During this period of stillness and confinement, when we have all had to reconsider our relationship to inside and outside space, we asked nine Australian artists to create an image of something familiar and intimate – the view from their window.
Their responses include images of comfort and community, of uncertainty and worry, of newfound joys and lost routines, of things that stay constant and things that change. Some of the works are direct and representational – a window into the artists’ private spaces. Others turn inwards towards mood and emotion, opening a window into the artists’ interior lives. Created with pen, ink and paint on paper, the works have a humility and an intimacy that resonates in these extraordinary times.
Together these images form a record of sorts. A record of artists being in their familiar spaces in unfamiliar circumstances. A record of the ways in which all of us have compressed our lives and selves indoors during the pandemic.
Here lies the visual and metaphorical power of ‘the window’. It is a threshold between the known and unknown, between our interior and exterior worlds. Portraying the view out your window might sound like a simple thing to do, but, in the hands of these artists, it is an act that reveals the complexities of our current moment.
When I was invited to be part of this project there was a big red truck parked outside our front window and our bedroom window faced a wall. ‘Would from the front door be okay?’, I asked.
My partner Jan and I rent an 1880s one-bedroom cottage in a cul-de-sac in Adelaide. We and our neighbours often leave our front doors open for air, in the belief that only friends will wander in. A grapevine stretches across three houses on our side of the lane and on sunny afternoons the hanging leaves glow cadmium lemon in the light. Our next-door neighbour Tanya puts her washing on a clothes rack in the middle of the lane, as her backyard is small and dark. When the lockdown happened, we decided to be ‘virus buddies’ with Tanya and her 17-year-old daughter Eloise.
This drawing depicts our bedroom window which looks out to a patch of grass on the side of our building that, before lockdown, we never really used. But in these circumstances, it has become our soccer field, running track, picnic destination and Pokémon hunting ground. Living with three kids in a two-bedroom apartment and working from a less-than-ideal studio garage means the focus of my lockdown experience has really been around the kids.
I have drawn two views simultaneously, from inside looking out, and from outside looking in, entangling my drawings with the children’s. I allowed the children to use my felt-tip drawing pens, which they are normally not permitted to use, and I worked with their usual drawing tools: pencil and texta.
Our drawing reflects the challenges and the joys of being in lockdown as a family: finding new and exciting ways to be together, and negotiating the suffocating anxiety of uncertainty.
Masks are often used to transform performers into a vessel for spirits from the unseen world or the past that become part of current time. There are masks of heroes and beasts, and masks that represent sacred figures. In this work, the mask is a half-fish. Perhaps the other half of it was eaten by a cat or by the man who wears it. Sometimes he is a fish, but sometimes he is just a boy. A parody of imperfections, an attempt to laugh at oneself. It is inspired by the drama-comedy tradition of my hometown in East Java.
The hero is a bit not there, not here. His bed is his stage with the window as the backdrop. He puts on the half-fish mask before he sleeps, to meet his dreams. He lies down under a window, which in this strange time of restriction is the only place that connects him physically to the immediate world. Except the internet. The road outside the window forms a branch to hold the leaves of the night sky and the horizon. It leans more towards the Australian landscape than it does to hilly Java. The two landscapes of his memory, of his life. Half the time he is at his studio here, and half of the time, over there.
Just over the road here in Redfern there is a building site. Outside the fourth-floor windows on my eastern wall a very large construction crane towers above me. I love watching this enormous machine at work as it conducts a ballet of slow rotations and changing angles against the dark cruciform of the window. It seems to have a life of its own, adapting to wind direction when unmanned; at night there is an eerie glow in its cabin.
I am particularly moved by the flags on the main cable. Our Indigenous flag is a relatively frequent sight in Redfern but not so common in wider Sydney. It stops my heart to see it flying over the Harbour Bridge and seeing it out my window makes me feel hopeful. The Eureka Jack, a Crux Australis on a blue ground, was the symbol of the Eureka Stockade and has long since represented resistance and solidarity in Australia.
Over the last month, as I have been watching, the building has grown. It promises to include low-income housing by way of compensation for the slated demolition of the two Waterloo housing commission towers just down the road. It will block my eastern sunrise in summer – not such a bad thing, as the sun’s early blast turns my studio into a furnace. A reminder that, in the long term, the threat and consequences of COVID-19 will be as nothing compared to the impact of climate change.
Days flow, watching the passage of light, colour and shadow. Raven keeps me company as I worry for people far away.
There has been a curious emotional, threatening and yet often banal quality to the air we collectively breathe. I find it difficult to communicate this within the bounds of a single fixed image. Dice undone (garden view) is an expression, born of my domestic sphere, desperate in its searching. To create this work, I have of drawn up the net of a die, then made haphazard incisions and folds to reconfigure its surface relations. I have then transferred this image onto a linoleum tile by carving out its negative forms. I used the tile to print onto various found surfaces including this garden-variety paper stock. While it is not my intention for this image to appear hopelessly enigmatic for its own sake, it does contain a coalescence of what is both seen and unseen.
This view looks down into the garden of my parents’ home and its neighbourhood in Western Sydney. My parents spend a lot of time in this garden – especially my dad, who tends to a large vegetable patch that has been thriving for the last 30 years. I guess looking into this garden makes me think about them and their relationship to space as migrants to Australia from Italy.
This drawing has been made in what has been my makeshift studio for the last five weeks and, while it’s taken some getting used to, I’m lucky to have somewhere safe to keep working when I need. So often in my practice, I’m looking inwards to reflect emotionally or psychologically. This project has provided an opportune moment to meditate on things outside myself and my process in new ways.
This work brings together three portraits to form a huddled scene. I created it subconsciously at first, then moved into a conscious way of trying to describe the living conditions in Berlin in late March 2020. I spend a lot of time on my balcony at the moment, looking at other people’s windows and watching the movements of people on the street. My work is driven by looking at people, but I don’t particularly like to be around them. The lockdown, strangely enough, has helped me become more accepting of the introverted parts of my nature.
The act of making a monotype is always revealing. I paint with ink on a plastic substrate, then press the paper down, lifting it away after a few seconds to add features and painterly techniques. The process conjures phantasmic ornaments and murky faces. People come into being. The act crosses a boundary, a line that you keep from even yourself, and then it reveals something to you as you peel back the paper. It is a disclosure of unknown and mysterious events.
Home isolation made me aware of this new, disrupted world outside my window by looking inwards, rather than outwards. After all, the outside remained unchanged, even beautiful in these days of early autumn. It is only when coming near other people that one is rudely reminded that everything has changed and that ‘normalcy’ will not resume for some time.
I realised that my way of coping with the change and ever-increasing uncertainty was to consume (to eat, to smoke, to drink). In this way, what is outside my window showed itself through my seemingly unsated desire for comfort food – unfortunately, usually in the middle of the night.
Postscript: Tom Carment
My first drawing was of my bike in the hall, out the front door, the hanging grapevine in the sun. Then our neighbour, another Tom from across the road, took his big red truck for a drive to get firewood, opening up the view from our front window. I quickly got out my reed pen and drew the wheelie bin outside and the neighbouring house. The truck returned and I had to wait two days for Tom to take the truck out again so I could add watercolour to my drawing.