As the world spins into a gloomy pandemic, mankind retreats into a global sober state. The flamboyancey of one dominating species has been temporarily anestesised… Nature has found a weak link in us relentless shifters of surroundings. Mankind is, to some degree, being challenged over the status quo. Although pestilence has been present since biblical times, we, the living generation are now preoccupied with this real experience, as opposed to historical facts from dusty textbooks. We are in uncharted waters… We are united together, but we are also pretty much ‘each to his own’.
What should artists do? Should they join the soberness in solidarity? Or should artists splash out gargantuan rainbows of vibrant activity ?
When I was young, as a history aficionado, I was convinced that artists self exiled in times of grave distress - such as WWII. That they scribbled a few canvases incognito, like sneaky rats in their holes, ashamed, as life around them went through hell and back. . However as I became more aware of the voluminous amount of art produced between 1939 and 1945, I realise that artists were attacking canvases with bombs raining down one mile away.. When you see a canvas dated 1942, you have to remember how Poland was devastated, how France was humiliated, how London was burned, how Malta was hammered, how every fiber in the US was drafted to war production, how every able bodied man in Germany was devoured by a black hole… and yet in the dire circumstances, the relatively prodigios global art output for that year was staggering. Imprisoned artists kept painting. Some were lucky to smuggle in art materials, others made their own ‘pigments’, burned corks, blood, feces, whatever...
In these testing times, artists with callings keep up with their entrusted mission and an even more fortified vision. Career makers struggle and hibernate hoping to catch the next eventual shiny ride… Artists wade through the ford, eventually coming up wet and shivering but burning with the fire of life.
Only time can judge where we stand. We hope that when the tempest subsides, we are caught with the brushes in our hands, almost surprised to learn that the gloom is suddenly over.
Egon Schiele kept painting throughout WW1 and kept painting as his wife and himself were dying on their death beds. Victims of the viral flu pandemic of 1918.
Henry Falzon is an artist living and working in Malta and the author of this blog.