Felicity Griffin Clark, Poppies at Hadrian’s Villa
In the last weeks before lockdown in Italy, I was busy researching for my big studio project for 2020. Amazon Wardrobe was to be multimedia exploration of powerful women in the ancient world, focusing on Amazons and Etruscan women, using textile art, mixed media, painting and installations. I planned to have at least the core of the project down in time for Rome Art Week in October.
I had done a lot of academic research in 2019, and now had started to do site visits in and around Rome looking at artefacts and tomb paintings. A couple of pieces were done and others were in the sampling and testing stage.
And then we went into lockdown. Technically I should have been able to keep working, as my studio is in our apartment. But the fear and surreality of being in the middle of a pandemic seemed to come down like a curtain, cutting me off from the old pre-coronavirus world. I couldn’t think about my project, much less work on it.
But I knew that art was my way to deal with difficult, painful feelings and situations. So I went into the studio and drew. And I watched videos on Instagram. Specifically, I found Isolation Art School, an initiative set up by British artist Keith Tyson. Here were manageable, bite-sized tutorials aimed at people who were stuck at home, scared and in need of a creative distraction.
And it worked. I watched tutorials on drawing, oil painting, portraiture and watercolours. There was a short video of a former president of the Royal Academy talking about the freedom and possibilities of watercolour, the intensities and layers of colour that you could achieve. And the constant message from all the artists – that there was no one correct way to do art. Just have a go.
And I started playing. I got out my box of watercolour paints that I had tucked away and started doing ‘proper’ watercolour painting. And I was hooked.
Painting became the only time when the outside world drifted away. I only thought about what the paint was doing, what effects I could achieve and slowly some themes emerged.
I remembered the feeling of lying in an olive grove at Hadrian’s Villa last summer. The colour of the light, the insect’s view of the world through grasses, poppies and cornflowers.
For the time it took to make a painting I forgot about coronavirus, and lockdown and separation. Art, as it always has, gave me a lifeline to a different world.
Felicity Griffin Clark:
Artist, curator and co-director of Counterweave Arts Gallery & Workshop, I am an Australian mixed media and textile artist based in Rome. I have been working with textiles since 2005 and have exhibited in Australia, the UK, Italy, Germany, France, South Africa and the United States.
I use a range of media and techniques to combine colours, textures and meanings in unconventional ways. I like to learn traditional craft skills and use them unexpectedly: embroidery and sutures, textiles, goldwork, silk, old linens, mulberry bark and porcelain slip. I like people to be puzzled and intrigued by my work: able to recognise elements (such as embroidery stitches) but surprised by the context, or by the meaning of the work.