My gallery is based in Brisbane. When the first lockdown hit last March I feared that would be the end of it. Not because of any inherent weakness in the art ecology/economy. My fear was—how could art matter when people are in survival mode? I mean, how could we possibly compete with the demand for toilet rolls? What unfolded in the months afterwards was astonishing. I re-opened the doors in July 2020 and it was one of the the busiest periods of my time as a gallerist in almost twenty years, as if this repressed desire to be with art and artists had become even more important. Even in the direst circumstances, it seems, art matters. It is part of community. Amidst all the trauma, it is this aspect of the past eighteen months that has been heartening.
Over this period we have all been affected by the inability to plan effectively. Major opportunities have been moved and timelines constantly shifted and shifted again. Much has been made of the move to online practices (particularly by those who stand to benefit), although I think that was in the process of happening anyway but it certainly has been accelerated by the pandemic. Despite that, my collectors—be they private or institutional—still want to see things in the flesh, and they still want the artist's voice. Although I am planning to change how I work, that is more to do with structural shifts in my gallery’s life cycle than the pandemic.
Overall my artists say it’s made little difference because they tend to work in solitude anyway. As long as they can make work they are relatively happy. I do what I can to help create those conditions. For younger artists who need to socialise to forge their way it is a different prospect. But in Brisbane the effects have been comparatively mild. For those I work with in the southern states it has been a different story. I feel for all our friends in the south, who’ve borne much of the brunt of the pandemic thus far. I fear we have a long way to go before this is over. We need to look after each other.
COVID-19 and its restrictions I adjusted and adapted to, although my life nearing 82 didn’t alter very much, down at Sorrento.
I guess I have been in a kind of privileged position where I can have all my art materials delivered, and that includes stretched linen canvases ready to paint on. Momentum hasn’t faltered.
My studio activity wasn't really altered at all, except re-reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick for only the second time since 1958, gave me the grand ambition to create something worthy of that famous novel. I began this four panelled painting called Call Me Ishmael during the lockdown of 2020 and I kept at it during the lockdowns of 2021—finally completing it in time to travel to Milani Gallery, Brisbane to be shown in my one person show. Alas I was not able to see the exhibition.
+ Recent works on linen and plywood Gareth Sansom, 2021. Installation view.
Unfortunately, show set to take place in 2020 at STATION Gallery was not possible, but the gallery was able to organise some studio visits, a Zoom session with an audience, and a virtual re-presentation on the gallery’s walls. Art Guide Australia also came on board with a great QandA recorded interview.
Socially my interactions and studio visits with other artists ceased, but I keep up to date online when I need to. For my wife Christine and me, our dog has proved to be a revelation, getting us out of the house regularly which of course helps with our fitness, and additionally some interactions with other dog owners who though not art orientated are eager for information about what makes us tick artistically.
I do understand the plight of young people especially, but I am optimistic about the future—and I look forward to the chance to visit Berlin, Paris, and Venice again.
+ Call me Ishmael Gareth Sansom, 2020. Oil, enamel, pencil and Polaroid photos on linen. 4 parts: 243.84 x 365.76 cm.
Milani Gallery : Josh Milani
Visit Milani Gallery here
Call Me Ishmael : Gareth Sansom