Reaction in Seclusion is an online exhibition of drawings curated by artist Beatrice Hasell McCosh. The show celebrates drawing as an art form in its own right – the process that many have turned to during Coronavirus Lockdown. For those artists, being stuck at home became an opportunity to return to drawing – a means of experimentation, documentation, and exploration of feeling. Here Beatrice Hasell McCosh reflects on the experience of curating this online show and shares her excitement in presenting the work of both established and emerging artists.
Lisa: What gave you the idea to curate this show?
Beatrice: Though lockdown has been a worrying time for many artists it has also been a moment where the online community has really expanded. So many positive initiatives have developed, chiefly among these The Artist Support Pledge, formed to support creatives during this time. In curating this show I really wanted to contribute to that idea of artists supporting each other. I have wanted to put together a show of drawings for ages but lockdown suddenly felt like the moment to do it and being forced to show it online seemed to simplify the idea, slotting everything into place. I usually help teach as well as model for two artists which have both paused during lockdown so I also had time to really focus on putting it together.
Mostly it was an excuse to approach lots of people I really admire so I could show work alongside them!
Lisa: I think it’s fantastic that you are focusing on drawing. Can you explain a little why you made that decision?
Beatrice: I have always been particularly attracted to drawings. One of the shows that really struck me was Bonnard at the Tate which was curated by Matthew Gale, Helen O’Malley and Juliette Rizzi who had hung small preparatory drawings next to the works they linked to which were so jewel like in their small significance. So often drawings aren’t included in shows because of their preparatory nature or because of lack of space in the show for works that aren’t paintings. Isabel Seligman who is currently the Bridget Riley Art Foundation Curator, Department of Prints and Drawings, British Museum and who wrote the foreword to the show said: ‘’With its lightness, and spareness of means, drawing is a medium particularly well-suited to locked-down life. It doesn’t require costly materials, or a large studio space; its state of possibility and open-endedness means that it is often a way of grounding one’s experience, like keeping a diary. The artist Louise Bourgeois spoke about drawing as a way of processing her emotions, describing it as ‘the treatment of anxiety’. For her, ‘the anxiety is not defined, but then if you make a drawing, suddenly you see what you are afraid of… The drawings are not illustrations, they are a conversation.’ Reaction in Seclusion is a snapshot of a particular time and place, of artists’ conversations with themselves and others.’’ So many of the artists were forced to abandon their usual studio space and practise so reverting to drawing seems to be such a natural reaction to respond to lockdown, I felt it was important to put together a show of these reactions that marked this time.
Lisa: Aside from all being drawings, are there any other themes that have emerged from this show?
Beatrice: So many artists focused on their immediate surroundings, natural form becoming very important to them and departing from their usual subject matter. Cat Roissetter’s closely observed drawings from her day to day walks, Rosalie Watkins Leaves, II and Nick Bashall’s Tree Study II represent a change in their usual human subject matter. References to a change in circumstance are also common, Emilie Pugh’s Topology and From a Single Point follow the lines before it, a small disturbance in the line before creates undulations and larger waves further down the line. She says about her work:
‘’I see these drawings as metaphors for how life is. Small seemingly insignificant occurrences can have much larger consequences further down the line’’ Eleanor Watson’s work has focused on landscape and longing in reaction to being inside for so long, similar emotions are felt in Melissa Scott-Miller’s I wish I was in My Neighbour’s Garden. Alison Lambert’s work Hersilia shows a powerful female character depicted at rest, the work feeling more introspective and contemplative for the time being. In my own works, which were all studies for one painting, I was examining the emotions connected to forced confinement, anger, helplessness and claustrophobia through the lens of natural form which is so positive and ebullient and ever continuing regardless of what’s going on in the human world.
Lisa: How did you go about selecting the artists you wanted to exhibit in the show?
Beatrice: As it is the first show I’ve done it was really a choice of work I personally connect to. I have followed many of the people in the show for a long time and some I have only discovered their work in the last three months. A number of the artists come from The Royal Drawing School which I attended a few years ago, a few I have bought work from in the past. I didn’t know most of the artists I contacted so had only really ever seen their work in exhibitions or on social media but Instagram does make it very easy to connect with artists you admire which is brilliant and so many lovely conversations have sprung up through those links. I’m really hoping to get everyone together when large groups are allowed again as I would love to meet everyone in person!
