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An Artist in Lockdown

This article was originally published in the ‘Bass Coast Post’ in August 2020.

By Marian Quigley

I’d already filled out my entry forms for two local Easter art exhibitions by the time the first COVID-19 lockdown in Victoria was announced. They were among the many Australian exhibitions soon to be cancelled or postponed. Others shifted online. Similarly, most local art groups’ activities ceased. The pages of my diary - usually peppered with the dates of exhibition openings, submission, delivery and collection – are now blank or filled with crossed-out entries.

Although artists may find it easier than most to adapt to enforced isolation and have found this to be a productive time, some – both local artists and members of online artist groups I know – seem dispirited or have lost their creative drive. Fortunately, I still relish the opportunity to escape to my studio, to upload work to online galleries or to enter national art awards with optimistic abandon (which so far has resulted in a total of eight rejections). One of the happy and surprising outcomes of this otherwise bleak period of time is the rise in online gallery sales, including a few of my own pieces. Consequently, I can still afford to buy art supplies and pay entry fees and don’t feel entirely rejected! A silver lining.

One of the first paintings I completed during lockdown is Escape. It was to form part of an exhibition entitled ‘At Sea’ with 74 other members of the Melbourne and Victorian Artists Collective. The exhibition, planned to be held at Southern Buoy Studios, Mornington, has so far been postponed twice – currently until November.

Escape was inspired by the earlier 2020 disaster, the Gippsland bushfires from which many Mallacoota residents fled to the beach, some escaping by boat. The couple in the rowboat look back toward the reddening sky, unaware of the dark waters in the painting’s foreground – a metaphor for the approaching pandemic from which we all yearn to escape.

Bon Voyage continues the migration series I began a few years ago in response to the ANL Maritime Award Exhibition theme ‘Humanity’s Relationship to the Sea’. This annual exhibition is held in the wonderful Mission to Seafarers building in Docklands. The series, which often features streamers as a symbol of broken familial ties, was inspired by my childhood migration by ship to Australia in the 1950s. I’m pleased to say that I have had some success with this series, having been selected as an ANL finalist on four occasions and also had some sales. Bon Voyage is also a nostalgic piece in that it recalls a more innocent time when we could board cruise ships without dread.

Portraiture is another genre which interests me and my subjects have included a number of Phillip Islanders. A major turning point for me was the acceptance of my portrait of Anne Davie in the Portia Geach Memorial Award at the S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney in 2017.

Warren features a local artist friend which I painted during lockdown for the (again postponed) Archies Bald Exhibition in Wonthaggi. Due to the restrictions, I was forced to rely on photographs which I requested his partner take on my behalf. In the painting, Warren, who is also a wine buff, is standing in front of one of his paintings, a glass in one hand, a bottle in the other. The wine label refers to a long-standing joke we share whereby he describes my preferred beverage as ‘cat’s piss’. I had fun painting that one.

Last year I was invited to participate in the ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ Exhibition at the Pan Pacific Hotel, South Wharf. I chose the entrance to Luna Park as my subject. This painting is currently on display at the (closed) Art Space Wonthaggi. The painting led me onto another trajectory which I may not have otherwise thought of – Melbourne’s icons. The most recent of these is Cheese Stick Melbourne based on a photograph taken from the car just prior to Melbourne’s Stage 4 restrictions. Although there were a few cars on the freeway at the time, I purposefully omitted them, partly in order to simplify the composition but also to convey the deserted city during lockdown.

The painting that I have just completed once again features a ship and streamers. Whilst I enjoy the freedom of painting loose, curvaceous lines, I also like the challenge posed by rendering architectural forms featuring straight lines which require much more preparatory drawing.

Structure and freedom – both are elements essential to our continued survival.

About the Author

Marian Quigley rediscovered her love of painting after 40 years, encouraged by Phillip Island artist and teacher John Adam whose watercolour painting classes she attended in 2008. Having decided that watercolour wasn’t her medium of choice, she returned to acrylic painting and began exhibiting her work in 2009. She describes herself as a ‘serious hobbyist’.


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