Collab №9 — Steffi
Q1. How did you meet the artist for this collaboration
Steffi and I first met on a weekend yoga retreat in the Norfolk countryside; a blissful and restorative break, lead by My Happy Body Yoga. Steffi offers her own art and creative retreats at Cortijo Las Salinas which incorporate a morning yoga practice in the Spanish sunshine, surrounded by spectacular scenery — definitely on my To Do list post-Covid!
Q2. What was it about this artist’s work that made you want to collaborate for the Words and Pictures project?
The Words and Pictures Collaborations project was born out of lockdown, as a way for me to fill my time with creativity and conversations whilst furloughed from my job.
In many ways, my enforced 12 week career break was like an extended retreat, and I knew that I had to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I did hours of yoga, I read lots, wrote loads, and found new ways to connect with people through the arts.
I really felt for those who make a living through selling their art, and for whom Covid-19 has presented the kind of financial crisis that I can only imagine. Using art and poetry to support one another through the pandemic is what the Words and Pictures Collaborations project is all about, and I knew that Steffi was a fan of #artistsupportpledge.
“Colours are like words to me. When I close my eyes, this is what I see.”
It was amazing for me to learn that Steffi uses words as a starting point for her abstract paintings. Beneath layers of gesso, acrylic and silver leaf, there are words, phrases and passages that she has handwritten on the canvas to invoke the emotion of the painting.
“When I’m doing a commission I am very connected with that person — it’s like I’m downloading their thoughts and feelings onto the canvas.”
As I talked with Steffi, I began to see more and more similatities between the creative processes of painting and writing. Both of us begin with a blank page (or canvas) on which we “brain dump” the initial inspiration for the piece in written form. Then we layer it up, intuitively, adding details and then finally — sometimes it takes minutes, sometimes hours, days, weeks or months — we sense that our work is ‘done’.
Steffi says; “I absolutely love the joy of intuition and intellect coming together in abstract art. When I close my eyes I see shapes, colours and textures, and as I begin to translate this onto canvas, or paper, I can totally lose myself - and whole days - in the process. I am continually challenged with problem solving until intuitively I am told to stop and the painting is complete.”
We talked about the potential for poetry to be a “way in” to abstract painting, particularly for people who connect emotionally with words easier than they do images. Likewise, I believe there will be art lovers out there who can discover my work for the first time and see the spectrum of “colours” in my poem thanks to Steffi’s beautiful work alongside my words.
Q3. What’s the connection between this painting and the poem ‘Let’s clap’
As I browsed Steffi’s portfolio, she told me that her paintings often “speak” to someone, and that when they see a piece for the first time they will feel an undeniable connection to it. ‘Let’s clap’ spoke to me. Steffi had painted it in response to the nightly applause for Health and Social Care workers in Spain. Her friend in a neighbouring village had been leading the clapping every night for three months, and this had inspired Steffi to pick up her brush.
“The shapes, gestures and movement in the painting are based in the joyous feeling of clapping.”
For many weeks, I too participated in ‘Clap For Our Carers’ in the UK, and was deeply moved by the noise, movement, vibrations and collective energy generated by the British people clapping in honour of our NHS.
But although ‘Let’s clap’ did indeed speak to me — what it said had nothing to do with doctors or nurses tending to Covid patients. What came to my mind, and to my heart, were the rows of empty seats in theatres across the country. The stages gathering dust, the instruments locked away - untouched, and all the beautiful and talented performers who have found themselves out of work as a result of the pandemic.
During lockdown, I went to the National Theatre, naked.
I watched A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The National Theatre from my bathtub, enjoyed Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake from my bed, and I sang my heart out to the recordings from Glastonbury that were broadcast by the BBC in place of the 2020 festival. What I didn’t do at home (because it felt downright weird!) was clap.
I miss clapping! I miss leaping off my seat and raising my arms above my head in appreciation for the wonderful work of performing artists. I miss stamping my feet in time with an orchestra, whistling at a band for an encore, and beating my hands together until they sting.
That feeling of clapping, and the absence of it now, is what moved me to write this poem. The beautiful colours in Steffi’s painting fill me with joy and hope, because I know that when the theatres and music venues reopen, we will clap louder, longer and harder than ever before.
Read the poem ‘Let’s clap’ on Medium.