'Golden drawings' evoke Hampstead artist's brush with Covid
- Credit: Courtesy of the artist
Hampstead artist David Breuer-Weil caught Covid just as the UK entered its first lockdown.
And his enforced isolation marked the start of daily pandemic drawings of huddled humanity, inspired by Medieval illuminated manuscripts.
"I had all the symptoms," he says. "It was like a bad flu, coughing, night sweats, tiredness, no smell or taste. Without the publicity I would have lived with it, but the fear of what it might turn into was the worst."
Working in gold leaf and pencil, the 55-year-old drew most days between March 20 and July 2020, jotting down his thoughts alongside. The resulting 66 'Golden Drawings' are a personal, visual diary of the global pandemic - now on virtual display and in a book.
The sculptor and painter says the illness dictated the form: "I am used to making big sculptures and paintings and it's very physical, but drawing with a pencil is a gentle activity, suited to lying in bed.
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"The lethargy lasted quite a long time, I could go back to bed for a while with my sketch book. If I felt strange and fearful it gave my days hope and structure. Drawing was like therapy, a meditation."
The drawings are filled with the things that became important overnight: "Breath, water, family, hope, dreams and faith in the future". Nos 23 and 24 reference the trees and water from his daily walks on the Heath, 49 the Thursday night clap for carers, and 66 the killing of George Floyd.
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The writhing naked bodies recall previous times when humanity was tested - or paintings of souls at the Last Judgement.
"I think of Medieval gold manuscripts, religious, poetic and expressive images from times of plague and upheaval," he says. "It is kind of apocalyptic, and these images come out on the page unedited. We are living through a particular time and art ends up expressing things that are in in the air, that you aren't even aware of."
Locked down with his wife and two sons, Breuer-Weil drew powerful images of families living in their "own little pod or bubble".
"It's compelling as a composition; families divided and separate huddling or nestling together. A lot of the imagery is related to communication and connection with the people we are with, and of how different generations experience the pandemic differently. It's rare to have the whole world going through the same thing at the same time, it's almost a positive, bringing humanity together."
Another recurring theme of empty clothes conjures the many lives lost to the pandemic.
"The clothes are a sign they are leaving the world but there's also one person - a survivor - inhabiting them."
He adds: "Powerful, iconic images have emerged from the pandemic. There can be beauty coming out of this - inspirational hands clapping - but also the image of one human being dominating another in such a brutal way as George Floyd is a defining unforgettable moment of this time."
Breuer-Weil trained at Central St Martin's and is best known for large scale paintings and monumental sculptures which have gone display in squares and spaces across London and the world.
After visiting Tate Britain's Duveen galleries between lockdowns, he was inspired to create two huge oil paintings based on the Golden Drawings titled Lockdown and Pandemic. He is also one third through the 'Coviad', a Bayeux Tapestry-style long drawing "telling the story of the pandemic".
"I had the energy to do some large paintings, nine metres long, based on that gallery. I don't know if they will ever hang there. The pandemic is a subject that lends itself to the epic. The ability to tell a story, or record world events or comment on what's happening to us, is as old as art itself."
Golden Drawings is published by Gli Ori as part of a series on the pandemic
See the drawings at Davidbreuerweil.com.