In conversation with UK artist Darren John about his ‘Creativity under Quarantine’ project.
Darren John is best known for his works which look to revive and celebrate the creative spirit. He believes that in life, when we lead with curiosity and playfulness, we have the power to truly expand our worlds. His process led paintings make use of the bright colours and forms of childhood creativity, vibrant imagery that is bold and impossible to ignore.
Darren also leads his Artist Team at Absolutely Studio – a London based mural production studio dedicated to producing large scale artworks for lots of great artists. They’ve worked with the likes of Camille Walala, Sue Webster, Philip Colbert, Hattie Stewart, I Love Dust, Tristan Eaton and many many more.
We chat to Darren about his first lock down project, Creativity Under Quarantine.
Can you talk about your project ‘Creativity under Quarantine’? How you set it up and what your intentions are with it as we go in and out of lock downs.
In short – the project really was born out of necessity. I think the best way to start to talk about this is to just give some context. At the time I was living very close to the industrial area of Woolwich (south east London) since my studio was only a 10 minute walk from the house. My partner on the other hand lives in North London – which although it’s only an 8 mile journey via car, in typical London fashion. This is a 90 minute public transport adventure. Sadly it’s not a streamlined journey to cycle either because of the logistics of crossing the Thames via bike during this particular part of town.
So, the impending lockdown is coming. Woolwich is quite an isolated place for me. I moved solely to be close to an affordable work space and there really wasn’t any community or friends I knew in the area. My house was a place to sleep and prepare food and the studio is where I would spend days and most nights. So when the quarantine announcements were given, I made the decision to bunker down and quarantine with my partner and her wonderful housemates in North London.
I grabbed a few basic materials from the studio – mainly black paints, pens, inks etc.. and set up a desk in the kitchen to have a little space to work. With reduced workspace and materials I quite quickly realised I would need to work with paper to conserve space and would need to change the way I would be working.
I only really set out to provide myself with a task to get stuck in to. But in reflection I can see now, how the project landed at a time where people really benefited engaging with the videos and what they represent.
The project is a 26 part painting video series, using mostly items from around the house. The background to it being that by shifting our mindsets in the way we approach our surroundings can provide us with a more enriched experience of life. Navigating more playfully and leading with a ‘what if..’ Sense of curiosity is an empowering approach to expanding our worlds. And it’s available to EVERYONE.
You are keen on advocating exercise creativity everyday. Can you elaborate in this and how you see creativity in relation to other issues that have become more apparent, mental health for example.
Absolutely! It’s worth pointing out that the use of the term ‘creativity’ has been muddied somewhat. It’s sadly quite a loaded term nowadays which seems mostly used to make job titles more sexy and to justify agency fees for handling images. I think it’s probably been attributed more to business sectors now than something that is an inherent part of our genetic make-up.
As children we tend to paint and we do so fearlessly. We express naturally a direct relationship with our imaginations through paint. We also experience the world through a lens that has not been shadowed in self-consciousness or pre-defined ideas of ‘what is’ and ‘what isn’t’. This sense of freedom within our minds and zest for genuine experience – of touch, sense and play can quite naturally become curtailed as we move into adulthood.
My project is to encourage and revive this spirit and the way this manifests to daily life is not necessarily by making a painting or getting stuck into craft projects. It’s more aligned to the way we allow ourselves to receive the world around us.
Of course, creativity can manifest itself in making something from nothing. There’s no question about that. But the creativity I’m championing is the one we all have inside us.The innate one that deals with problem solving. The former I see as the fuel or the exercise and this is what allows us to deal with the latter really well.
When we have an issue at hand and a set of parameters to work within, creativity can flourish. And this is something, as we know, that can enable innovation and development. But more importantly it’s a self empowering trait, that can relieve us from the oppressions of everyday life.
Am I stuck at home with my life on pause? Or have the rules and parameters of that life just shifted for me to now re-evaluate and navigate. This approach to creativity builds resilience and adaptability and I think the pandemic has proven to us that these traits are incredibly valuable and should be nourished.
During lock down a lot of artists have changed their working patterns. Can you talk about your journey through this and whether there are any positives you have taken from it.
For me personally, I realised quite early on that my plans of growth for my art business would need to change. Spending habits would change and that meant that selling paintings and developing other art projects would be heavily impacted. So I had to evaluate what I could do instead.
I focused on three main things. Increasing visibility for my work, clearer communication for my positioning as an artist and delivering as much value and positivity as I could for the audiences I could reach.
Artistically I think I’ve flourished and despite not being able to send as much money as I’d have liked to my dad – I’m really proud with what I’ve managed to get done, during a time that seemed to have become so undone.
It’s been a big change of lifestyle and pace of life – which has come without warning really.
I think with this slower pace, we as a collective people, were able to clearly re-asses the things we value most. The things that would guide us through the darkness and nourish our souls while social mobility was so heavily impacted. And it was fantastic to see that people turned towards making things in the home, being creative and engaging with the arts.
We’ve seen return to basics in a way and I’m optimistic despite the many bleak circumstances, this time will provide a necessary reset to the way in which we navigate living our lives.
And to be honest, I’m really excited for it!