How to be on a Greek Island – in Lockdown London

‘Stone walls do not a prison make /nor iron bars a cage’ – Richard Lovelace

The last three weeks have made two things very clear: 1) no one can travel; 2) Zoom rules.

But look at someone’s walls during that video call: what do you see? Sadly, all too often, nothing. Either due to a lack of experience or confidence, too busy or uncertain, (young) people no longer declare what they love by the medium of art in the home.

I am an artist who normally heads off at this time of year to my childhood home of Hydra, the Greek island off the Peloponnese (and the setting of the new novel ‘A Theatre for Dreamers’ by Polly Samson). I’ve been going there for as long as I can remember. Now trapped here, I would like to show the great British public how to unlock their inner creativity and start curating – and maybe even creating – their own art to hang on the walls.

I come from a family of artists, many of whom were – and are still – inspired by Hydra. It is an adopted homeland for us, a place of refuge, escape, and inspiration for generations, including my own illustration work. My grandparents were the first foreigners to settle on the island in 1948. My grandmother Lily was trying to escape the horrific memories of her time in a German-Italian prison in occupied Athens; my grandfather, meanwhile, had left the champagne fields of France wanting to escape his own “bourgeoise” privilege. They settled into a cottage by the sea to be potters, and were soon mixing with artists, writers and musicians, each seeking their own liberation, who gradually congregated on the island, including Marc Chagall, John Craxton, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Gregory Corso and Leonard Cohen. There is still an old guitar, half broken, which my mother refuses to let anyone throw away, since “Leonard taught me my first chords on that”. Gregory Corso, the beat poet, painted a large mural in our hallway, which still greets us every time we come back from a swim.

Now prevented – for the first time in living memory – of going out there at all this year (the collapse of the roof didn’t even stop my sister and me back in 2003: we pitched a Bedouin style tent and camped in our rambling garden instead) – it has made me feel all the more for others who are also kept from the places they love, compounded by empty walls at home. I have turned to artworks inspired by Hydra to help me get through the crisis. And doing so has made me realise we must all become “mental travellers” as Isak Dinesen wrote, as we now learn how to travel through walls…

Here are some of my tips to help people travel virtually and alleviate the strain of self isolation through art:

• Visit one of the virtual museums which have made their collections available online. Indeed, with the closure of museums across the nation, there is even more need for people to get that fix of art (art/ museum goers now (Pre-Corona) exceed church goers in the U.K. (This morning I have already visited and ).

• Make a scrapbook or a large page of selected artwork from any magazines and newspapers you have lying around, to help you to see the variety of style and what appeals to you. Cover your walls with them. Why not? Take them down and start again.

• For money savvy buying tips, explore platforms such as @artistsupportpledge or @affordableartfairuk . follow individual artists you like on Instagram. Even just cutting out a favourite painting from a Magazine and mounting it on a piece of white or cream card, with a minimum 5cm width mount, will turn a cut-out into soul-food on your wall.

• Look at @isolationartschool on Instagram to get your own creative juices flowing.

• And if you want to combine all of the above, try copying a painting by one of your new favourite artists. Copying is both age-old traditional training and discipline and can result in a mini Louvre, MET, or Rijksmuseum in your very own borough-bedroom.

Finally, I would recommend a closer look at one of my favourite movements: the Neo Romantics, including the painters John Craxton John Minton. Being as they, and my grandparents were, from the war generation, they had sought escape from the grey tones of war, and had imbued in their paintings and prints a great deal of vitality, sunlight, colour and exoticism. Since, we are not the first to have sought escape.

This article first appeared in The Oldie online blog in April 2020.

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