de Paor-Evans, Adam orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-4797-7495 and Palmer, Luke (2021) LOCKDOWN COLLABORATIONS. Squagle House, United Kingdom. ISBN 978-1-5272-9745-6

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Official URL: http://www.collaborativepainting.uk


It was Thursday 12th March 2020, a day when severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2, or COVID-19 as it became commonly known, was still relatively minor news in Bristol, England. At the time there were no more than 500 cases within the UK and fewer than a handful of fatalities. I had barely given it a second thought, my diary was filling up and there was work to do; a growing number of Collaborative Painting UK workshops to facilitate, large-scale office murals to paint, and showcases at festivals to organise. Summer 2020 was shaping up to be the break I had been working so hard to secure ever since quitting my job as a lecturer two years earlier.

I was on my way to meet my friend and fellow artist Felix Braun at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) to finalise plans for our co-curation of the ‘Streets Ahead’ exhibition, a full gallery takeover during the summer, showcasing 20 local contemporary artists exploring the future of street art. As I climbed the huge marble staircase, Felix came into view. He was sat at a table, but looked slightly odd. I then realised he was wearing blue rubber gloves, the kind I wear when spray-painting
murals and canvases. I mentally made the connection to COVID-19 and shot him a wry smile in recognition of his vehement health and safety efforts. “I’ll offer no apology,” he said without hesitation, “I’ll do everything I can to not spread this thing.”

Challenges were addressed, exhibiting artists’ progress discussed and further plans were made before we left the building and wandered outside into the unusually warm early springtime sunshine. Felix spoke up and told me of his concern that Coronavirus might actually stop the exhibition happening at all. My wry smile turned into a nervous laugh. This simply was not a possibility in my mind. We owed it to the artists to make the show happen, we had all done so much work towards it already, and surely this was just a flu variant that would pass in no time at all. I looked him square in the eye: “It’ll be fine…
you worry too much.”

As I returned to my car, I checked my phone and opened a new email. It was from a client for whom I was working the following week, facilitating a Collaborative Painting workshop for 60 participants underneath the wings of Concorde at Bristol Aerospace Museum: “Due to many of our colleagues travelling from various countries around Europe, we regret to inform you that we are cancelling all of our plans to hold our event in Bristol next week.” My heart sank and my palms began to sweat. Could Felix have been right to have been so cautious?

Eleven days later on the 23rd March 2020, the United
Kingdom was put into full lockdown and every citizen
in the country was ordered to stay at home, only being
permitted to leave for a short amount of exercise,
essential shopping and work that could not be done
from home. One by one, the cancellations came in until
my diary was completely clear again; no workshops, no
festivals, no commissions, and no RWA exhibition. I felt
like everything I had worked for was slipping away and
there was nothing I could do to stop it.

How was I to save Collaborative Painting UK, and more
importantly, my sanity, during a pandemic that made
contact with humans outside of my own immediate
family, effectively illegal?

This book is a document of the small, personalised
projects I facilitated between April 2020 and April 2021,
an entire year during which the United Kingdom was
subjected to varying degrees of lockdown restrictions.
Its content is divided into two main sections, Lockdown
Collaborations: a series of canvases and digital images
that I started and then passed on to other visual artists
to complete, and #A4FOR5: a team activity whereby six
people each make five new artworks at A4 size and then
distribute them a week later to the rest of their group.

These projects were not pre-planned. They were a
spontaneous response to losing my usual practice of
facilitating team-building workshops, art projects for
young people and community groups, and delivering
arts in health sessions for inpatients at Bristol Children’s
Hospital. For reasons associated with my own mental
health, I needed to keep myself busy, engaged with
making art, connected other creative people, and most
importantly remain feeling like I was still an active artist.
As the months passed, the entire world was bombarded
on a daily basis with ascending line graphs, terrifying
statistics and real life stories of pain, loss, and struggling
just to get by, the only comfort being a shared
knowingness that we were all fighting the same battle
together, despite being as unprepared and unsure of
what would happen next as each other.

Developing systems to facilitate new ways to collaborate
with other artists began as a selfish act, imagined solely
to give me a reason to keep painting, keep conversations
with other artists going, and to have some positive
outcomes to look forward to. To begin with, I hadn’t
considered the effects these small projects would have
on my collaborators, but soon I would receive feedback
from participants informing me that the lockdown
collaborations were affecting more than just my own
need to keep active.

Luke Palmer/Acerone
May 2021.

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