Despite the disappointment of my 2020 exhibition inverso at Charles Nodrum Gallery coinciding with the first lockdown, and the realisation that a planned walking tour in Japan could not proceed, I have suffered comparatively lightly under the attendant restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, I must admit with some surprise, to my own underestimation of the seriousness of the pandemic—that my sense of optimism and anticipation for some kind of ‘new normal' was challenged by each successive lockdown.
I have spent the last 18 months in the most locked down city in the world, Melbourne. Clearly it has been quite restrictive. Notwithstanding, I have managed to establish a routine of exercising in the mornings, spending my afternoons working in the studio, then cooking in the evening. Paradoxically, one of the benefits of the lockdown is that I have been able to regularly catch up with friends and family living in my designated zone on my daily walks—something that would normally not happen as frequently due to everyone’s busy lives. In many respects, the last 18 months has simplified, if not stimulated my life.
My studio is located at home. I have found that the lack of distraction and the atomised nature of the lockdowns have in many ways benefitted and concentrated my practice. In fact, I have managed to make two distinct bodies of work related to my COVID experience. The suite of Puff paintings takes as a central motif the ‘puffer’ jacket I wore on my daily walk throughout the wintery months of the 2020 COVID lockdown and seeks to render strange this oddly embodied, ubiquitous, familiar and everyday garment. Paperwork on the other hand is a series of around 80 discrete paintings of oil on canvas board—depicting various kinds of stationery and postage paraphernalia—masquerading as found objects. Utilising a highly illusionistic trompe l’oeil technique, this work creates a dynamic and momentary oscillation between image and object, reality and illusion and the arbitrary distinction between an art object and our everyday existence.
+ Puff (Chrysalis) Jan Murray oil on linen.
Fortunately, just before the fifth lockdown I was able to show some of the Paperwork series at Cathedral Cabinet in the ground floor foyer of the Nicholas Building. Neither inside nor outside this space seemed entirely appropriate for the work. However, due to the fifth lockdown a planned exhibition of the entire Paperwork series that was scheduled to be shown at the VCA Art Space was cancelled. Also, I was successful in being selected for the Geelong Contemporary Art Prize exhibition with Puff (Chrysalis) from my ‘puffer’ jacket paintings and another iteration of the Paperwork series will be shown in the upcoming Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize exhibition.
Both series of work carry aspects of the everyday lived experience of the COVID pandemic by focusing on details of our shared material culture—through the ubiquity of the commonplace ‘puffer’ jacket and the ever-increasing importance placed on postage and parcels.
Author/s: Jan Murray