I’m always making work – not a lot stops me. During lockdown, I’ve been getting up at 6am, as I have for 30 years, painting five or six hours a day, having the odd phone call, walking round the park opposite my house in Preston. In a strange way, life hasn’t been all that different to before – except I feel very different, and everything outside is very different, and will continue to be different after this.
The period of lockdown has coincided with my mother dying. She died in late February, aged 91, and my work went quite quiet when that happened. I’m usually known for work with multiple colours, and I had been working on some large canvases that I left in my studio when lockdown happened. Now I’m working at home, and my canvases are smaller and greyer; there’s a sort of foggy feel to them. They’re somehow in a time suspended between feeling things and not feeling things.
There are lots of other requests, too – magazines like Vogue and Harper’s have asked me to do pages for their July issues. In contrast to my grey paintings, they’re wanting quite uplifting work, which I also feel needs doing, so I’ve been working on those too.
It’s been hard to differentiate between what it’s like to be working in isolation, and what is grief. Some days I feel terrible, others ok. But lockdown has given me the opportunity to think about it and deal with it, I suppose, in a way I wouldn’t have if I’d gone to Brussels and Montreal for the shows I had planned, or been in and out of the University of Central Lancashire, where I teach.
Will those things be different, when we come out of this? I do think about that. Presumably there’ll be fewer spaces to show art, less work in those industries, fewer projects happening, less money to be spent. Decisions will need to be made about what’s important.
In my view, shared spaces for making – like the print room at the University, equipped for lithography, screenprinting, etching – are vitally important. Universities are rightly realising that there are hundreds of courses that can happen without having 120 people sitting in a lecture theatre. But to lump all courses together in that respect would be very dangerous.
Art courses rely on being in a space together, students popping in and seeing what one another are doing. Skill-sharing and encouragement happens as students come and go, and I think there’s enormous potential for that to become a model for education more broadly.