State of Emergency



This was a commission for The Box, Plymouth, during Lockdown in the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m very grateful to them for supporting artists at this difficult time.

Lockdown found me several hundred miles from home, legally and practically unable to return, without most of my work materials and prevented from taking part in many social activities. Like many others, I was glued to the news and newspapers, obsessively reading about the virus and how others were managing it, as if by reading I could somehow solve the enormity of the problem. The news and economic pages were deeply depressing, and the lifestyle pages seemed even more irrelevant than usual, given that there was no way to travel to the tropical islands and the concerts weren’t happening, while I had no way visit the galleries or remodel my own home and garden. Like everyone else, I found myself in a seemingly familiar but utterly alien state of limbo, struggling to make sense of the new ‘reality’.

From those newspapers I took images of athletes, politicians and celebrities, participating in the same social, cultural and leisure activities that have been denied us, then turned them upside-down, just as all our lives have been turned upside-down.

The silhouettes, divorced from everyday life and their contexts at the moment the photos were taken, became suspended in strange, uncomfortable poses: rising or drifting, fighting or at peace, reaching for something unknown and unseen. The figures could be falling, floating or merely in suspension. Their very isolation could be as much freedom as imprisonment in an infinite, undetermined time and space – it all depends on perspective.

After experimenting with background colours, blue seems the most satisfactory – symbolising sky, air or ocean.

“Blue has no dimensions, it is beyond dimensions, whereas the other colours are not… All colours arouse specific associative ideas, psychologically material or tangible, while blue suggests at most the sea and sky, and they, after all, are in actual, visible nature what is most abstract.” (Yves Klein, Selected Writings)

The colour blue has been used by artists for centuries to represent holiness and majesty – The Virgin Mary’s robes are blue, partly because it was so expensive, being found only in the mines of Afghanistan – ‘ultramarine’ means ‘beyond the sea’.

For Goethe, blue presented ‘a kind of contradiction between excitement and repose’ and for Rebecca Solnit, it represents something out of reach:

“For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that colour of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The colour of that distance is the colour of an emotion, the colour of solitude and of desire, the colour of there seen from here, the colour of where you are not. And the colour of where you can never go.” (Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost)

Painted on newsprint, the physical backgrounds to the images are continual reports, statistics and speculation on COVID-19, as this terrifying virus forms the new background to everything we do.