Musician Geraint Rhys reflects on his own creative process and chats with seven other artists across the creative spectrum to see how months of isolation has impacted their creativity.
For the arts and creative world this change was very abrupt. Galleries, cinemas, music venues, theatres and performance spaces which were once full of energy and anticipation suddenly became empty with no clarity of when or how they will return to normal. According to the Office of National Statistics, in the UK, the second largest sector to report percentages of businesses temporarily closing or pausing trading was the arts, entertainment and recreation sector, with 80% closures. The financial impact has yet been calculated, but for artists, many who are freelancers and rely on temporary contracts, the loss of work has been devastating.
Although some have embraced this opportunity, inventing new ways of communicating with each other and their audiences online, for many, lockdown has been an overwhelmingly challenging period. Creatively, isolation has forced artists to address how they approach and reflect on their work. As a musician and film-maker I have tried to stay as productive as possible with varying degrees of success, failure and frustration. Good and bad days have turned into good and bad hours. One hour I’ll feel as though I am able to focus and be creative. The next I’m banging my head against the wall wanting to be anywhere else.
This frustration has manifested itself quite directly. 2 weeks ago I released a new Welsh language track ‘Diwedd (Y Byd)’, which translates as ‘End (Of The World)’. I wrote, recorded and filmed the track in my bedroom and the lyrics very much reflect the isolation, boredom and banality of lockdown. Some of these include ‘This Is The Long Desert’, ‘I Swallow Blood’ and ‘It’s Lonely In This House’ (for full English lyrics check under the YouTube video). Cheery stuff, I must confess, but it reflects my state of mind at the time.
I have always been a DIY artist, so on the one hand making my own videos and images has been no different to the norm. On the other hand, recording a track in my bedroom and trying to replicate that studio sound has been difficult. You can judge for yourself how successfully I have managed to do this.
Overall, although I have learnt new skills, I have found my interaction with the outside world is where I derive my inspiration from, so not having this has been tough.
However, as referred to at the beginning of this article, this experience has impacted everyone differently, so I’ve used this time to chat to various freelance artists across the creative spectrum to see how they have coped during this time.
Geraint Rhys’s track ‘Diwedd (Y Byd)’ is available to view on YouTube.
Matthew Bulgo is a playwright and actor who, although used to spending large amounts of time writing at home, has always relied on being able to get out of the house to think through ideas.
“Pre-lockdown, I’d always make sure that I peppered my day with some coffee dates or a pint in the pub at the end of my shift at the desk. It’d often be in these conversations away from my laptop, when I least expected it, that I’d land on a new direction in which to take a script, a fresh idea, or the solution to a writing problem I’d be agonising over.”
For Matthew, the uncertainty of when things might return has exposed the fragilities of an already precarious industry, making him weary of when he can continue to develop new pieces of work.
“I have a heap of other ideas that I’ve wanted to tackle over the past months, but the main struggle has been finding a way to get myself enthused about them, when in reality I have no idea when a theatre might be in a position to even read them, never mind consider producing them…The response (or lack of, I should say) from Oliver Dowden, Rishi Sunak and so on. has been appalling…I think the theatrical landscape at the other end of all of this is going to be so very different.”
Despite these difficulties, Matthew has still been able to write a short play reflecting on the isolation of lockdown.
“I was asked to write a short play for a theatre company called Not Too Tame, who I’ve worked with a couple of times in the past. They’ve produced a series of plays during lockdown called #LocalLegends, raising money for a number of really important charities in their local area. The play is called ‘Elegy’ and I wrote it really quickly over a couple of days. It’s performed by the brilliant Maxine Peake.”
Matthew Bulgo’s short play ‘Elegy’ can be streamed via YouTube.
Adeola Dewis is a diaspora artist interested in carnival and ritual. For Adeola, being surrounded by supportive artists was crucial for her to keep afloat through collaborations when her freelancing work came to a standstill.
Adversity is common among freelancers, but in some contexts, this can be a positive force for change. As Adeola notes, “Adversity forces me to articulate. This period has allowed me the time to focus on what really matters to me and to re-invest my energy into what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. COVID-19, BLM and the effect of COVID on Black lives has affected me. The slowing down and contemplation, the pain and the anger, have been necessary. My creativity is in a new, very deliberate burgeoning stage.”
In many ways the current situation has given artists a new perspective. For Adeola, it has provided an invaluable pause to re-boot.
“I have learnt that I was operating with my ‘creative self’ on the second shelf. It is refreshing to see her again, to give her space to inhale and to confirm my confidence in her ability and resilience. I think we have different roles in a revolution and there is space for the creative capacity of art.”
Math Roberts is a street photographer who initially had to stop shooting for about 3 to 4 weeks in the early phase of lockdown. In this initial period, he was able to edit works which he had previously neglected.
