The Secret Artist on capturing a year of Covid-19 lockdowns

Caliendo's Gelato by the Secret Artist

Caliendo's Gelato - Credit: Secret Artist

A year into the pandemic, the Ham&High caught up with NW5’s The Secret Artist and discussed capturing the last twelve months through her work

Looking back at the year gone by, are there any specific illustrations that
are particularly special to you?

"Two illustrations are particularly special. My painting of Camden Town in lockdown. My original painting (2016) shows a busy Camden Town with people and cars. When lockdown happened, a street artist painted 'Lockdown’ on the railway bridge. I redid my own painting to show this, removing the cars and people and adding the graffiti on the bridge. I painted this on March 26, two days after Lockdown was announced. After that, I painted many more lockdown pictures, showing how the streets of Kentish Town were changing
week by week - no cars, tributes to the NHS everywhere, queues of people outside shops, and the barriers put up for social distancing in the high street.

"The other painting is of a queue outside a health food shop in Kentish Town – well-heeled people waiting to buy their organic food and products while a homeless man sits by a tree on the pavement. The scene encapsulates the social inequalities the pandemic has brought into the spotlight.

Outside Earth in Kentish Town

Outside Earth in Kentish Town - Credit: Secret Artist

How much has the local landscape transformed since the first lockdown?

"Several shops in the high street have closed down for good, and I have painted the premises with the signs missing. Of course, the barriers allowing for more social distancing are still there. There are fewer cars parked in the streets as many people have driven off to their second homes. That’s great for me because it’s easier to get a picture without the cars blocking the view but I worry about the retailers in the high street that have lost all those customers. 

"Since the pandemic began, has your interaction with people increased on a virtual level? Have you been approached with many ideas of what they would like you to illustrate?

"I always post my latest painting on Twitter and, increasingly, on Instagram. I usually get a good response to them; pictures often have a greater impact than photographs so I like to capture any changes in the area in a painting. People frequently suggest buildings to paint. If they are interesting to me, then I often go and paint them.

South Hill Park at Hampstead Heath

South Hill Park at Hampstead Heath - Credit: Secret Artist

How has the past year had an impact on your emotions either positively or negatively? Is this reflected in your work?

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"This past year has been devastating in so many ways but I am thankful that no one close to me has been seriously ill or had their lives turned upside down. My old boss was an early victim of Covid and hearing about that did upset me a lot. My stepmother died last year – not of Covid, but her funeral was a sad affair, with only fifteen people allowed to celebrate her life. Covid makes this a very difficult time to grieve. I have been very productive this year, however. I think a lot of my worry about the state of the world gets channelled into my work. Walking my hyperactive young dog also helps. I have also talked to close friends more, either on long walks with the dog or on the telephone. We make a date and have satisfyingly long conversations."

The aqueduct at Hampstead Heath

The aqueduct at Hampstead Heath - Credit: Secret Artist

You sent some of your work anonymously last year to some of the locals, which is a beautiful gesture. Did you receive much response on social media or other online platforms from this?

"My pictures generally get a good response online, and if I paint a picture of a new shop in the high street and send it to them, they often ask if they can use it on their social media or perhaps, if a restaurant, on their menu. I still do my guerrilla marketing, posting my pictures of a house through the letter box in the hope that the recipient will want to buy a print. I’m sure it’s more welcome than most of the circulars that get pushed through letter boxes, but most of my work is online on my website or twitter."

Camden Lock by the Secret Artist

Camden Lock - Credit: Secret Artist

Apart from digital art, do you utilise other mediums as well?

"My greatest love is watercolour painting, which I do whenever I am away on holiday. I also like doing pen-and-ink drawings, often coloured with wash. Last year I went through a phase of drawing flowers or garden plants every day for several weeks. The concentration required is perfect for clearing the mind."

Camden Lockdown by The Secret Artist

Camden Lockdown - Credit: Secret Artist

In the year ahead, do you have any particular projects or goals in mind for
your work?

"I like to take my close friends on Secret Artist walks, showing them the listed buildings, Blue Plaque houses and other really interesting places in Kentish Town.

"Those who have lived here for years are delighted to see things they had never noticed before or learn something about Kentish Town’s past – the abandoned North West London Synagogue in Caversham Road, for instance, or the fact that in the 1730s, there was a popular race track in the space between what is now Burghley and Lady Somerset Roads. They certainly see their home patch in a new light after they’ve done the walks. I am currently working up three routes around the area with more local history linked to them and plan to publish them for those who want to do the walks but whom I can’t accompany because I’m secret."

The queue outside Lidl in Kentish Town on April 10, 2020

The queue outside Lidl in Kentish Town on April 10, 2020 - Credit: Secret Artist

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