Art in the time of crisis

in Features

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” – Thomas Merton

Art has always been known to stir up emotions and some of us may have used it as a healing tool to soothe our souls and lift our spirits. How many times have you been engrossed by an artwork that has evoked strong emotions and given you a new insight into your way of dealing with issues in your life? 

In recent times, art has become even more important for some of us than ever before. It can take us out of the ‘new normal’ and into a world full of possibility. It allows us to explore and move around freely in ways that we may not physically be able to, giving us the opportunity to connect to other worlds; foreign countries; times gone by and, sometimes, the exotic and impossible.   

Lockdown has given some of us the opportunity to discover latent artistic talents, spurred on in many cases with inspiration from artists such as Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry in his Channel 4 show ‘Grayson’s Art Club’ where viewers were encouraged to send in art they had made on a theme he had chosen. 

Gibraltar’s own Christian Hook painted singer Will Young in Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Week, a lockdown edition of the competition he won six years ago, during which budding artists were given the chance to paint a different celebrity from home during the live weekly paint-along. 

Art can also be a reflection of the artist’s struggles and internal conflicts and this is especially true in times of crisis when they turn to their craft to articulate their feelings. 

Karl J Ullger is a well-known local artist who has always found art to be cathartic, but even more so recently.  “I’ve been fortunate during this period to be working assisting the GHA and HMGoG along with another 4 designers and creatives to design and develop an awareness campaign in regard to the Covid-19 pandemic,” he says. “It is very gratifying during such difficult times to be able to contribute and play a role whereby I can use my creative strengths in aiding the Government and to help people combat this virus locally.”

Karl explains that he has been in full creative mode producing sketches and paintings. “Even though I am known for my landscapes, the work produced during this period has been in response to the pandemic and looking closely at portraiture commissioned by clients.” One of these paintings is titled Covid19: The Carrier which Karl says is more of an adapted illustration where we see a young child in army gear with a lollipop in the back pocket and a distressed teddy bear hanging from the back pack. “The child soldier is holding a balloon-like object which is clearly representing the coronavirus. The ink study represents how children are and can be societies’ carriers of the virus, yet the teddy and lollipop represent innocence and naivety in this very warped time. My idea is to develop this into a painting dominated by very subtle greys/ earth tones.”   

Another popular Gibraltarian artist is Gerry Martinez, whose murals can be spotted around town.  “I have felt in control during lockdown and I am convinced that it is due to art playing such a pivotal role in my life,” she says. Gerry has been giving weekly art classes online with the Youth Service, attending online life-drawing classes with the Fine Arts Association, and has created a new mural at a local nursery. Her entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t stop there and she has also found time to co-create a new business supporting local artists and artisans. “Life would be dull without art,” she comments. “Spending at least once a week doing something creative is so therapeutic mentally; you are present in that moment (and nothing else matters at that point in time), you can make mistakes where there are no consequences, you can be yourself where there is no judgement and for me it is an extension of my mindfulness and meditation practices.”

Gerry says that being creative makes you think ‘outside the box’ and it has allowed her to be flexible and adapt to these challenging times. “I recommend everyone (especially the cynics) to try a creative hobby; you will be surprised with what you can get out of it and there are numerous online tutorials out there too, so there are no excuses not to try something new.”

Twitter or Instagram: @ullger_art  / Facebook: Karl J Ullger Artworks Facebook: @geraldinemartinezart 

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