Art in an emergency

Mokimoki fern small

What does art in an emergency look like? What sort of art will be made during a pandemic and the accompanying lockdowns that are occurring in many countries around the world? What sort of art will be made after? These are some of the questions I’m thinking about.

Some of the ideas that I discussed in my previous blog about sustainable art making and sustainable curation in a time of climate crisis will be useful in the future, as artists and art galleries and museums must adapt to new conditions quickly. It is likely that international travel will be restricted for some time. Art galleries have shut their doors, art magazines are facing an uncertain future, exhibitions are cancelled or postponed, and those that can have shifted their focus to making their collections available to view online. Many years ago I researched and wrote a dissertation about New Zealand artists, art galleries and what a new technology called the World Wide Web could mean for them. It would be interesting to revisit that research and write a followup, especially taking into account recent global events and how the art world will use the internet over the coming months.

Endemic species

At this point New Zealand is in a month long nationwide lockdown, attempting to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The lockdown came into effect swiftly, prior to the first death caused by the virus in New Zealand. Before the decision to put the country into lockdown was made, we had seen the news from overseas, the horrific death toll in many countries. It has been like watching a tsunami of illness and death approaching in slow motion, with nowhere to run. Except we are doing the opposite of running, we are staying at home, and isolating ourselves physically from others as much as possible. It is a difficult time – the watching and waiting takes a toll. Hoping that our families will survive the coming storm, and that the race to produce a viable vaccine will be successful.

Emergency – Comes from Latin emergere (e-, “from,” and mergere, “to dip, plunge”) and first meant “unforeseen occurrence.”

Coleus for blog

I am adjusting to changed circumstances, taking one day at a time. When the lockdown was announced I was retraining, studying full time for my floristry certificate. Like many artists, I rely on a steady job to fund my art making, and this year I had decided to take a step away from graphic design, in order to work more directly with plants and flowers. My floristry course will continue online but the period of practical tuition will be postponed. This Easter my son is having a holiday at home and will begin schooling online soon.

In the first chaotic week my husband, an experienced TV current affairs and news journalist, was reporting live for the TV News nationwide from my small home art studio. Fortunately the messy parts of the studio could not be seen! I’ve since given my art studio a tidy up and my husband and I are now sharing the workspace. I’m accustomed to my husband going into dangerous situations – a visit to Afghanistan with the New Zealand Defence Force and Japan during the Fukushima meltdown are two that immediately come to mind. But this feels different, the threat is much closer to home. Other family members who are also working in the community and those who have existing medical conditions are in my thoughts as we head into winter.

Studio April

The first artwork I have made during the lockdown (pictured below) was nature printed with plants from an Easter bouquet made in the last day that I attended my floristry class in Otara. As I nature printed this bouquet the fragrant flowering basil reminded me of the beautiful gardens there. There is some sadness in this picture, as I don’t know when I will be able to return to class to complete the practical parts of the course. I’ve dedicated this artwork to all the essential workers and their families globally who are continuing to work in the community during this crisis. With great courage and fortitude they face risks every time they go to work.

Easter Bouquet small

Like many others during this lockdown period my focus is on my family and immediate neighbourhood. Suddenly the little local street neighbourhood Facebook page that I set up a long time ago has become rather busy. Little things like photos of the beautiful flowers and trees in our streets, the peaceful local bush walks and chalk messages on the pavement have become a good way to lift spirits and connect with our neighbourhood. I’ve been touched by the many people offering to support and assistance (albeit from an appropriate distance!) to elderly people in our local streets.

Autumn corokia berries

In March the Auckland Arts Festival was cut short this year, but I did go to one of the final events, an extraordinary concert by an American musician, Amanda Palmer. She was joking that it might be the last concert we might see, and how she quite liked the idea that if it was the last then it would be hers. I think it will indeed be the last for some time. I gave her a painting after her show, made with Purple Clover and Purple Wreath flowers. Purple clover has an interesting history. It is an ancient, protective and sacred herb used by the Druids in England. The three leaves were associated with Earth, Sea and Sky. Later the three leaves of clover were used by Christians as a symbol of the Trinity and red clover symbolises vitality.

Purple Clover small

This purple variety came from a roadside verge near my home. I like working with weedy plants that are overlooked – gorgeous plants are all around us if we take the time to appreciate them. In this painting I nature printed the clover with the burgundy leaves of Loropetalum and some beautiful Purple Wreath flowers (Petrea volubilis). This plant also has some interesting symbolism. It is also known as Queen’s Wreath, Sandpaper Viner (because of the rough leaves) and the flower of God. Purple flowers are often associated with royalty, dignity, success and pride. Amanda and her family have taken refuge here in New Zealand during this pandemic, and I hope she still has the painting. (A little update – I have given a downloadable version of this painting to my Patreon subscribers)

Autumn jade, fir and berries small

Pictured above – Alstroemeria nature printed with jade plant, berries, fir and hedge plants. (detail)

Over the past few years I have been moving many aspects of my art making online, exploring how to connect with people who are interested in my artwork. This has also been motivated by my desire to make art that is widely available but also sustainable and regenerative during a time of climate crisis. My bimonthly artist blog is part of that approach, offering a chance to go deeper into the motivation and inspiration behind the artworks. I share images of nature printed artworks on social media @celestesterling and also offer art by subscription through my Patreon page. Some people must think it a bit crazy, to offer downloadable artwork for as little as US$1 per artwork. But I’ve always believed that art shouldn’t just be for the wealthy, it should be for everyone. I realised some time ago that my artwork doesn’t fit neatly into the world of commercial art galleries and publicly funded institutions. Patreon offers a chance to bypass these gatekeepers. It allows artists to connect directly with their community and for creators the possibility to earn a sustainable income from their work. People get to help create the artwork, music and other content that they want to see, in a way that bypasses the traditional funding models, institutions, large social media companies and other systems.  Because likes on social media don’t pay the bills, and the institutions tend to fund established artists who fit into their criteria. So please take a look at Patreon and if you can, become a participant in my online art community. Like many others in the art world I need your support to get though this crisis.

Carnations and Jade small

Pictured above – Carnations nature printed with jade plant, orange berries, lavender, fir and dusty miller leaves.

Over autumn and winter I will continue nature printing artworks to send out into the world online, and practising making bouquets, corsages and other floristry designs. I’m a bit camera shy and I don’t know how to edit, but I’ll endeavour to make a video on how to nature print to share with the world. Creative projects can really boost our spirits during difficult times. To brighten the week I have started participating in #FormalFriday, where people dress up in their best outfits at home once a week. I gave this a retro twist on Friday and recreated a look from my 1990 school ball. The project is fun but the idea behind it is really serious – stay home to save lives.

Celeste in school ball dress

Because Anzac Day is approaching here in New Zealand, I would like to share a couple of summer photographs from the South Island –  roses at the War Memorial in Fairlie, and red poppies from Geraldine. I’m hoping I will be able visit family down South again next summer. It is not an easy time for our nation’s tīpuna, (grandparents) many of whom cannot spend time with their grandchildren over the coming weeks. Like many other people, time with extended family and friends is what I am missing the most during the lockdown.

Sending you aroha from Aotearoa,

Celeste Sterling, Autumn 2020.

Fairlie War Memorial

Geraldine poppies

#artinanemergency #natureprinted #art #NewZealandartist #artinapandemic