When he was able to start shooting again, he noticed his usual workplace was different.
“This pandemic has completely changed society and the way “the streets” look and feel, in a selfish way it kind of made everything new and interesting from my perspective.”
Moving forward though, this opportunity has allowed Math to be more reflective about his approach.
“I think the most important things I’ve learnt from this whole experience is to have more patience, and to take more time to think through my work…I’ve had to consider more about what I’m going out to shoot and how I’m going to shoot it, rather than just head out with the camera and some beer money and go gung-ho! I’ve definitely woken up to the fact that there are different ways of working.”
Victoria Lomasko is a graphic artist and mural painter from Moscow, whose work has primarily involved sketching moments of Russian social life in real time. Lockdown has meant that she has been confined to her apartment, with only her memory to work with. This has meant her creative approach has become very different.
“When there is almost no opportunity to use the resources of the outside world, I clearly see that only one resource cannot be taken away: it’s my inner world, my perception of things and my skill to tell stories. Suddenly, the source of new images, surrealistic topics was my usual Moscow backyard, where I was walking alone.”
For Victoria, this isolation bred a further opportunity for her to explore alternative worlds.
“Probably the most acute feeling was how much deeper it is possible to perceive “reality”, when removing external hindrances and constant noise. In ordinary life, there are much more resources available for the creation of art, but for them you have to pay and the price is an endless competition.”
This experience has also accentuated the political struggles she sees in her country.
“For me, a lockdown is not just about being closed in my flat, but also to be closed in a country where during the pandemic there will be a vote to change the Russian Constitution and zeroing Putin’s presidential terms.”
Victoria Lomasko’s work can be viewed here.
clare e potter is a poet whose lockdown experience has provided an opportunity for healing and re-visiting previous work.
“I’d been having problems with self-doubt…so it has come as a delightful surprise that in these last three months, I have completed and edited a pamphlet of poetry. The book explores how poems, nature, my children have helped me deal with my emotional lockdown, helped me work through the very things that were hindering me for the last few years.”
This has also allowed clare to connect with other artists, and she feels as though it has strengthened her sense of a creative community.
“I want to continue to be grateful for other artists’ work, listen to their encouragement, and to return this to others. It feels like we have been drawn more closely together, trying to find and evoke beauty, some kind of faith and acknowledgement that while some things are changing and out of our control, many things need to change, and art can be a force for connecting us in a positive and healing way. Ironically, I no longer feel isolated as a writer.”
“I’ll share a collaborative offering. I sent two of my poems, ‘Unmade’ and ‘When my Grief Came,’ to Will Lawton who wanted to create an album about lockdown (Salt of the Earth). It’s a stunning evocation of what happens when one art form meets another. Will composed music to poets’ words; I’m so thrilled to be a part of this beautiful album.”
clare e potter’s collaborative work can be found on Will Lawton’s album, Salt of the Earth: Vol. 1, which can be listened to here.
Estelle Wooley is a visual artist who has embraced lockdown.
“My creativity has definitely flourished. I started working on an idea sparked by the pandemic and it gained a lot of positive feedback on my social media, which spurred me on to develop it and apply to online opportunities.”
She was then able to receive some funding to develop this idea.
“I was really fortunate to be commissioned by Chester Bandstand to develop this work, which has pushed my practice forwards and really given me a sense of purpose during these strange times.”
This lack of mobility has inspired Estelle to search the local area to create her new, lockdown related pieces.
“I have learned that I can be creative wherever I am and with whatever materials I have to hand, in a very Heideggarian sense. I am currently away from my studio but utilising materials gathered on my daily walks, which spark interest or meaning for me…I have been producing a series of photographic self portraits wearing facemasks composed of delicate and ephemeral natural materials. These have been collected from my daily walks, where I have been homing in on my immediate surroundings, paying close attention to the plant life as it comes in and out of season.”
Asha Jane is a musician who has been missing the unique bond that comes when creating with other artists.
“I think a lot of my creative flow comes from experiences. Often I come back from a gig, a good conversation or an art gallery feeling very inspired and I do some songwriting. I usually jam with my friends once or twice a week, and have different rehearsals to keep me on my toes and practicing. Although I’ve still been creating in lockdown, I haven’t felt as heavily inspired or consistently motivated. I’ve learned I love being in the studio and bouncing off people more than doing it all solo at home. “
Regardless of this Asha has still been able to be productive.
“I did the ‘Lockdown Challenge Official‘, which involved me making a video of me emceeing over a beat by Fabian Dubz for a competition. A lot of people have not seen me do something like that before. I actually did win the opportunity to record on the collaborative EP being made after lockdown.”
Asha Jane’s track ‘Soul Society’ is available to stream on Spotify.