Artist John McDonald standing in front of his artwork exhibition

The Art of Lockdown

Tue, 01/12/2020 - 12:41

Banks Mill Artist Film Release Celebrates Residency Success, and A Chance Conversation Leads to New Mural Project

Twelve months ago Derby-based Scottish Artist, John McDonald, a graduate of the University of Derby, and Banks Mill artist, was commissioned to run the Themes of Life project. Based at Chapel Arts Studios CAS, in Andover Cemetery, Hampshire, the commission was to engage local people with this unique and significant space.

John McDonald, also known as The Butterfly Cry Artist, arrived in Andover at the end of January 2020, ready to find artists.  It was anticipated the artist would focus on their own work, and engage with 6-8 local people for workshops a couple of times a week.
When John saw the Chapel that was to be his studio, in its magical setting, and the size of the budget for materials, he had an alternative vision.  Through February and March John turned CAS into a full time working studio, open up to 7 days a week for 10-12 hours a day.  He was joined by 26 adults and 11 children and young people, who became artists beside him.

Under John’s leadership, the group learned to make frames and stretch their own canvases.  Huge paintings began to develop, and large-scale word carving, ambitious ceramics work, poetry and local  stories, and a model of St Mary’s, the parish church of Andover, with a gallery of children’s artwork inside it.  The momentum was building towards an exhibition, planned for 11th April, Easter Saturday.  

But as Covid-19 began to take hold we all knew this was not going to happen.  When the national lockdown was announced, CAS was shut down, and John drove home up a near-empty motorway, to a surreal lockdown life on his narrowboat home. There was discussion of exhibiting virtually, or in a publication, but the vitality of this project was such that no one wanted this to happen. By a miracle of patience, planning, and good fortune, the artist was able to return to Andover in September to bring together the work of participants and create an amazing exhibition The People’s Chapel.

CAS has just released two beautiful short films by Louie Lee Horton which document and celebrate this unusual project.  These can be viewed at the links below, and allow you to see the artwork, and to meet John and some of the poets and artists of Andover town.

Watch “[SUBTITLED] The People’s Chapel Art Exhibition CAS: AIR 2020” on Vimeo 
Watch “SUBTITLED Artist John McDonald talks about CAS: AIR Themes of Life” on Vimeo

Themes of Life and the resulting The People’s Chapel Exhibition was made possible with the support of disability arts commissioning body Unlimited, The Beautiful Burial Grounds Project, and Arts Council England.

Closer to home John continues to inspire, and encourage others to be creative.  A Derbyshire village pub has commissioned the Butterfly Cry Artist to create a wall mural in the hopes of brightening community spirit.

John is working on the mural at The Boathouse pub in Shardlow Marina.  Owner Sara Mitchell said the idea came about through a “chance conversation” with the artist. The 56 year old landlord said: “We are a village pub trying to keep going in these uncertain times. “A chance conversation with a local artist has led to us collaborating and supporting each other. “John is painting the marina on our wall from a photograph a customer took, which will be about 9ft by 11ft.”  She added: “it will contain a small reference to Covid-19 within it to remind us of these times”.

Once The Boathouse is able to open again you will be able to watch the artist at work, while enjoying food and drink, and John is happy to encourage pub-goers to join in themselves.  According to Sara, customers who saw the beginning of the mural taking shape “were blown away by it” and hoped it would be there “for years to come”.

You can follow John and his artwork on Facebook