The contemporary paintings shown above were exhibited at Birdwood House Gallery in Totnes or commissioned during 2020.
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How has it been painting for this exhibition during lockdown?
In a way nothing changed whilst everything changed around me. Yes, I suddenly had a lot more uncertainty, new stresses, strains and worries to fill my day, different in that it was of course potentially personally life threatening and all-encompassing, at home, locally and worldwide. Yes I was often shaky, upset and scared by the constant news streams, the lockdowns and deaths. However I was already preparing for this exhibition so I turned to painting as an active meditation, a time to be focused, curious, to see what showed up.
I was already in the process of teaching myself new ways to paint using oils. But should I paint subjects to fit with the new times, the new uncertainties, the doom and gloom? I decided to accept how it was and to see what I had. I dug out photos, both local and from my travels and adventures as a professional sailor, scuba diver and chef, those memories that spoke to me and warmed my heart. They were unsurprisingly predominantly of the sea, coast and rivers and filled with light, heat and colour. On my daily walks I also noticed how much my love and fascination with light and movement in particular are still very alive. Consequently I decided to focus on painting landscapes looking into the light, and of those I chose only to paint those that inspired me and gave me pleasure in the moment of painting.
What did my paintings show me? That paradoxically, when painting into the light, it is the darkest darks that reveal the strongest contrast and the brightest light, the greatest joy. And the less dramatic greys and seemingly duller colours have their own subtle beauty and often act as foils for the gems of colour. As in art so in life! Listening to music from my travels whilst painting, I sometimes found myself dancing happily about wielding a paint laden brush, enjoying even this most terrible of times. I found sadness and fear mixed with huge gratitude for the gifts of relationship, community, generosity, compassion, people doing their best. My experiences during this time have frequently been bitter-sweet and for me at least, this mixture of darkness, beauty and kindness have shown me once again, perhaps more than anything else, that there are at least a thousand names for joy.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is you I have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye
Byron Katie (2007) 'A Thousand Names for Joy, How to live in Harmony with the way things are’
Ross Gay (2019) 'Book of Delights’