I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone.Frida Kahlo
Artists exist primarily in isolation. It is a normal and necessary state in order to focus on creating. Enforced isolation, such as that we have been experiencing over the last few months, however, is quite different as it is not a choice and therefore it feels quite different and we behave differently.
During this episode of quarantine, I have spent a lot of time alone. A time in which, in the normal course of events, I might have visited my mother in Norfolk, or my children and grandchildren. They may have visited me at home from London or Birmingham. I may have attended a course at Emily Ball at Seawhites Studio or maybe visited an exhibition in London.
What I have done is none of these things. So what have I done instead?
Rise above the storm and you will find sunshine
When the initial shock had passed, I have found my inspiration has been flowing, much like the beautiful weather we experienced during the first weeks of isolation. I have spent many hours in my studios and outside. In the beginning, I spent quite a lot of my energy tidying and organising, but this has now progressed on to creating, as my mindset has settled to the unlimited potential this period offers me.
Lesley at Pure Arts Group recommended the #KentCreativeSocialJournal project on Facebook which I have found highly motivating and creatively stimulating. I have also continued with my regular #whilethekettleboils drawing a day, which I have been enjoying for some time. It gives me the chance to look for empty spaces. I started initially with pencil sketches, then moved on to mixed media and have now progressed to #drawingwithscissors, inspired by seeing a Geta Bratescu exhibition at Hauser & Wirth April 2019 For Many Years I Have Also Drawn with Scissors. As a consequence, I have joined The London Drawing Group who hosted a Zoom class Matisse Drawing with Scissors which was excellent and has further fuelled my cut out kettles. And last but not least I have joined a Zoom art group with Rowena McWilliams at Smallhythe Studio.
As part of my Women Reading series, I have also completed one Becoming Fran self-portrait and started a second inspired by Frida Kahlo.
Being in a book club of five has provided a perfect foil for gathering inspiration and source material for this series, which I have been developing over the last year or so. In April 2019 we met at Jo’s house to discuss Michelle Obama’s autobiography Becoming. I immediately realised the potential of our gathering and took lots of photographs of everyone holding their book, luckily Chris also took one of me. The intention at the time was to make portraits of each of us.
I have used these photos as my starting point, working up each subject into sketches and studies using various media and backgrounds, finally ending up in December 2019 with four artworks of my fellow readers, each on 50-cm’s square wooden boards, which suited the way I was drawing/painting/working at the time.
At the same time, I also started my own self-portrait, which I then put aside until now. The lockdown has proved the perfect inspiration to pick this up again.
I re-visited Chris’s photo of me to distil all the potential information, once again working with graphite, oil pastels, acrylic and mixed media onto watercolour, shiny, beige, white paper & cardboard of different sizes, but all square. I had already prepared and started painting on a wooden board, which I had sized with absorbent ground – when dry this gives the appearance of watercolour paper. Amongst these studies I even resorted to drawing directly onto the original photo with wax crayons, which was quite revelatory and helped me get back in.
An added impetus to me completing this first Becoming Fran self-portrait was the intention to submit it, together with a 3-minute video, to the first Grayson’s Art Club recently aired on Channel 4.
As a consequence of this motivation and isolation, I am now back in the flow of creating daily in my studio and am excited to have started another self-portrait. This time inspired by a drawing I did at the V&A Frida Kahlo exhibition summer 2018. The sketch shows her reading her diary wearing a bow in her hair & lots of rings on her fingers. When we got back home Jane took several photos of me in this pose – lots of rings but no ribbon in my hair.
At times like these, I truly appreciate more than ever that self-care and self-love is a priority and a necessity – not a luxury!
Over the past weeks I have, like all of us, spent a lot of time on my own and in my own company and I have discovered some interesting and long hidden facts about myself, my values and motivation, which I had long forgotten, and I realise I actually quite like and appreciate my own company.
Reconnecting to my values has been truly inspiring and I feel now an intuitive need to retain this solitude as part of my future practice, to make it part of my new normal “after the storm has passed”.
I am blessed with being a creative and space and time to work on my passion.
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.Albert Einstein
There are few joys in life that equal good conversation, a genuine laugh, a long walk, a friendly dance or a big hug and I truly appreciate all of these gifts now more than ever, from the isolated solitude of my own home.
I am very lucky to live in a beautiful part of the country, with a large established garden and this has been an absolute blessing over the last few weeks. It has provided me with the fortitude to remain positive and healthy both physically and mentally.
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.Reinhold Niebuhr
We are so lucky to live in the age of technology. I have enjoyed the connectivity this has given me with friends and loved ones. I have also marvelled at the creativity of humanity to support each other through the ether with amazing and inspirational content including music, cooking, gardening, drawing, exercise. I have even been doing my regular strengthening class via zoom.
I have been joining in with the Pure Arts Group weekly live broadcasts – every Wednesday at 1pm – live-streamed from Facebook. They have provided a vital link to other artists and I am getting to know people all over again. I hope these continue after the lockdown.
Everything begins with an idea – a thought and a feeling which resonates.
A new door cannot be opened until we have the courage to close the one behind.
Please shut the door – stay home and stay safe. Because I am very excited to discover the new normal that is starting to emerge.
Making new habits takes effort. This time has shown me that the effort is worth it – I truly believe exciting times lie ahead for all of us if we stay strong, together, brave and kind.
I look forward to meeting you all again in our new – hopefully, lighter and brighter and significantly more creative – reality.
@franwhiteartist on Instagram