Like everyone else I was caught out by the Pandemic.
I’ve always been a creative person, as a teacher in main stream primary schools, then later facilitating art in Lewes Prison for nine years and in my mother’s care home.
But it wasn’t until I was 66 that I went to art school myself. I chose Bridge House Arts, an independent school on the North West coast of Scotland enrolling on a four month intensive portfolio course with just twelve students. I did it two years running, both courses during the dour winter months, where it rained literally every day, working from 9 am to 9pm six days a week – and I totally loved it.
Because all the other students were youngsters applying for places at University, I got swept along by their enthusiasm and applied to do an art MA at Brighton University and began my course in October 2019.
In early January 2020 I rejoined my class of twenty three including fifteen Chinese students, several of whom had returned to Brighton from having spent Christmas back in China. Within a week I developed the worst cough I’ve ever had and unusually for me, took to my bed feeling dreadful.
No idea, but it gave me time to reassess what I was doing at University in the first place. During my first four months, I had struggled to be creative in any way at all. I read lots of books about other artists but created virtually no work of my own.
As Covid spread and we were all locked down I decided to leave.
Did I miss student life?
Not at all, in fact this pandemic has been a total blessing: no housework, no visitors, no socialising, no distractions and no excuses.
Being an artist in the time of Covid has been a hugely productive.
I have created art every day, either in my home ‘studio’ (formerly known as the dining room), or in a studio three minutes from my house which I am fortunate to share with a potter, a guitar maker and another artist. We’ve had limited access and had to be socially distanced, but I have had the space and time to just play. Zoom has also been life enhancing. I’ve taken art workshops in America, Australia and Buckinghamshire, all from my own home. I’ve used media I had never tried before. I’ve explored genres and techniques such as abstraction, which previously I arrogantly considered ‘daubing for non artists’ and not ‘real art’. Yet I managed it well enough to raise £1,000 in the first four months, selling tiny abstracts in aid of The Choir with no Name, Brighton’s choir for people affected by homelessness.
I have moved identifying as a representational oil painter to an excited explorer of all kinds of art.
Would all this have been possible without being in a locked down situation?
I doubt I would have found the time to simply play, to experiment and to make art for art’s sake the way a child does who has no expectations of the result.
For the first time since my graduating exhibitions, I’ve sold work, thanks to Facebook and Instagram. A German doctor commissioned a set of similar abstracts in Chakra Colours for his surgery and from June 21st I have been invited to exhibit as the first featured artist at Sheppard’s, a new cafe opening in the village of East Dean.
Like for so many people Covid has given me pause for thought. My first grandchild, my family and my local community have obviously assumed greater importance, but alsolike many others it made me take a long hard look at what I thought was normal life and see, perhaps for the first time, how abnormal it actually is.
My Victorian Terrace in Old Town Eastbourne, has no garden in the back and a strip of pebbles with green things surviving in pots of various kinds, in the front. My contact with nature was negligible: a fast walk through the park as a means of reaching the town centre or a very infrequent stroll along the promenade dodging the Dotto Train and the dog walkers.
During Covid however we were all advised to go outside for regular walks in Nature to exercise and for the ‘benefit’ of our health. It’s been eye opening and nose opening and thought provoking.
I now experience the weather as sensations on my skin.
Who knew that trees exude different odours?
Or that leaves make a sound called Susurrus (posh word for rustling to you and I)?
Walking in nature is wellbeing exercise I don’t get standing in front of an easel for hours at a time. And its FREE!
Elise, the wonderful potter with whom I share my studio would eye up my chunky oil painted still life renderings of shoes or orange segments and suggest I paint flowers.
‘Flowers?’ I scoffed. ‘Are you mad? I don’t have the interest or the delicacy of touch.’
Well I do now. And tree and hills …….
By Michaele Wynn-Jones