You’re reading How I Cope, a series sharing self-care tips as we all adjust to the coronavirus pandemic.
It was a private view, but not like the ones you remember. This one took place in our home and we were the artists and the only guests. Two weeks of colouring with pencils and paintbrushes had culminated in the “Blooming In The Frames” exhibition opening – a lockdown event just for us.
Canapés, wines and beers were laid out, atmospheric music played from the minirig speaker and assorted lights illuminated our hard work. A total of 33 pieces framed and hung in our gallery space, also known as our corridor.
Dressed in our art world finest, we admired our work – hours of meditative painting, pencilling and pastelling, presented like we were at the White Cube gallery.
My housemate Margarita masterminded the whole idea. During the week we choose our ‘canvases’ from a book filled with vintage comic covers and another filled with rude phrases woven among furry animals and flowers. My choices included Captain Midnight, Sheena Jungle Queen and Try To Be Less Of A Dick Please among others.
On the weekend we gathered on the communal terrace at the allocated time and Margarita presented us with our canvases, as well as all the colouring tools we could ever desire and White Russian cocktails on tap (with almond milk substitute in mine). Water colour pencils and paints, pastels and crayons quickly filled our empty monochrome pages.
But it wasn’t just the paper that was transformed. The power of focussing on the task at hand – how I applied the brush I was using, or whether I should use the green sharpie to make “Go Suck A Cock” really pop among the flowers, bees and furry bears – made me live in the present, freed from the constant anxiety of the pandemic.
As a journalist, my working life is saturated by the latest Covid-19 news, and it felt liberating to be able to escape momentarily. In a recent mental health video I worked on, Integrative Counsellor & Psychotherapist, Anthony Davis, talked about the “locus of control” as a coping mechanism – focussing on what you do have control over (my colouring pens) instead of something you don’t (a pandemic).
Over countless evenings with my lockdown crew, colouring proved to be an amazing way to escape the immediacy of the world around us. It was really quite meditative as my housemates, and the flat we share a terrace with, chatted, often falling quiet as we fell deeper into our endeavours. Sometimes this silence would be broken by a squabble over who was hogging the best light or whose turn it was to change the paintbrush water – never about death tolls or phased government plans.
We didn’t know it at the time but Margarita had a master plan, in a series of group and individual Whatsapp messages we had been instructed to create an artist alter ego, write a paragraph about said alter ego and name our pieces. Meanwhile she used CAD (computer-aided design software) to spec up the gallery space, bought frames and measured up the hangings. She also setup a Facebook event for the private view with an illustrious invitation list of all five of us.
So, on a Sunday evening we all gathered in our hallway as our alter egos – The Smurfette (Elaine), CharleZ (Charles), Fantasia Mufflediver (Laura), woodpecker370 (Margarita) and Xavier Pointe (me) – to sip drinks, nibble on canapés and take photos, marvelling at our hard and in some cases prolific work. We told unfathomable stories about our alter ego’s artistic motivations, made ridiculously pretentious interpretations of each other’s art and soaked up each other’s company.
Yet again, I didn’t think about the pandemic.