Reflecting on nearly a year of living in a Pandemic situation all our lives have been seriously upended. Social Bubbles are now the new normal, wearing a face mask is mandatory and travel restrictions have been imposed.
My main concerns and the underlying fear are about the vaccine and the economical and social changes which are happening.
Everything has changed so quickly. Suddenly everyone, everywhere in the world, is at risk of contracting COVID-19. It’s terrifying. And yet the contagion of fear may be worse than the virus for most of us.
The first artist I researched was Goya who was a Spanish romantic painter and printmaker. He is considered the most important Spanish artist of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and throughout his long career was a commentator and chronicler of his era. Immensely successful in his lifetime, Goya is often referred to as both the last of the Old Masters and the first of the moderns.
Because of Goya’s revolutionary and dark approach to depicting war, The Third of May 1808 is among one of modern art’s most important pieces. Famed British art historian and museum director Kenneth Clark even deemed it “the first great picture which can be called revolutionary in every sense of the word, in style, in subject, and in intention.”
Francisco Goya, The Third of May, 1808, 1814-15, oil on canvas (Museo del Prado, Madrid.
The Third of May 1808 depicts the plight of the Spanish crowd who are about to get shot by the soldiers without any mercy.
For the remainder of his life, Goya would continue to channel the despair evident in The Third of May 1808. Between 1819 and 1823, Goya created his Black Paintings, a collection of 14 particularly haunting pieces. Dark in both subject matter and color palette, these works were crafted to adorn the walls of the aging and ailing artist’s Madrid home—by this point, he had suffered two serious sicknesses and, as a result, also dealt with anxiety.
My starting point was fear and I looked at my own fears like falling or being kidnapped and also popular ones like spiders and insects. I looked at colours which also represented fear such as black , and the colour’s link to gloom. Which still emanates across cultures, for example, in American and European mourning practices, and also in fictional depictions of evil, like a witch’s hat or the cape of the Grim Reaper. The origins of this are part of our evolution. Over the past 50 to 100 years, the colour black has gone through a major transition, according to Leatrice Eisenman, colour specialist and executive director of the Pantone Colour Institute. Black is “the colour of night,” Eisenman said, “the colour of darkness. The colour that conceals all.
Research studies show a majority of people quickly associate black in conjunction with the emotional response of fear primarily connecting it with darkness, or say the “pitch dark of night”. Darkness creates unease with our inability to sense or see their surroundings leaving one feeling vulnerable, possibly compromised, threatened, endangered, defenceless and unsafe.
According to Psychology Today fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger. If we didn’t feel it, we couldn’t protect ourselves from legitimate threats. But often we fear situations that are far from life-or-death and thus hang back for no good reason slowing our own personal progression. Traumas or bad experiences can trigger a fear response within us that is hard to quell. Yet exposing ourselves to our personal demons is the best way to move past them.
Fear is essentially an emotion display, long before the development of sophisticated language humans used emotions to communicate and as a social alarm system quite similar to animals. Fear becomes a consequence that’s associated with experiences of the emotion itself often creating more complicated problems of living development. Joy for example may cause shame, love smacks of fear, sex disgusts or excites us while sadness tends to depress us.
I explored the possibility of a print series in black and red with a sinister element suggesting the fear of the unknown, the dark and dangerous. I did not take this idea further after experimenting with lino printing and the reduction process , I found that I could not produce a prints with the finish and quality that I wanted without access to the print workshop.
I decided to look at tools and knives, which can be used as weapons of fear, but which are also tools of trade. Crow bars and hammers have a purpose but also have the capability to be used in a threatening way. A Chef’s knife is the single most important tool in any kitchen, and is used in the creation of virtually every dish. A sharp knife means more control and less slippage when you cut.
I researched artists who used tools in their work and discovered the Artist Lee Lozano who’s work I found really interesting. The tool paintings and drawings, show Lozano’s intense relationship with language, perhaps the most continuous thread in her oeuvre, is invisible but still acutely felt. Her tools are proxies – monumental, fractious, and insistent. Her work intrigues me for its transformation of the object , In Lozano’s hands, screws are no longer a neutral means to hang a painting or set a bookshelf but rather explicit euphemisms of sexist logic: anthropomorphized machines aggressively screwing in and out of each other in acts of over-determined functionality, regardless of pain or pleasure.
With this in mind I decided to paint an semi abstract canvas which included the idea that we are being moved , tossed , destabilized without an anchor during this pandemic.
Exploring colours which provoked that feeling. I used Dark greys and white as the background , reminding me of storm clouds ,the black sky before thunder storm, a Background for death, sadness, grieving, or depression. The nails flying about which could land any where like the virus, how far we can protect our own fate. Who? Do we rely on to survive in the realms of sanity, without creating chaos in our lives. Who in this chaotic time is telling the truth , we live in a world of fake news .
I wanted this painting to have an interplay between opposites, contrasting forces between life and death, good and evil. Exploring dramatic scenarios hinged on subjects that tap into our cultural anxieties and uncertainties.
I named the painting “Nails” after the phrase “nail in the coffin”. Interestingly the phrase a nail in the coffin and variants denote something that hastens, or contributes to, the end of the person or thing referred to.
The image is first recorded in the following passage from Ode XV of Expostulatory Odes to a Great Duke, and a Little Lord. By Peter Pindar, Esquire. A New Edition (London: G. Kearsley, 1789), by the English satirist John Wolcot (1738-1819):
Care to our coffin adds a nail, no doubt; And ev’ry grin, so merry, draws one out.
Ironically Isaac Coffin (1759-1839), Member of Parliament for Ilchester (in Somerset), and retired officer of the Royal Navy, used the phrase during a debate on the Salt Tax at the House of Commons on Monday 1st April 1822—as reported the following day by The Public Ledger, and Daily Advertiser (London, England):
Sir I. Coffin was anxious to drive a spike nail into the coffin of this oppressive tax. He trusted Gentlemen would remain firm at their post, and fire broadside after broadside at his Majesty’s Ministers until they were obliged to give up this obnoxious impost.
Considering the huge borrowing by our current government and the effects of Brexit. I think it wont be long until an oppressive tax to pay for the cost of the Covid will occur to us.