A drawing a day… is a solo exhibition of drawings by Els Borghart shown in the gallery of An Táin Arts Centre (Dundalk, Ireland).
In 2020 I was part of the art centre’s alternative program in response to Covid-19. I was commissioned to do a drawing a day as an artist’s response to the crisis. I was given total control of their Instagram platform to share my journey. The gallery curator deemed the work of such high quality that the arts centre programmed a solo exhibition of these drawings when they reopened after lockdown.
I draw, therefore I am.
I am sitting here in the sunshine on my balcony sipping a fresh orange juice and for a very brief moment it feels like I am on a holiday in Spain. But what seems and what is are not always the same. The truth is that I have been ill for weeks. I am suspected to have had Covid-19. Where I caught this novel disease remains a mystery.
That is my reality. Suspected because I was unable to get tested. So, this story is one of possibles and maybes, with the one certainty that making art has kept me sane along the way. I am well over the worst now. The virus is long gone, though the aftermath is still there. Aside from the all-important support of friends and family, the uplifting virtual hugs and Zoom calls, my art has once again proven to be my partner in crime.
What started off with a rake of ups and downs of mild symptoms likely developed into pneumonia and the aftermath called post-viral syndrome is what I am experiencing now. I have been followed up by a wonderful team of doctors. I eventually got seen in an ambulance by a medical team, but by then the disease had run its course, testing was too late and all they could see and hear was already the aftermath. I have been incapacitated for weeks now and recovery has been extremely slow. My chest and lungs are still protesting, and I can only do so much in a day before the couch calls me back to a horizontal position. It will get better, but it might take some time. How long is yet another mystery.
It has been hard and there have been tears. The not knowing what is raging through your body weighs. Feeling ill and wondering how much worse it will get, while knowing there is no cure, is scary. Not knowing whether your immune system will be able to stand its ground, or will it crack eventually, is stressful. When should I ring emergency services? I don’t want to put unnecessary pressure on the system, and I am young, not in a risk category. But did I not just read in the paper that a young thirty-something woman with no pre-existing conditions died? There is no cure, no medicine, your body must win its own fight.
Fighting you said? Artists know a thing or two about that. I decided early on my illness to find ways to stay connected to my practice as a positive focus as well as a creative outlet for the turmoil I am experiencing. It’s fascinating to realise how you go right back to the essence of what gives your life meaning and purpose. You find it in the little nuggets that are attainable, no matter what the circumstances are. Making a drawing a day was my new aim and I am fortunate that An Táin Arts Centre invited me along to do this as part of their online programme. One drawing a day of one hour, the perfect time for me during my recovery. It’s the best possible challenge right now. I can focus on something positive and despite a lot of things I can’t do yet, drawing I can.
Creative solutions surface in times of limitations. My art studio has temporarily moved home so I can draw and rest and draw and sleep and draw and rest some more. The kitchen table serves a new purpose and I only use a small selection of materials that allow for the short span of productivity the day gives me. Inspiration is not divine, nor is it based on research or complex metaphors. My drawings are a way of journaling in response to our and my new reality. Ideas simply surface when daydreaming on my balcony, sipping that daily glass of fresh juice or looking out the window at the endless blue sky. I observe what strikes my mind’s eye or what I notice on my short walks. Then I draw. I draw, therefore I am, in the spirit of hope and better times. Summer is coming!
The sun is out.
The streets are empty.
The birds are singing
To a deserted land.
Green is returning,
But no one is watching.
Overwhelm rules our mind.
Our bodies are consumed by fear.
Loneliness creeps into our hearts.
To feel like winter.
Is the new law.
But as long as the birds are singing,
There is the promise
That spring will return.
And guide us to a warm summer.
Let’s sing a song.