Art for Hard Times

Photocollage, Henry Moore

Poetry seems to have had a resurgence this year, and poems of all kinds have helped a lot of us to navigate the strange and complicated emotions of life in 2020. It’s been lockdown-proof, something shareable across paper, screens and airways.
One of my favourite things over the last few months has been my weekly Skype poetry club with a friend, a glass of wine and a poem that we read to each other on a vaguely agreed theme. We’ve been doing it since March and it’s carried on all the way through the summer – including at a real life, socially distanced picnic by the side of a reservoir, post wild swimming – I can’t even remember half the poems that we have read but the words have been such a comfort. Poetry reflects those odd moments of beauty that are so needed in hard times, and seems to refresh parts of the soul that other words don’t always reach.

Seeing art has a similar effect, and oh how glad I am to have done a tiny bit of this before everything shut down again. One of the first things I did after lockdown was not go to a bar but head for Yorkshire Sculpture Park – literally a breath of fresh air!  There are so many things that I miss and have just had to put out of my mind, as we all have; but I hadn’t realised how much I missed seeing art in a gallery until the last couple of weeks, when I saw two really good exhibitions. Even with entry-screening and one-way routes and distancing marks on the floor and wearing a mask, just going to a gallery space felt like tapping back into “normal”.

Tube shelter at Elephant & Castle, Bill Brandt.

I can’t describe how exciting and at the same time soothing it was to see these shows. So nourishing.
One was the parallel work of Bill Brandt and Henry Moore, at the wonderful Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield. They were both commissioned war artists documenting the early days of the London Blitz in 1939 as thousands of civilians slept in underground tube stations to shelter from the bombing.
Brandt’s photographs and Moore’s sketches are some of the most poignant and memorable images of the war; we might not be at war in 2020 but through their depictions of darkness, fear and restrictions, the parallels to our current situation  are hard to ignore.

Night Bombing. Watercolour and wax crayon sketches, Henry Moore

The other show that made a vivid impression was “Transient Lines” at Bloc Space in Sheffield. For a couple of years I had a studio space there with two friends, a tiny little bolt hole to store the equipment for our pop up cinema, Magic Lantern Film Club. So I have a soft spot for Bloc. We shared the space with Katie, who made elaborate hanging sculptures with thread, and when we left the studio, left her some of our old kit including a super 8 projector. She has used her theatrical training to light her hanging pieces with spotlights and film projectors, and the effect is ethereal, soothing and timeless, like watching pictures in the fire.  

Moving Structures, Katie Jamieson

Transient Lines was Katie exhibiting with three other women, including Clee Claire Lee  who makes beautiful shapes with tangled wire and had stretched delicate wire netting across the gallery ceiling to make shadow drawings across the space. I don’t know why I found this exhibition so enchanting except that it somehow had a fairytale, mythical quality (so different from the stark realism of the Brandt/Moore exhibition) and also – soooo important – it was art made by women immersed in their craft, still in process really, art made by learning and moving and playing. It was so good to see some playfulness and also – knowing that the whole thing was going to be taken down in a few hours – an acceptance of change and that through all of the turbulence and uncertainty of 2020, this too shall pass.

“Mouthpiece” (my name for it) Clee Claire Lee

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