In a New Exhibition an Artist Finds Ways to Respond Positively to Lockdown

Illustrator Amy McGrath says she’s been waiting patiently to see if her first solo exhibition, Everything Is Fine, set to launch on 28 September, will go ahead.

With a central theme of finding ways to respond positively to the Covid-19 lockdown, it was set to take place in the Third Space cafe in Smithfield for over two months.

McGrath, who is from Coolock, feared that her launch would have to be postponed, if the cafe had to close due to the new Dublin-wide restrictions.

But speaking on Tuesday, McGrath is relieved to say it will go ahead, for now.

Third Space is introducing more outdoor seating, so she hopes that people queuing up for their coffee will still get to see her work.

“We don’t know how things are going to be in three weeks time, so we might as well just push on and see what happens,” she says.

Despite actually contracting Covid-19 in April, McGrath is still determined to see the silver lining in the dark Covid-19 cloud.

After she was laid off from work and with her social life and regular pastimes on hold during lockdown, McGrath found that she had an abundance of time to focus on her art.

In just a few months she developed her artistic practice. “In some ways it was the best thing that could have happened to me,” she says.

In her art McGrath tackles some of the big social issues in the spotlight during the lockdown — mental health, the housing crisis, and the experience of manual workers on the frontline.

“It is a personal perspective of the pandemic,” she says. “In a strange way it’s like a therapeutic exercise.”

Everything is Fine

McGrath studied visual communication in TU Dublin and started out interning in graphic design, a field she says, she never really loved.

“My passion for graphic design was slipping away,” she says. “I wasn’t a great designer,” she says laughing.

Some people mentioned to her that she was good at drawing and she began doodling along the lines of what she would have drawn as a child, she says.

“It has certainly given me a new lease of life,” she says.

She started illustrating for the first time in February and began to develop her technique.

“People would say to me, is that all traditional?,” she says. “I’d say well the start of it is.”

The traditional illustrator draws the illustration fully on paper and then sends it off to the printer, she says. But that means if you make a mistake you have to start all over again.

So, McGrath sketches the drawings on paper first and then does the final version using Procreate on the iPad Pro, she says.

McGrath will exhibit seven different pieces created during lockdown, taking inspiration from the changing world around her.

In one illustration, The Right to a Home, there is a house with lots of space, you can peek into the different rooms, upstairs and downstairs and in one of the rooms people are hugging.

The point is that everyone should have a home, says McGrath of her artwork.

“Quarantine highlighted the importance of a roof over your head, having privacy and how detrimental Direct Provision is on people’s physical and mental health,” she says.

Her style is cartoonish, with bright colours.

Another work was inspired by a regular social event she attends, she says.

Miss Roots Live is a portrait of a local drag queen, Miss Roots. The performer is depicted wearing bright multi-coloured eye shadow, a black hat and a blue top with stars on.

Above her left shoulder squiggly drawings indicate the first draft of the work.

In normal times, she is involved in lots of LGBTQ community events and participates in life drawing sessions called Drag and Draw, which normally take place in the Street 66 pub in Temple Bar, she says.

“Stuff like that helped, because you are missing that connection that you have with other people,” says McGrath.

Life Doesn’t Have to be Productive

The overall theme of the exhibition is that no matter what is going on, if you have enough agency, or personal conviction, you still have control over your situation, she says.

Life doesn’t have to be about being productive, she says. “Taking a minute to not do anything is probably good for your health”.

Ultimately for McGrath, the lesson is to try to take a positive outlook on things “no matter what madness is going on around you.”

We can take personal responsibility for finding meaning and purpose, she says.

Another of her works, Resolve, is a tribute to the experience of frontline workers, she says.

Many people in her family are manual workers. She says her dad contracted Covid-19 working in a factory she says. “He is fine thank god.”

She was “floored by it for three weeks”, but she says she is lucky because she didn’t need to go to hospital.

Having Covid-19 just made her even more determined to make a success of her artwork, she says. She decided it was now or never.

Owing to the solitary nature of lockdown, McGrath felt she was operating in the dark, working alone in her bedroom and very few people had actually seen her work, she says.

Around the same time that Third Space contacted her and offered her a chance to exhibit. “I was at a point where I was happy enough with the style,” she says.

The owner told her he wanted to help to revive the local art scene, which had come to a halt during the pandemic, she says.

“I thought it would be a great way to showcase my work,” she says.

Everything is Fine, will exhibit in Third Space in Smithfield, 28 September.

McGrath will donate a share of any profits from the exhibition to the Transgender Equality Network.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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