Reaction in Seclusion

A new virtual exhibition exploring artistic expression in isolation opens next week

Words by Millen Brown-Ewens

On Monday 22 June, online exhibit Reaction in Seclusion will host its first collection of work spotlighting drawings created in response to the pandemic-induced lockdown.

Endeavouring to emulate the sense of community found at the heart of creative practice, the virtual platform will give a space to both established and emerging artists fostering a celebratory and supportive network of talent.

“It is my hope that this show will grow the artists community in real life after lockdown,” says curator of the exhibition, Beatrice Hasell-McCosh. “For me having a community of people doing the same thing has been such an important part of finding my way as an artist.”

A collection of over 80 drawings by 65 artists will be showcased online until July 10, with visitors able to purchase pieces ranging from £60 to £1200.

'Iris and Poppy Study III', 2020 by Beatrice Hasell-McCosh. Image courtesy of Reaction in Seclusion

In bringing together work for her first show, Hasell-McCosh who herself is an artist by trade, felt that centring the medium of sketching and drawing was a natural response to the conditions imposed by lockdown.

“I think drawing deserves a lot more airtime than it gets. During lockdown when so many artists have been compelled to abandon their usual studio and practise it seems natural to revert to the simplicity of drawing to respond to this moment in time,” she reflects. “What I have enjoyed in putting this show together is seeing work that represents a departure in the artist’s usual practise due to forced change in circumstances, lack of materials or space.”

Isabel Seligman, Bridget Riley Art Foundation Exhibition Curator in the department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum agrees. "I think art has been a saving grace for lots of people, and drawing especially so," she says. "You don’t need expensive materials or a studio space, and being 2D and small-scale it’s particularly well suited to display on digital platforms. The artist Louise Bourgeois often spoke about her use of drawing as a way of processing emotions like anxiety, and I think in our current times drawing’s potential to explore or express difficult emotions, to connect people, and to process the world around us has made it more valuable than ever."

'Hedgerow', 2020 by Cat Roissetter. Image courtesy of Reaction in Seclusion

Aside from the financial implications of Covid-19, the restraints on inter-personal support and the physical experiences of viewing and showing art have been detrimental. For the self-employed creative, the prolonged period of isolation has been the ultimate test in resilience and motivator for the emergence of innovative survival methods.

A lifeline for many during this time has been the Artist Support Pledge, a project conceived by artist Matthew Burrows in early March which has quickly grown to become a global network, inspiring artists to connect and support each other by buying artwork.

Artist, Katy Papineau, whose work ‘Still Life’ features in the upcoming exhibition acknowledges how Burrows program as well as digital and social media initiatives have flipped perceptions of isolation for the better.

“Over the last couple of months, I’ve been finding Instagram an increasingly rewarding way to connect with artists, curators, and people who are interested in art,” she says. “Matthew Burrows’ Artist Support Pledge has been a brilliant way to carry on selling work while physical exhibitions have been delayed or cancelled.”

'Still Life', 2020 by Katy Papineau. Image courtesy of artist.

Founded on the artist-to-artist empowerment that has blossomed in the last few months under the influence of Burrows, Reaction in Seclusion encourages a level of engagement and introspection with ones work and individual responses in the face of adversity.

“I think the idea behind the Reaction in Seclusion exhibition really fits in with this general sense of collaboration and support among artists,” comments Papineau. “It's exciting to be part of a show with so many artists I admire, and for more established artists to be sharing their platform with emerging ones.”

Papineau’s piece for the exhibition ‘Still Life’, embodies a movement towards the everyday and the once mundane observations of our private lives and surroundings. “I self-isolated in mid-March and from that period onwards I started to feel drawn to the quieter, more subtle work of the Nabis, especially interiors by Vuillard,” says Papineau, reflecting on the Rococo influences of her latest work.

She continues: “In normal life I sketch other passengers on the bus on the way to my studio as a way to warm up for a day of painting. I was really feeling a lack of observational drawing at the start of lockdown, and my eventual way back into it was to draw from an ever-changing still life of herbs and flowers on my desk at home. During this time, I've become increasingly interested in art as a way of embellishing everyday scenes. The painting ‘Still Life’ is one of the pieces I made depicting the objects that decorate my desk.”

'I Wish I Was in My Neighbours Garden', 2020 by Melissa Scott-Miller. Image courtesy of Reaction in Seclusion

Alongside Papineau, several other artists have produced work reflective of the space they inhabit as well as the limitations and importance of it.

Hasell-McCosh comments on some of her favourites: “Melissa Scott Miller's piece titled 'I Wish I Was in My Neighbours Garden' invokes a feeling of longing, Charlotte Verity's work searches for space in the blue sky above her and indicates a desire and appreciation for freedom it represents and Tyga Helme's piece describing 'A Small Piece of Earth' projects a feeling chaotic contentment within the limits of the subject.”

“In my own work I was too looking at the emotions connected to claustrophobia and forced confinement through the lens of natural form,” she continues. “Nature endures through the season growing and crowding together and then dying to be replaced by something else. The juxtaposition of the negative emotion and the reliable continual rhythm feels very positive when so much is uncertain right now.”

With such a mass of exhibitions both beginning and being transferred to online, it begs the question; is this a new normal for how we experience and engage with art?

“Of course, viewing a painting online isn’t the same as seeing it in person. It’s hard to get the same sense of scale or texture. But I think there's room for both,” says Papineau. “I think there are probably a lot of people, including myself, who love art but feel intimidated by the idea of buying original artworks, or assume that it will always be completely unaffordable. But transparent pricing and the ease of viewing and buying work online will hopefully erode some of those barriers.”

Reaction in Seclusion is a show that succeeds in just this, pushing art forward in terms of accessibility and forging a community in new landscapes.

For more information on the exhibition and to receive an email reminder click here.

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