If you read the blog and listen to the radio shows regularly, you’ll know one of the things I love is art for all... art that captures the imagination, the heart and the soul, art that brings people together. So, it was only a matter of time before we shared how some of our artists and arts projects across Somerset responded during lockdown - and whilst the work produced is very different, one thing remains true. Whether it’s a personal response or something created with the community in mind, the work brings us all closer together despite the physical separation of the past few months.
The art created connects us, through a sense of shared experience during an unprecedented time, and with the memories inherent in every piece.
Gocreate... go on!
A selection of projects that do exactly this were created by the Taunton-based creative members group, Gocreate. Since forming in 2014, they’ve built close relationships with local community groups and charities, focusing on helping people find a voice through Arts and Culture. As CEO, Jenny Keogh, tells me:
“When we went into lockdown the most natural direction for us was to reach out to those communities and offer support,”
and with funding help from Taunton Rotary Club and The Somerset Community Foundation, they sent out art packs to vulnerable adults and children, inviting them to paint their stories of being ’In Isolation’ on to a canvas square. These squares are being sewn together to create large banners of collective responses:
“We sent out 80 art packs out to Cannons Grove where the homeless community were being housed during lockdown, elderly individuals in care homes took part, as well as children and adults with special needs... knowing that people cared about them and still wanted to engage despite COVID-19 has made the process of the projects both meaningful and successful”, says Jenny.
Running alongside this, a large wooden jigsaw puzzle was also created and blank pieces given to local artists, community groups and charities to ‘Make their Mark’ on.
I’m really looking forward to decorating a Somerset cool jigsaw piece myself and it’s fantastic to be part of a collective response to something that’s affected us all.
Gocreate really did reach out to many different groups during lockdown. Primary school children who were homeschooling made a special contribution, as their challenge was to produce artwork based on the theme of ‘Helping Hands’ and as Jenny says:
“We had beautiful entries of drawings and sculpture dedicated to NHS staff, teachers and other key workers. You can see the exhibition on our website GoCreate.org.uk and we also facilitated a project in response to the Black Lives Matter Movement, inviting people to contribute to large painted banners as a show of our solidarity with our black community. All the artwork we have facilitated will go on display as soon as it’s feasible to hold an exhibition and we’re hoping the artwork will go ‘on tour’ and be displayed in community spaces and galleries for all to be enjoyed.
We can’t wait for that to happen.
The Blue House Makes (us smile)
Meet Ivor Hill, Carol Ridout and Peter Hutchings. They've been creating some very cool art during lockdown as part of 'The Blue House Makes' and their full time carer, Rachel Bunce, tells me how their passion for art began.
"Ivor, Carol and Peter live with us at The Blue House. They are learning disabled and lockdown meant that five days a week usually spent at day services or other social activities suddenly became home centred and 24/7. We needed to find something to stimulate and absorb them and drawing some simple animals using step by step guides, soon developed into setting up still life with fruits, jugs and taking inspiration from our house and garden".
Well, I love the distinctive, joyful style shining through in their creations, I've been following the guys on Instagram during lockdown and it's brilliant what they've achieved. Their designs have been printed onto T-shirts and sold on Etsy, along with prints of their work, raising over £420 for Art Refuge - a charity using art and art therapy to support the mental health and wellbeing of people displaced due to conflict, persecution and poverty.
As Rachel says:
"People have commented that there is a freedom and confidence in this work and requests to purchase originals reflect this. Our resident artists want to continue with their art even as lockdown restrictions lift and are looking forward to showing their talent in an exhibition at a local country house - details tbc".
Well, I don't know about you, but Ivor's drawings and paintings really make me smile and I was interested to know about the difference it's made to him. Rachel tells me:
"Ivor doesn't speak about the way his art makes him feel, but his body language does the talking. He becomes completely absorbed in what he is creating and his shoulders visibly relax. Both he and Carol are delighted to hear responses to their work on social media".
And I'm not surprised. It's awesome. Go Carol and Ivor!
Celebrating community heroes - Jo Holdaway
Illustrator, Jo Holdaway, felt a little bit lost at the beginning of lockdown, but as the weeks rolled by she was inspired to create a series of brilliant portraits to say thanks to key workers. As Jo says:
"As time went on, I wanted to do something creative and I saw a post by artist Tom Croft who had started an initiative to offer free portriats to NHS key workers. I thought it was a really nice thing to do and I hadn't done portraits in quite a while, so I put up a post on Instagram to offer to paint a key worker and I had a lovely response from a young doctor. That was the start of it".
As Jo tells me,
"Silvia was thrilled with the portrait. She'd had a couple of tough days at work and it had really lifted her".
From there, Jo went on to create portraits of people in her Somerset community who had helped in tough times - including Lee, who works for Somerset Waste Recycling, and her postie, Mike. This was all about lifting their spirits, inspiring morale and simply saying a heartfelt thank you, with the gift of a portrait.
Jo also says:
“It was a really good focus for me during lockdown to keep busy and positive. I was keen to make a series that was very much of the moment, that told a story of a cross section of society and it was lovely to see all the faces in one final Instagram square at the end too – satisfying as an artist anyway”.
Finding comfort in the abstract - Mark Noble
For artist Mark Noble, lockdown also started as a mental challenge, but as he says:
"Maybe I was lucky because it focused my mind on my art and also helped me work from home. I made myself an art studio and set myself a challenge to produce art throughout the pandemic to keep my mind occupied and fresh with ideas.
Mark goes on to explain:
I'm severely dyslexic and autistic and I really appreciate how depression, health and wellbeing affects society, especially at the moment, so I've also been trying to to tell people about the importance of the arts on mental health."
Well, Mark makes a really good point, and we can certainly see the positive impact that all of the work included in this feature has had on the community and on the artists themselves... and although there were downsides of lockdown for Mark (he had a diary full of art shows during the Summer that couldn't go ahead), he decided to concentrate on creating a set of abstract paintings reflecting the fight and struggle against the virus.
Mark also took the opportunity to explore a connection to the environment, in line with the recovery of nature all around us, and used more recyclable materials to paint on - including this table top! Love this creative idea.
Reflecting emotion and location - Amanda Bee
Someone else who has been inspired by nature and a sense of place, is Frome-based artist Amanda Bee, who went on a personal journey during lockdown with her project, 'The Rodden Walks'.
The pandemic brought big changes for Amanda. Her art teaching practice couldn't operate in the way it had done previously and when she started walking to the Rodden Fields as part of her daily exercise, the meadows, trees, winding river, church and beautiful views over to Cley Hill, rekindled her creativity.
As Amanda tells me:
"After a while I started taking my sketch book and just sitting by the river and in various spots, and this turned into me creating smaller paintings, which I think reflected the way we were living - quiet and more enclosed, so the work was small and the colours more muted".
As time progressed though, Amanda's mood and approach changed and she's now working on 1 metre squared canvases and the colours have got brighter, in response to how things are changing all around us.
The work really charts Amanda's emotional response throughout the pandemic and as she says;
"Every time I go to the Rodden fields, I see something different or I look at it from a different angle and so the paintings aren't about one space or one view, they're an amalgamation of lots of visits which now have memories, moods and emotions attached, so these all get merged to create the abstract works".
For Amanda, creating this body of work has been fascinating as well as therapeutic. She's going to keep going with it and hopes to show the work locally, as the fields are right on Frome's doorstep - and if you fancy hearing more about Amanda's work, I chat to her on my Somerset cool radio show right here (around 22 minutes into the show).
Many wonderful arts and creative projects have been born out of lockdown and it's been great to just scratch the surface here on the blog.
Here's to art for all, always.