Drawing communities in time of COVID 19 CAS Research Group April 2021
Prudence Maltby wrote a text that dialogued with some of Anna Lovatt’s ideas in ‘Introduction’,
Vitamin 3D Today’s Best In Contemporary Drawing (Phaidon Press 2021), focusing on the question:
Why drawing now?
Lovatt writes about artist Rashid Johnson’s series of drawings called: ‘Untitled Anxious Red
Drawings’ (2020). Johnson commented on his drawings: ‘These were drawings for an anxious time …
a time that felt radical and urgent’ (Lovatt in Phaidon Press, 2021). Lovatt points out that since the
start of this pandemic many people began to draw. Drawings were displayed on windows and
fences, amongst other places, as signs of support for the NHS and other people. The Artist Support
Pledge is an example of artists coming together to support other artists and art lovers.
Attending to the question: ‘Why drawing now?’ Lovatt reminds us that drawing helps to pass the
time, calm the mind and other therapeutic qualities. Drawing has a stronger force; an urge to
express oneself (Hans Prinzhorn). In this text we are looking at this question by asking: ‘In times of
crisis (1) What is happening to me/us? (2) How does drawing help me/us? (3) How does drawing
help the community/communities?’
What is happening to me/us?
Maltby realized the difficulty she is experiencing in focusing on her long-term area of engagement,
the ‘scars’ left after being exposed to conflicts of nations and societies. The pandemic overshadows
everything else. ‘I believe Covid19 exposed us all to an unparalleled shared trauma as we adapted to
a different world with a faceless adversary’ (Maltby’s text).
Tina used the phrase ‘“Cognitive dissonance” described as feelings of disorientation and confusion
exacerbated by a lack of clear leadership, wide-spread long-term isolation, and lack of clarity
regarding people’s positions. Those feelings were recognized and shared by others in the group.
The theme of isolation re-emerged in the drawings. Amanda used pencil rubbing and superimposing
to create an image of a group of people. She said: “All the characters seem to be by themselves, as if
isolated.” Sharon reflected on her drawings: “You are all in boxes, like Zoom”. Karen made a drawing
informed by thinking of her isolation, recalling the way her image reflects from closed and sometime
empty window shops. Responding to feelings of loneliness, emptiness and fear, Will’s drawings were
inspired by physicist David Bohm’s theories; expressing ideas such as “People as voids” and
“Community may coalesce and dissolve.” Combining pencil and stitching in her drawing, Anne said
she is “Creating a line that slows me down”. Tina used ink, crumbled paper, oil pastel and nail
varnish. She said: “My mind’s connecting but not connecting, dis-connecting.” She feels that “as
artists we are at the same time powerless and powerful but don’t know how to exercise it.”
2.How does drawing help in time of crisis? Drawing is a non-verbal form of communication. It is particularly helpful, indeed, needed when
engaging with a trauma. ‘We describe as ‘traumatic’ any excitations from outside which are powerful
enough to break through the protective shield (Freud, 1961, p. 23).’ We may not be able to findwords to describe what is happening to us, however, we can still communicate something of living in
this radical and urgent traumatic time; communicate first with ourselves and then with others.
Elizabeth said: “When I am drawing I am entirely present, unlike all other activities. Drawing helps
process thoughts and feelings. I was making lots of notes while drawing. To be making makes you
think”. She added: “When I draw I feel that I am still existing, making space for myself, making
affect.” Prudence talked about mark making as a form of primitive response. “Hand-writing is an
enforced flow in order to make sense.”
3.How does drawing help the community/communities in time of crisis?
Prudence suggested Zoom as containment. The pandemic leads to new communication practice and
etiquette. Anne spoke about the impact of 9-11 on our life including a sense of losing hope in the
new millennium. “Covid 19 is terrible but at the same time it gives hope and awakens creativity and
new forms of connections between people and communities.” Elizabeth likened the pandemic to
“pressing the ‘re-set’ button of humanity.” Sharon pointed out that before Covid 19 there was talk
about climate change, however now this issue filtered into every person’s life and home, and
becomes real. I commented that the pandemic and use of on-line communication lead to new ways
of thinking about and making drawing. Anne reflected on the fact that communities are empowering
individuals at grassroot and local levels. Elizabeth raised the issue of exclusion and poverty as
perhaps part of human society. Will added that social exclusion and extreme poverty are bound with
Behind the question ‘Why drawing now?’ lies a strong, urgent need to understand one’s relationship
with our world-in-crisis of COVID 19. Drawing enables a quiet introspection. Another way is to
engage in conversations and listen to other people’s experiences. While making drawings
microphones and cameras were left on. That helped counteract the prevailed feeling of isolation. At
CAS research group the method of ‘Expanded conversation’ seems to be particularly helpful and
Responding to the second question ‘How does drawing help in time of crisis?’, in addition to
introspection, drawing is a non-verbal form of expression and communication. It utilizes the
imagination and creative abilities to invent subjective ways of thinking, including slowing time.
