Looking out of windows was all the connection with the world some people were getting during the early lockdowns. Artist Catherine Knight painted other people’s window views in an incredibly connecting and humane arts project that is on show at the Exeter Phoenix. We caught up with her to look into the process
ArtsCulture: What was it like catching a glimpse into other people’s homes, especially during the first lockdown?
Catherine Knight: I put the call out on social media quite early on in the first lockdown and was overwhelmed by the response. Word spread quite quickly to friends and friends of friends and it felt really exciting each time I got sent a view. As I painted them and shared them on Instagram, it led to more people wanting to join in and share their isolation window. It was an escape for me, and it felt a bit like visiting peoples houses in my imagination. In the end I had painted 182 windows from 18 different countries.
ArtsCulture: How did you connect with the people who took part? As well as sharing images, did they share stories of how they were doing, and do you know the impact of your paintings on the people taking page?
Catherine Knight: It all happened through Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp and people often shared a snippet of information which gave me a small insight to their lives. People were tending their plants, washing up, cooking food or sometimes suffering from Covid or nursing a dying relative.
It was a great sense of connection and exchange and I think people felt really pleased when their window was painted and posted on Instagram. I posted a window painting early each morning (my youngest is an early riser) and quite a lot of people said they really enjoyed seeing one of my windows every morning. The sense of repetition was very present during lockdown, each day the same, but each window gave a new glimpse of something different.
ArtsCulture: How was lockdown for you? Did doing the paintings make you feel responsible or did the connections lighten the experience?
Catherine Knight: I found the first lockdown very tough as I have two energetic young boys who were 2 1/2 and 5 at the time. They really missed school, playgrounds and playing with friends and my partner was working from home which all felt very claustrophobic! We were lucky in lots of ways, that we were able to work from home and stay safe but the painting project really gave me a focus and kept me going through such a strange time.
ArtsCulture: Where did the idea for Isolation Windows come from and how did it start?
Catherine Knight: Windows have been a theme in my work on and off for a long time and I did a smaller version of this project in 2018 when I was involved in an artist exchange between Bristol and Hannover. I painted window views from both cities as a way of making connections in a similar way. When the first lockdown happened and I was staring out of my window at the quiet street and beautiful sunny sky, it occurred to me that I could re-start the project but on a global scale.
ArtsCulture: It feels like the whole process was socially important. Was it, and what is the role of the artist in society?
Catherine Knight: I loved the democratic nature of the project and the way it reached out and connected people. I liked the fact that I didn’t have to make any decisions about composition or subject matter- people sent me a photo and I painted it. I had a system and within those confines, I found great freedom.
I’m not sure what the role of an artist in society is, but if it helps you to view the world around you differently, then I think that is really powerful. I think many people had time to slow down during lockdown and maybe notice their environment a bit more- my paintings reflected this and elevated the everyday and mundane to the gallery wall.
ArtsCulture: What was it like seeing it in the exhibition in a gallery?
Catherine Knight: It was amazing to see the work fill the space at Exeter Phoenix. I painted them one at a time and after photographing them, they went into a box. So the whole exhibition fit into a small box! Giving them space on the wall and seeing them as a group was really satisfying and I couldn’t really believe how many there were.
ArtsCulture: What’s next for you and has Isolation Windows influenced your future direction?
Catherine Knight: I’m not sure what is next! I am still obsessed with windows and I loved the crowd-sourcing element of the project so I am just back in the studio experimenting.
Catherine will be giving an artist’s talk at the Exeter Phoenix on June 23 (book now)
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