Being able to meet with others, chat, and sketch, are all pleasures that we have come to appreciate more since the lockdowns. The ‘Urban Sketchers Gloucestershire’ group has grown steadily over the last year, and our meetups are lively, friendly events to look forward to. Last week we were in Painswick, a beautiful village with an overload of fascinating views and buildings to challenge our sketching abilities!
The month before we met up at The Boho Bakery, in King’s Stanley – a great meeting place in yet another interesting Gloucestershire village with lots of sketching attractions (as well as great coffee and cheese scones!)
It might seem that we have managed to recreate a world before the pandemic, enjoying all the benefits that a group can bring – companionship, a sense of shared purpose, support, conversation, community. In our hearts, though, we know that the world has changed. A global pandemic, and now war in Europe, exposes the fragility of our securities and institutions. We talk of Ukraine and Covid, but only in passing; there is a shared acknowledgment of the anguish and distress, as well as an appreciation of our own good fortune. It doesn’t dominate the conversation – we are having a fun day out – but it is there. It seems to me that we tacitly recognise that it is too overwhelming and emotional to focus on for long, but we need to acknowledge and share its impact with each other, even in these fleeting moments and comments. Although the world has changed, our need for each other is a constant factor, even more crucial in the face of destruction and violence.
We have been sketching in beautiful rural locations, but there are other remarkable people facing up to the devastation and horror of war. Ukraine before the war had a number of urban sketching groups – hard and painful to imagine the trauma that has overtaken their lives and those around them. Powerful, heartbreaking drawings for example from https://www.instagram.com/potapenko_iryna_art/ can pull us into the awful reality if we can bear it – and underline the fact that we are so privileged to have that choice. A big part of me wants to block it out as it is too distressing – but I also want to acknowledge that we are all linked as humans, and have to share the awfulness as well as the pleasure of life. And of course, devastation is not confined to Ukraine.
The personal and immediate quality of sketches bring us closer to the experience of having our ordinary everyday lives ripped apart by violence and destruction. This comes across in the work of George Butler, a ‘reportage illustrator’ who has travelled and sketched in Ukraine – a fascinating article about his sketches in conflict zones can be found here – https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2022/mar/26/ukraine-war-artist-george-butler-drawings-kyiv-odesa
There have been very many responses by various artists to support Ukraine. One example is Nick Wonham, a printmaker who has produced some powerful linocuts to illustrate his brother Jonathan’s poems in a limited edition book, The Lady on the Plank: Poems for Ukraine. His prints can be seen at https://www.instagram.com/nick_wonham_printmaker/
It all seems a long way from the peace and tranquillity of Gloucestershire villages, but I imagine months ago the violence felt very far from parts of Ukraine too. I’m not suggesting that Painswick is under immanent threat but rather pointing to the connections between us all, and the ways in which sketching, printing, painting, ‘art’ in all forms has the ability to link us together if we can let it.