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July 29, 2021
In the month that we celebrate International Friendship Day I look at camraderie and the joy and power of exhibiting as a group of artists.
As a founding member of the Lots Road Group of portrait artists I'm delighted - for the first time since lockdown last March - to be exhibiting again with other artists who all studied, at different times, at The Heatherley School of Fine Art in Chelsea, one of the oldest independent art schools in London where the focus is on drawing and painting from life.
Conceived in the dark days of the first lockdown on Zoom, a technology which was new to us (remember that?) we came together around an idea sparked by a FT article 'The Pandemic is a portal' by Arundhati Roy.
The author said: "Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal..."
She went on to say we could carry on in the way we had with our avaricious ways or we can walk through it ready to imagine and fight for another world.
We decided that that would be our theme. Other than choosing the theme, we did not discuss our portraiture ideas and this allowed us to interpret it in very different ways.
The exhibition features portraits by 15 artists in the group and contemplates life on both sides of the doors that have defined our lives during the last 18 months, both as protection from a hostile outside world and the means of escape from confinement.
The Lots Road Group said: “Our individual worlds have been disrupted in ways unthinkable back in 2019. We have been deprived of many things but one thing we have had plenty of is time. Strange things happened to our perception of time, something that is noted in many of the narratives that are contained in our online catalogue.
“With time comes reflection and both are the stock in trade of portrait artists. Longevity and thoughtfulness are what distinguishes a portrait from a photograph."
Our sitters come from all walks of life; they are all people we know and include teachers, out of work creatives, street cleaners, people working from home and inevitably our family members and ourselves.
My portrait is of local musician Paul Kissaun, ex member of The Flying Pickets, who I have portrayed in lockdown.
In the exhibition catalogue Paul said: “In April 2020 I began playing half hour gigs on my own street. You know, to cheer things up a bit.
“Being a residential area I wanted to limit the playing time to go easy on the inmates. Invariably the weekly Friday shows got longer. People started to get dressed up for the one event in the week that wasn’t virtual, responsibly dotting themselves apart from each other. My naturally conservative cul-de-sac was coming out of its bubble for genuine interaction. People were speaking for the first time to neighbours they’d been avoiding for decades.
"Food and wine were exchanged freely. If you wanted to dance you danced. If you wanted it all to go away, well it was only once a week. People wanted to come from other streets but were dutifully unhelped to do so. I didn't play originals but forgotten memories and unreachable destinations.
"Afterwards discussions would run on and in the morning we all went back indoors. Did I mention we married a couple?
“These things have an organic life cycle, even impromptu concert series. From waryness to joy to expectation to ennui to raking up minor grievances to irritations to community and back to joy. After 15 Fridays I stopped the shows because that’s part of the cycle."But for a couple of months you could feel the gap between the seconds, a gap in which the animals giggled, alienation stumbled and our shy little close looked in the mirror and liked itself.”
The Lots Road Group is unique in that it tells the story of each of its sitters in this way.
Another notable sitter is Robin Hanbury-Tenison explorer and Covid-19 survivor.
To view the catalogue, please click here. If you would like to experience the size of our works, and their texture, then please do pop in. I will be there tomorrow morning to welcome you if you do.
Skylark Galleries Art Collective
I also belong, of course, to another collective of artists - Skylark Galleries - where all proceeds from our sales go to the artists. Our art is not united by a common tradition. The art we create is different from each other - some are 2D artists, some 3D, some paint abstracts, 'scapes, are printmakers or photographers. We too have walked through the veil of the pandemic and reacted to it in different ways.
Some have chosen to focus on the joy that the flora and fauna of the natural world has brought us in these extraordinary times, others on the meditative power of art. Others have felt a need to create artworks that lighten the national mood.
We too came together via Zoom and have sustained each other through the creation of an online gallery which complements our physical gallery in Gabriel's Wharf on London's southbank, and have learned, together, how to better spread the message of how our art - if it finds a place in your heart - can enliven your walls or provide solace.
European Robin by Amanda GosseOriginal gouache and pencil artwork on smooth white art paper>A4 – 29.7 x 21cm Unframed.
The Cat with the Rainbow Tail by Wilf FrostOil painting on canvas.60 x 50cm
Skylark Galleries also has a number of commissionable portrait artists. Each has a different style and so your first step is to see whose art speaks to you. To find out more, please click these links:
Vivien Phelan - ceramics
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