We are released from isolation bubbles, facemasks are now optional. The wonder of gathering in larger groups again has settled; we feel more empowered to decline invitations than we did before covid regulations made it mandatory. As the regulations ease, climate change expresses in more frequent floods and fires, in ever more refugees from this and from war. We are feeling the first hard pinches of rising inflation as a result of all that money printing that our governments did since 2020. In every conversation I have there is an awareness that what appears to be normal is actually fragile, subject to change. As we look around at the unsteady world, each of us is still processing the long, internal months of isolation.

We re-emerge after lockdowns, yes. But we are different from who we were in 2019. Shaken. Wiser, perhaps. More thoughtful, more conscious of what is valuable. Humbled maybe, by a new-found, still-fragile love for life and connection, for choice over the way we live our lives.

Conversation Pieces “Reconstruction I”, 3/4 size original, archival digital print on Hannemule hemp paper. This is a digital print of eleven separate paintings I made during lockdown in 2021. It was a show I made knowing that no-one could come to see it, an act of defiance in isolation.

Each person I’ve spoken with has had to dig deep to pivot their plans and priorities, deconstruct, then reconstruct their belief systems, even as they shift, then shift again. Change is everywhere, internal and external, palpable and uncomfortable. For many what used to be top priority in their lives – income, acquisition, busy-ness – is now less valuable than the joy of pursuing long-unfulfilled dreams, often with no dollar attached. We recognize more easily who and what is essential to us. Many find the courage to resign from, refuse, and release what is not.

“After Lockdown: Ottawa”, 2021
group graffiti in wax crayon, sharpie marker, pencil & pen, overpainted in watercolour and acrylic paint on a 1/4-sized Hannemule hemp digital print.
this piece was part of a September 2021 online international show out of Chicago entitled ‘Remergence’

The ripple effects of this pandemic era are strong, internal waves that wash through each of us differently. Bar owners, airlines, bankers, car dealerships, construction workers, grocers, artists and musicians; caregivers, inmates, persecuted, protected, homeless, wealthy, destitute – all of us live and work on shifting ground, and most of us know it.

What we see, and how we see, has changed.

It is September 2022, and I’m at work on a December show for Hamilton’s Centre3. This is a joint show with the marvellous Eileen Crenshaw, who is expanding her professional theatre set and costume work into a gallery setting. My part of the show is focused on our collective human response to this upside-down, increasingly unsettled world, now that we are released from the long months of isolation. It’s called After Lockdown.

I’ve been making ink pigments from trees, bugs and berries, and collecting responses to the question, What’s different for you, since the Lockdowns?, getting responses like ‘No more fear!’ to ‘I figured out I’m an extrovert, doing stand up comedy now’, to ‘We got married’, and more.

Please feel free to write to me with your response, here, through instagram (Keira McArthur) or email at keira@keiramcarthur.ca – Anonymous or with your name, written or a drawing – I’d love to include them in the piece.

Your responses will become part of a large painting of a beloved beech tree in Gage Park that has sustained many human carvings and marks though its two-plus centuries. I will draw them in with ink made from trees, in colours that will change over time, in the light, just as fall leaves change. Just as the initials carved in this tree 100 years ago have stretched into other interesting shapes.

Composite for another piece, about loss and memory
(the chair in this image is overlaid on the ground in Photoshop. I work from these to build the final piece on canvas)

I have other smaller pieces that speak to our sense of loss, as well as what comes through overwhelmingly, though not exclusively in these responses to my question – a choice to embrace optimism and care, as though in defiance. All will go up at Centre3 on December 3 (Opening is Friday December 9 – DO COME!!).

In between painting sessions I’m making books – one from tea towels dyed with tree pigments, and another from tree-dyed inkjet paper – these will be shown online, here in my gallery.