Fruit, Honeysuckle and a Snail
“As an artist and teacher unable to access my studio to work, or to give live art classes, I have had to find creative solutions to communicate my work, to use my painting and writing to stimulate discussion to motivate, inspire – and give solace and encouragement.”Rea Stavropoulos
Rea’s Lockdown Project
Continuing with Art Classes Remotely in Lockdown
‘At this time of year, I am often running a residential painting course at Villa Il Palmerino in Florence and have taken my Burgh House students there several times. We also meet regularly on Hampstead Heath or Ken Wood to paint outdoors or in other parts of London, by Regents Canal or the Thames. Now, since Lockdown started, I decided to keep a virtual appointment with
those old classes at Burgh House and have a handful of my old students and a couple of new ones keeping an appointment with me every Thursday afternoon as we each work from our separate homes – kitchens, bedrooms, gardens to a composition or theme that I set up or propose each week. It is not a “Zoom” session. I set up, photograph, write and send out the Week’s task by email and it is far more time consuming than holding a live afternoon class: for me it covers two days of work in the planning, writing, collecting of finished work and the individual and group critiques that I then give to each person and the group as a whole.
But from the outset the discoveries have been myriad and it has been a stimulus to my own creativity as – unable to get to my studio or to travel – my ideas all come from my immediate environment. So I plan and photograph compositions with objects that I find at home, write about different themes and ways of approaching the work, other artists to look at, and suggest these to my students who find their own equivalents in their separate homes. This has given rise to imaginative responses and poignant juxtapositions as we all revalue our domestic world and rediscover objects that link us with distant family and friends (an old photograph, a gift, an old Easter card), personal histories retrieved in this time of taking stock, stories that comfort nourish and bring us hope for the future.’
Project 3: My weekly Art Class conducted remotely – for 5-6 years I ran a watercolour painting class at Burgh House 2-4pm on Thursdays. Once we were in Lockdown I contacted some of my students and friends to keep a Thursday appointment with me. We are now in Week 21. The classes are organised remotely as we each work in our separate homes, so each week I think of a theme, arrange a composition and give instructions, encouraging them to create their own equivalents with what they have around them. They then send me photos of their work, with comments and I gather these together and do a send out to everyone together with my own comments on each person’s work. Thinking up new ideas and motivating people at a distance, whilst confined to the house has stimulated my own creativity.
I have felt fear and frustration. Unable to meet and be with our only son; unable to make plans for the future; unable to go to my studio; unable to travel to see a dying friend or to mourn her death with people close to her, and the deaths of others dear to me.
But lockdown has also been a discovery of essentials, a stimulus to creativity, an appreciation of stillness and a slowing down of life.
‘Watercolour paintings linked to 3 main projects: still lives composed at home as my kitchen became my studio, using what I found around me, cherished objects, acquiring added value and poignancy through the memories and associations they evoke, used both as stimuli for my weekly painting classes and submitted for an international art project
“The Garzoni Challenge” (Project 1). This Challenge was connected with an exhibition of the 17th century artist’s work at Florence’s Uffizi Gallery and the work of “Advancing Women Artists”, for which I am an Advocate, and was intended to initiate discussion about the still life genre with contemporary artists and their interpretations. Before lockdown I was involved in organising connected events for artists and the general public. As these were cancelled by lockdown, the discussions were initiated online, accompanied by my paintings and impromptu videos.
Project 2: A Painting Exchange/Challenge with Markos – when the whole of Italy went into lockdown on 10 March, I thought of this 8 year old Roman boy whom I had met with his family when he watched me painting on a Greek beach, because he loved to paint, and how it might help him, confined to his flat and unable to go out of the house, so I proposed a daily painting exchange. We sent each other paintings and sketches via emails almost daily for months with his mother acting as go-between. What started as a fun idea to help him, became a lifeline for me, as even on days when I felt tired or low, I made myself produce something through my commitment to him and his enthusiastic response.
Beloved Books includes 3 cherished books – A first edition of Cavafy’s poetry in Greek that belonged to my late mother, sitting on top of the British Museum’s “A History of the World in 100 Objects”(unable to visit museums or to move far, I can travel in my imagination) , below that, are the open pages of a book of Morandi’s watercolours which I have often referred to in my art classes.
Lifting the Spirits – objects that helped to sustain me in lockdown: a favourite photo of my son (unable to join us throughout lockdown) and my husband on a family holiday years ago, my coffee maker for the start of the day and a (shared) bottle of wine at the end, and Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal with its cover painting of daffodils and her daily observations of nature acting as a parallel to mine on my daily walks on the Heath.
Fruit, Honeysuckle and a Snail – a Garzoni inspired composition set for my Art Class.
Self Portrait with Map of Hampstead Heath, 14 May 2020, for my Thursday art class: The Heath represents the boundaries of my life at present as it is now my only outside territory where I can walk, breathe and reflect. So I proposed ‘self portrait with map’ for the 14 May art class, to be interpreted as each person wishes. As I played with format and composition, I realised that the Heath had arranged itself like green wings around me: very appropriate as it is the place that allows me to fly into another world.
Through my painting and writing about my artwork and my art classes – now prepared and communicated online – I have been able to create a community and maintain an international network of people of all ages (from 8 to 88 years) with whom I have exchanged images of paintings created in lockdown, made videos that stimulate conversation and discussion, which have kept people’s morale up and inspired them to create their own work.
As an artist and teacher unable to access my studio to work, or to give live art classes, I have had to find creative solutions to communicate my work, to use my painting and writing to stimulate discussion to motivate, inspire- and give solace and encouragement. This has also involved a great deal of writing, articles, making small videos, some Zoom meetings and even a “bedroom exhibition” “Creativity in Quarantine” of work done in Lockdown, which I have put on “You Tube” since I cannot exhibit in the physical world at present!’
Click here to ‘visit’ Rea’s Creativity in Quarantine exhibition.
Text and images © Rea Stavropoulos