Easel Words

From an article in the May/June 2021 edition of Jackdaw Magazine

The beginning of 2020; on my studio table mementos of a recent trip to Japan: origami storks, photographs, lucky cats, fabric, and next to them, a box of white shells, sand dollars and urchins which I’d collected over the years.  The small series that was evolving was of infants, cocooned in the protective environment of their pushchair seat. I’d been struck by how beautifully dressed the Japanese babies were and how they often wore tokens of both modern culture (Pokemon, Hello Kitty) and traditional lucky cat charms and prints. In the series, I imagined them dreaming, in their pushchairs carried on a woodcut sea, and was interested in how their guardians chose to deck the children in that rarified, mobile environment  and which of those influences would enter the child’s subconscious and seed their future cultural make-up.

Then came Lockdown. 

Not much changed for me in my little world. I worked at the top of the house with the same view and the same cat for company; the only change was that now my husband was working downstairs and we had certain distances we must not travel and imagined boundaries we must not breech.  I felt like a hermit crab who’d lucked out and had found just the right shell to stretch into for the foreseeable future. 

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister (who had also featured in the Baby Dreaming series, his own influences nestling beside him in his crib) was hoping to persuade us that Covid was the great equaliser and we were all in the same boat. Somewhere, I read the phrase ‘same storm, different boat’ and I started painting one of the urchins which had appeared as a gift in a baby’s crib in an earlier work but would now represent the protective, fragile extent of one’s bubble.  At first, the paintings showed only the shells, populated by small families or individuals and were against a black background. Then, as the lockdown continued, I’d add a blanket for comfort to the solitary occupants, or for the groups to sit on. There were spiky shells and smaller shells which didn’t quite house the occupant for those not finding lockdown so endurable. Later, the urchins were set on the same sea as I’d used in the Baby series – a woodcut by Matzao Kayama, and more recently, and on a far larger scale I have used Mori Yuzon’s wave drawings as a starting point, the urchin temporarily superseded by a purpose built Lego vessel.

By March 2021, after a year of lockdowns and changing rules, I’d filled my time drawing and painting, I’d stitched sashiko in the evenings, was now fluent in Zoom and had enjoyed deep dives into Instagram feeds, finding Gnoli down one such rabbit hole late one night.

The latest painting, as lockdown promises to end, is after Gnoli’s Bed; the raft that has carried me across this strange year.