaces so can only truthfully describe our personal experience of this World pandemic from the small spaces we now inhabit. And it is fortunate, for the purposes of this project, that my home is in an area normally bustling with life, making the contrast of empty streets and parkland even more unsettling and dreadful.
I don’t really want to explain the paintings, preferring that people create their own narrative. Originally the series was intended to be a triptych, Lockdown, Clapping the NHS and The New Normal. I really didn’t believe we would descend into another, even more devastating, Winter Lockdown, even though it was predicted by the scientists. A fourth painting was required. This became the darkest image, once more with empty streets, which seemed even more dreadful because it should have been a time of celebration… Christmas and New Year without parties, without family. Cold, dark days and long, lonely, bitter nights. But with the nations mental health in tatters, I have tried to offer elements of hope in the work… there is always hope…
The vaccination program started in January and it felt exciting… the key to our escape from this. But the journey towards the light of a Covid-free dawn felt impossibly long. New strains and new surges in disease around the world are still part of our daily lives.
The project is finished for the time being. There is a final painting planned for sometime in the future. It will be a large canvas full of life and vibrancy… a celebration painting… something joyful. And I can’t wait to paint it!
I have graffitied the frames that go with these paintings, scrawling the new words, government slogans, happenings and hero’s all over them. Reminders of a time when our world was turned upside down.
It has been a cathartic project for me. I hope you enjoy my interpretation of A Very Strange Year! Karen x