Art in a time of Covid
Artists without galleries.
Actors without theatres.
Books without launches.
People with no earnings for the unforeseeable future, the future that is unknown to all of us.
An artist was posting photos of what I termed his “Plague Work” on Facebook. An established artist, a professional. “Established” in Ireland, for anyone in the arts, can means little more than hand to mouth living.
I looked at the final one of the ten pictures he posted and tranquillity washed over me. An angel sitting beside a pond, head bent over a book, beautiful foliage and a couple of small goldfish discernible in the water. I looked at that picture for a long time. Then I clicked into his website.
His work was fabulous and prices well deserved. More than I could spend. But the little paintings he was doing and putting on Facebook? I really liked them. The final one, I loved.
So I did something I would never before have contemplated doing, and I did it only after days of thinking, should I , could I and what if he were offended?
In the end, I did it. I ‘phoned him. I told him his work was sort of, em, out of my em, ah, budget. I told him of the painting I had fallen in love with, mumbled a figure I could afford and asked if he could do something like that picture, for me, for my budget? If not, no problem, I hope you don’t mind me asking. Not alone was he not offended, he was delighted. He said it was a lovely phone call to receive, I’d made his day, and I could have the painting itself if I so wished. He needed to finish it and would phone me the following week. I didn’t hear from him that week, but two weeks after our initial conversation he rang to say he couldn’t find his varnish and the art supplies shop he used remained shut. No problem. I wasn’t going anywhere and neither was he.
This morning my ‘phone screeched in my ear at 10 am. It was the artist. I was still in bed; he’d been up since six. He offered to ring back half an hour later, when I’d be more awake. I didn’t tell him that it is usually mid-afternoon before I am any way compos mentis.
It seemed my picture was finished and framed.
We arranged to meet two days later, outside the Hugh Lane Gallery (closed), beside the Irish Writers Centre (closed). We can’t sit in a café either. So we will sit on the steps of the Gallery or the Writers Centre. (In the rain, if the forecast is correct). I will take ownership of a lovely picture that is destined for my bedroom wall. He will take ownership of some euros.
I was so glad I plucked up the courage to call him. Afterwards I thought – I could have bought a bit of jewellery. But the Plague has changed things, changed perspectives. I find I have no urge to add another charm to my bracelet.
I’m happy I can support someone else, in the only way I can, in this cursed pandemic.
We can’t have paradise, but I can have my own little masterpiece to wonder at each morning. Although it definitely won’t be at 6 am.
I hadn’t been in the city centre since the beginning of March. Afraid to use the buses, I drove in, and parked near Dorset Street. I walked to the Hugh Lane Gallery, forgetting to bring a mask and with the vinyl gloves also forgotten at the bottom of my bag. There were many people about, milling around the bus stops and the pedestrian crossings. No masks. No social distancing. It made me nervous.
The artist was already there waiting for me, seated on the granite ledge that curves out gracefully from the portico of the Gallery. Beside him, a package sealed in lots of bubble wrap and tape. He unwrapped it and I knew I had made the right decision to buy a painting only seen online.
We talked. We had a real conversation. We got take away coffees and hot scones with raspberry jam from the Candy Café, my usual hangout after sessions in the Irish Writers Centre. The re-configured Candy looked a bit forlorn, I thought, but the same smiling face was there to greet me from behind a giant Perspex screen, a face mask and a visor.
The artist and I sat enjoying our coffees and scones. The sun came out and scorched us, so we continued our chat beneath the shade of the chestnut trees that guard the entrance to the Garden of Remembrance. I discovered that not alone was he a wonderful artist, but he sang in choirs as well. He had the first draft of a novel written, in between painting his wonderful pictures and getting through the lockdown. Plus, he had completed the illustrations for his novel. A true Renaissance man. Then he confessed that his back was killing him. He’d been doing building work at home involving bricklaying and RSJs… Was there nothing beyond his abilities?
We said our goodbyes and thank you’s. I returned to my car with my precious painting. He set off to find – hinges! Before we parted, I said to him that a beautiful picture must have a title, like the ones in the National Galleries. What would I call it? But it already has a title, he said. It’s written on the back. And it was. “Pond Angel”. Perfect!
When things are back to normal – or some semblance of same – he will come visit. We will sit by my pond and watch my two enormous, 18 year old goldfish sleep among the ferns. We shall have wine and coffee and talk some more about life and all manner of things. And I shall have my tiny masterpiece dreaming down from my bedroom wall. “Pond Angel” by Michael McWilliams.
First novel published 2017. “Inisheoda”. Sequel in progress. I’ve also done a bit of Standup. firstname.lastname@example.org