I studied painting but am also a musical performer. Part of my art degree included painting, film studies and I researched sound and performance artists, such as Laurie Anderson, although my main focus was on painting.
I’m a self employed Painter, Graphic Designer, I build and co-design custom made synths. I identify as a visual and musical artist, I learned guitar and to read guitar tablature since I was eight years old and continue to play several instruments. Learning to be a painter trained me in making things with my hands and I continue to do this with music by making circuits out of electronic components and integrated circuits. As with painting I try to keep materials raw and see both painting and the making of electronic devices as a form of alchemy. This idea really resonated with me, as materials are such a big part of what happens in the process of painting with oil paints and, when we see a painting in it’s finished state, there is a whole journey of materials and transformation that exists within that finished painting.
I have focused on a series of self portraits which is something I have not ever done before. The portraits started as a sort of journal where I was painting with watercolour. As lockdown continued I painted scenes which were more related to the state I was in, I have one where I am cutting my own hair and another where I am on my laptop as this is my only connection to the outside world. With music I have had the opportunity to explore live stream performance from home, which is something I’ve not done before this lockdown period. It’s been interesting as I’m used to performing at venues or art galleries so the room in our house has become the new stage. Bringing live performance into this home space has been very interesting for me, and while I prefer an actual live atmosphere, it still has the excitement of being on stage. Technically I’m still working but there’s just less work, in some ways I have to put extra time into new types of work as I’ve had to rethink some of my sources of income and this has taken time.
Concentration is an important factor. In our busy world, the ability to concentrate on one task without interruption has become a luxury. I’ve welcomed the extra time and have tried to use this time well. The conditions are hard but tolerable, I don’t want to be stuck at home or confined to one part of London or not see people in person but this is the new reality and I find it hard to accept sometimes as it seems like it will drag on for a long time. Making artwork is expensive, the materials are not cheap and so is also a luxury. With economic recession on the way it becomes harder to justify the cost of materials so I’m trying to recycle older painting stretchers where possible and paint in a more paint conserving way. This is actually quite useful as I’ve learnt to paint a bit differently, I tend to like to lay paint on quite thick and work big but have kept my canvases under 70 x 50 cm for these new works. Some of my larger paintings are as big as 150 x 170cm, these naturally are more expensive to make.
I’ve concentrated on the communication I’ve had with another sound artist who was inspired by my road trip paintings. He wrote to me describing a road trip he had to the Mojave desert and is working on a piece of music around this, we intend to do a collaborative live event next year. With not being able to travel I think this nostalgic remembering of road trips has intensified. In some ways I think significant road trips or intense road trips (not just a trip to work) are connected in some ways. Elements or objects of his road trip reminded me of a road trip I had many years ago in New Zealand when I had a car. The nostalgia from one road trip interlinked with the nostalgia from another. For example a can of beans, I distinctly remember eating chili beans from a can on that road trip. I’m very interested in how memory works in this way and that the elements of one trip can cross over into another. Something about the open road, the being away from home, new territory, adventure and the ascending into the horizon. These things resonate with a lot of people as we’ve all been there, in some way or another and often these sorts of road trips are transformative.
There were definitely days where the work was therapeutic, especially with the watercolour and pen drawings. They took many hours and I was able to sit while listening to an audio book and just switch off a bit from current world events. Engaging the cognitive part of the brain can definitely help with the management of emotions. I concentrate a lot when I am drawing as there’s a lot of attention to little details etc. This engagement with the cognitive part of the brain is helpful. I see it more as cognitive rather than an expression of emotions although this is still part of it, but I think often there is an overemphasis of expression of emotions in painting, and less on the cognitive tasks required to make a good piece of work.
In some ways being an artist makes it harder, as it’s always hard to be an artist, it’s challenging and difficult and it continues to be this way now. Being used to uncertain events doesn’t always mean that you are immune to them in fact there are several studies that show that musicians are more likely to suffer with mental health, experiencing depression etc. There are a number of factors that contribute to this one of them being low income. Although I personally know how to manage depression. I think the thing that will challenge artists most will be the loss of income and the loss of family members or friends to the virus. We face the potential closing down of many venues and pubs as a result of the crisis, which may make things more difficult if we lose the few platforms available for live music, sound art and visual art. Already I’ve seen many gigs and events cancelled and this is a loss of income for a lot of people.
I think that artists will be struggling financially but that the communities of artists may become stronger in themselves. In my view it’s better if artists are in charge of the arts not the funders, corporations or governments. I think it’s important to be aware of the service we provide or, more importantly, that we refuse to provide. I want to continue to go forward and explore ways to connect people through the arts, because that’s what it naturally does, it creates a space for people to have a common ground and to share ideas. That to me is the heart of the arts.
During lockdown we’ve maybe had to think of the way we connect with others spiritually, I think it’s important that we remember the connection we have with others as makers and what this means, or how important it is.