Lisa: As a result of the limitations of social distancing, there are an increasing number of online shows popping up. Can you tell us your thoughts on how important it is to have a curated online space available, as opposed to browsing artwork on social media in an uncurated setting?
Beatrice: I love how many online shows have been happening and I have really enjoyed seeing other online shows such as Anti Freeze curated by Cassandra Bowes or On The Table curated by Julie-Ann Simpson. I do think it is easier to gather artists together if you are only showing work online but I don’t think it will ever replace the excitement of seeing a work in the flesh and examining it from all angles. I spent a long time placing the work in Reaction in Seclusion so that each piece sat well with the others along side it. It was something I hadn’t really thought about before I began (putting on this show has been a huge learning curve!) but it is so important in a gallery setting so of course it would be important online as well. I do also think there is real merit in browsing peoples pages on social media though, usually they will have semi curated it and what I love is seeing the work going through stages of being worked on and worked over and sometimes destroyed which you don’t get to see in the blank page of a gallery setting either physical or online.
Lisa: How important is drawing to your own practice?
Beatrice: Drawing is a huge part of my own work. I spent a couple of weeks in Japan two years ago but didn’t have much time to stop and paint as I was working with my mum on another project so I made sketches very quickly instead, filling two sketchbooks. On returning I broke my phone, I don’t ever paint from photos but having colour and composition references has informed how I work in the past and I lost all of those references. Suddenly I didn’t have this and it was a real game changer because I was now forced to work from memory with only my sketch book as a starting point. I made a series of much more abstracted works based on Koi fish which has been a platform for everything I’ve done since then. Now when I travel I make as many quick drawings and notes and try and get as much information as possible down which I can use when I get back to my studio to make larger oil works. I never take photos any more but I’ve found that listening to music is really important in helping to remember rhythms and emotions that build into the work.
Lisa: Did any of the works in the show open up your eyes to particular materials that you now feel inspired to try out yourself?
Beatrice: I love monoprints very much, Stephanie Forrest’s two works in the show are so powerful and full of energy. Howard Morgan’s technical skill using watercolour is something to aim for and Jackson Rees’s A Letter In Sparkler (seen at the very top of this article) and Mark Cazalet’s Bethany Snowscape definitely ignite a desire to draw on coloured paper. I never draw with ink but feel very inspired to after seeing both Tom Hammick’s deft and simple line drawings, Woman in A Garden I and II.
Lisa: Do you see yourself putting together any more online shows post Lockdown?
Beatrice: Absolutely. I want to develop the concept of young and emerging artists being able to show alongside some really amazing people while still only paying a very small commission. Currently one of the themes of generosity in this show is that only those who sell contribute (in a small way) to the admin costs. The core themes are to make exhibiting more accessible for people and to tap into a wider community in real life which is something that I’ve found inordinately helpful in finding my own way as an artist.
Lisa: Are there any highlights in particular you would like to urge people to seek out in the show?
Beatrice: So many, I have already highlighted a few above but I love Willa Hilditch’s humour in her drawing A LEMON, Beate Köhne’s spontaneous watercolours from her Hubertessee series and Gideon Summerfields Within The Gardens of Invercauld House begun from life and finished from memory. I am also so excited to include Elise Ansel’s Asymmetry, Tom Hammick’s Women in A Garden I and Alison Lambert’s Hersilia as part of the show. I can easily keep going, I chose all the artists because I love their work!
Lisa: Where can we see the show, and more of your own work?
Beatrice: The exhibition is solely online at www.reactionexhibition.com until the 10th July, keep looking at the @reactionexhibition Instagram too as there will be a number of artist interviews on the stories section. My work is on my website at www.beatricehasellmccosh.com but mostly day to day studio updates can be found my Instagram @beatricehasellmccosh
A Letter in Sparkler, 2020
Pencil and chalk on paper, 40 x 54 cm