If I could play the piano, I would play Erik Satie’s Gnossienne number 3, but instead I have made a new series of prints on paper to express my thoughts. These art works started as a visual response to the arrival of the Covid 19 pandemic in March 2020. At the time it felt like a puzzling shock, unbelievable: there seemed to be no way to assimilate what it meant or what to do. The first lockdown in SA indicated Covid was real, and it could not be designated as normal: we all needed to cope with it in our lives.
Making work was the only way I could ever resolve situations which seemed out of my control. I, along with many other people, suddenly felt vulnerable. So I read everything; watched TV; listened to the radio; discussed it with others; and, finally, decided I needed to find some peace from the emotional turmoil. Having wandered aimlessly around my printmaking studio for about three years, by early 2020 I questioned how to move forward with my work. Nothing new had engaged me and I was repeating earlier images and ideas. Now I had a focus to work towards and it set off some deep thinking about my life in the present. I began with a question:
“If this is so awful, what then is good? Where is calmness and peace? What indeed is comfort for the soul: what can relieve this anxiety?”
There was nothing I could do but make new work. I could express in a new way subjects and arrangements which gave me comfort. As a starting point, I turned to the simple and ordinary objects in my life and home, those that were familiar and comforting. The kettle; the teapot; tools; loved pots and anything normal; Nothing new there: many artists look to their environment to make art, but I also wanted to explore some original techniques I had developed over the previous 20 years. But I placed various tough restrictions on myself: keep it simple, straight forward, dead pan. Draw only from the objects within the genre of still life. Use no colour at all, allow only black and white tones. Exploit materials already to hand like ink, rollers, papers, water colours, and no new art shopping. No gratuitous decoration or sentimentality. And, above all, have some fun!
The prints began seriously, but as they accumulated, I noticed a sense of the ridiculous emerging; they were fun, a bit silly. These ordinary objects threw delightful shadows, a juxtaposition of objects created expressions of things: they began to take on joyous characters, playfully exaggerated within the compositions. They just kept coming, unexpectedly, and nothing seemed safe from my eye or imagination even though they were all there all the time. I felt totally engaged, excited, and enjoyed it enormously. I intend to continue with them into the future because making them has given me joy and peace.
There are no editions on these prints as each one is a unique state. Often, I have more than one print of each image, but this varies. With the addition of water colour, of course the prints must be different. The series now number over 20 with many more trials, failures and rejects. The challenges are always there: each new work is an adventure. I can see humour and even wit becoming more and more apparent as the prints progress and, as a series, I find them to be stark, simple and delightful.
Covid still exists everywhere; lockdowns continue, vaccination has given us all hope and we are trying to make sense of the pandemic in our midst. Without Covid, for me, these prints would never have been made.
Rita Hall, October 2021