Slowing time gives us thinking space to process what is happening around us. It stimulates verbal
thinking both during the action of drawing and afterwards, thus helps making sense of what feels
like sense-less. Finally, drawing functions as a live witness, attesting to one’s own existence in a
world that feels acutely vulnerable.
Responding to the third question ‘How does drawing help the community/communities in time of
crisis?’ – experimentation and new forms of expression seem to emerge from this conjunction of
pandemic, advanced technologies and art where familiar boundaries are challenged and new ones
formed. With it come new audiences and possibilities.
The research question can change from ‘Who is community?’ to ‘Who are communities in the
traumatic times of Covid 19; and how might CAS affect the community/communities through their
varied and rich drawing practices?’
Compilation of images and texts written in respond to Prudence Maltby’s text
A community can be defined in rather simple terms as people who interact with each other. I took
graphite rubbings from some woodcuts of figures that are part of one of my current projects.
The project, “Boxed” was originally a sort of printmaker’s doodle – fitting a figure within the shape of
the block. The square border was just the uncut edge of the block but it suggested confinement and,
when I revived the theme earlier this year, isolation. The new figures were less complacent than the
earlier ones; they yearned for escape, for freedom, for contact.
I hadn’t really thought about the boxes when I started the rubbings, but as soon as they started to
appear, their relevance reasserted itself. I found the process and the effect of the rubbings quite
exciting: my placement of the plywood printing blocks beneath the paper was approximate and the
rubbing itself was blind, resulting in unexpected angles and the appearance of forgotten elements.
Conversely, I was able to vary the coverage and tone of the graphite and so react to what was
revealed. The experience was completely different to that of printing, as is the result.
I worked on a paper prepared with a watercolour ground and an HB pencil. Inspired by the artist
Rashid Johnson, whose work I’d brought into my text for the session, and quoting Anna Lovatt, I
translated my own marks. I wanted to pay tribute not only to him but to those psychiatric patients
who made the drawings held by the Prinzhorn Collection – I’d also referred to. Second time around,
and helped by the whole exercise of articulating the act of drawing in our changed lives, I found I
was able to embrace the activity much more. It was encouraging to see that some of the other
artists’ drawings reflected the same. I quite like the fact that these drawings ‘hang’
somewhere/nowhere. They are unfinished, unresolved and somehow warrant a freedom of their
Covid 19 pandemic evokes confused and contradicting feelings, but also pushes us to experiment
and develop ways of thinking different from the ones we are used to. This clip comprises of
watercolour, two cameras, scarf, movement and an expanded group conversation around text and
drawing. The text raised the question asked by art historian Anna Lovatt in her introduction to
Vitamin 3D Today’s Best In Contemporary Drawing (Phaidon Press 2021), Why drawing now? the
group researches the question, Who is community? Curator and artist Prudence Maltby
led the session adding from her life experience. Maltby believes that ‘Covid 19 exposed us all to an
unparalleled shared trauma’. In times of crisis there is an increased need to create, as if to
remember the resilience of the human power to survive. She writes: ‘We write, we draw, we
document, and we create.’ And I add, in times of crisis we create new versions of ourselves, we are
Why Drawing Now? In relation to ideas of community this was our main focus for discussion around
the excerpt from Anna Lovatt’s introductory essay for Vitamin 3D Today’s Best In Contemporary
Drawing as presented by Prudence Maltby. The discussion felt very reflective in regards to the
events of the last year and the role of contemporary drawing. As a result of the discussion Iconsidered COVID as a catalyst for creating an international sense of community. One of the most
compelling ideas to come from our discussion for me was that community is an amorphous word
that can have many different meanings in different contexts, every time it is used it means
My drawing of 30 minutes was made in response and inspired by the work of Rashid Johnson, I
found the drawing led to thinking, a direct reflection of practice led research. I made notes as I drew
of what I was thinking about and continually rotated the page as I drew to see the work from every
different angle. Considering boxes, zoom, linking, eyes, being seen, the grid, isolation, being separate
and separated, of the individual and community, being the same but different, of structure, erasure,
not seen, indecision, taking away, energy, pressure, heavy handedness and exertion on the page.
Boxing in and pushing out. Of being repetitive and reflecting about online community. The outcome
demonstrates these ideas and I enjoy the low fi materiality of what was to hand, charcoal, black
crayon, an eraser and my hands.