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  • Writer's pictureBen Fearnside

Art in Containment

When society is in lockdown, living with uncertainty and an invisible enemy, you'd expect people to shutdown and focus on life's essentials: food, family, friends, toilet roll. But unexpectedly, one of those essentials seems to be abstract ART.

March 2020 was a dark month. Not only did I have no hope of selling metal-on-canvas artwork, but it seemed both frivolous and self-indulgent to create it. Art must 'say' something about what was happening, but what could I possibly say that wasn't being screamed across social/media? Did I even want to engage with it? But as we acclimatised to the new normal, I noticed more traffic on my website. And then the sun came out.

It started with an unexpected sale of two paintings to a corporate client who had already bought 'Hayward's Heath'. (above). The companion portraits 'Electric Matador' and 'Lincoln' (below) were new work, and hadn't yet been exhibited. They were purchased online: I hadn't even taken proper photographs!

Next, I was approached about a commission. This was 'third time lucky' for this person. Initially she'd wanted to buy a painting she saw as a work-in-progress on Instagram, but by the time she contacted me I'd painted over it. Then she came to an exhibition, but the piece she was interested in had already sold. So she commissioned me.

Being commissioned gave me permission to paint. It isn't indulgent if it's for a purpose, for someone's specific pleasure, right? My patron knew she wanted a Containment series piece, had a size in mind, but the rest was up to me. Suddenly, the tension fell away and Containment 19/20 emerged easily and calmly. I find it strange that in the midst of fear and change, the work I created had stillness, symmetry and such gentle sea/ sky colours. The small red shouts of alarm are neatly contained.

It's strange to hold it up against 'Ropewalk' my fourth lockdown sale, another of my 50cm x 40cm 'Containments' . 'Ropewalk' was painted while my partner was writing a play about a maze, and some of that story escaped into my painting! It's a more subterranean than 'Containment 19/20', always pushing your eye around the canvas. It's a good piece and I was sad to part with it, but a new painting 'Berlin' has taken it's place.

I was especially grateful for that commission, as a safe focus for my ADHD brain in a time of chaos. I could have gone to a much darker place.

Life goes on, art goes on. There are threads through the maze, and blue skies beyond the containment.


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