This summer, we made the decision to radically change our approach for Art at Glyndebourne as we took our exhibition programme online and created our first digital showcase. In the same way, many of our exhibiting artists have used lockdown as a time to explore different techniques and ways of working. With ‘nothing to do but paint’, artist Lesley Birch has seen lockdown as an opportunity to experiment with how she records her creative practice. In this blog, she describes how a new series of landscape paintings for Glyndebourne were created and the experience of finding focus in a strange time.
‘Lockdown has been the strangest of times creatively. Back in March, I found myself in overload, painting to escape into myself. I went to the West Coast of Scotland in my head, to rugged bays and cold skies. I filmed myself painting in time-lapses. I went back to Cornish seas at Zennor and Priest's Cove, Holkham Bay in Norfolk and Crummockwater in the Lake District. The West Coast of Ireland came in now and again. Every time I painted, I recognised the place and the title came to me.
My first thought when lockdown was announced was, this is great, I have no appointments, I’m free! I’d always thought about filming my painting as a time-lapse and had just never got around to it. Having bought a clamp for my camera months ago, I set it up facing my easel and away I went. I decided to work in oils because I wanted to develop my skills in this medium. And I decided to paint alla prima – in one session – and on paper. Using my sketchbooks and memory, I based my pieces on familiar landscapes - trips to Scotland and Cornwall. I desperately wanted to escape this virus and create something beautiful.
The first few time-lapses worked out well. My next thought was, why not do this for 21 days? A time-lapse a day and a painting a day. Why 21 days? I realised later that this was the number of days that has passed since the beginning of lockdown.
I filmed myself painting every morning because the light was good, and painted into the afternoons. It was a fantastic routine - breakfast, set up the oil palette and paper, ensure the camera was working and then away. I would then break for morning coffee and assess the painting. Then maybe start on another painting. After lunch, I photographed the new works and uploaded them onto my social media platforms. This was the opportunity to showcase my work worldwide.
I wasn’t feeling the wild wind or soft sun on my skin and I wasn’t by the sea, so I used my sketchbooks as inspiration. I escaped and could revisit my favourite places in my mind. I’m lucky enough to have both a home studio and a shared studio space in York city centre but in lockdown, I was unable to meet with my artist colleagues and share ideas. I was completely isolated at home. But I challenged myself to focus during this time, and through this new process of painting, I have created more works than I thought possible.’
Nerissa Taysom - Curator