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Vol. 1:  On Isolation

Art & Isolation

in conversation with
Michèle Schoonackers & Daniel Ablitt


Strolling, Michèle Shoonackers

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Lights in the Mist II, Daniel Ablitt

Isolation is perhaps not unprecedented to artists. Several notable creators have historically created environments of self-imposed solitude as a way of nurturing their art form in the absence of disturbance. Frida Kahlo, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Georgia O’Keeffe are well known for being isolated and fitting into the often badly portrayed and stereotypical character of The Reclusive Artist. However, the distinction that needs to be made is that these artists - and certainly many before and after them, dating from the 1300s to present day - revel in the tiny, secluded spaces they create, whether a studio, a room of their own, or simply a bed. The respite from the constant humdrum of society has proved for many to be the missing ingredient for the inception of a masterpiece  - something that the current lockdown has made several of us enjoy and dislike in varying proportions. The Open Culture Collective is looking into what isolation means for artists in the present day. In this digitised and highly connected world - what does it take to make art, and how far can these artists go in the name of isolation?

How has the imposed lockdown changed your routine when it comes to creating new pieces of work?

Michèle: To be honest, it hasn’t changed a whole lot. My process is always very isolated and I tend to go inward before and during the planning stage and the creation stage.

Daniel: When the lockdown first came into affect in the UK, I moved my studio practice to a spare room at home. I naively thought that it would be now different. How wrong I was! I didn't realise how closely tied the creative process was to the physical work space. I've been in my current studio for quite a few years and developed a rhythm of work specific to that space. After a few attempts, I decided to embrace the opportunity to have a break from physically creating and take in more of the world around me. 

Were you otherwise someone who preferred to isolate oneself in an attempt to make more art? Do you find the solitude more or less conducive to your process?

Michèle: Yes, for sure. Being alone and seeing my inner world clearly through meditation and introspection is what allows me to make the work that I do. 

Daniel: I would describe myself as someone who is creatively self sufficient but having
friends and colleagues nearby to bounce ideas off or just talk nonsense over a cup of tea (or a bottle of beer!) is invaluable.


How has the imposed lockdown changed your routine when it comes to creating new pieces of work?

Michèle: A lot of my inspiration comes from balance. Balance that occurs in nature, balance found within architectural structures, and in my own daily doings. Sometimes a burst of energy or inspiration is given to me through meeting with familiar faces or walking about town, but it is not necessary for me to create.

Piercing the Veil of a New Reality, Michèle Shoonackers

Your work echoes heavily with an aura of solitude - can you tell us a little about the thinking that goes into this? 

Daniel: The single figure in each are in a way walking a fine linebetween expectation and contemplation. The narrative in each suggests that something may be about to happen. In a way they are about the moment before the story in revealed. In that moment there is a pause, a time to reflect on the possibilities.The larger forest piece, is more of a response to my own rediscovering of nature that has been afforded me by the lockdown. Going out into the countryside and having the time and space to really notice and take in the vibrancy and lushness of spring has been a revelation!


Home by Daniel Ablitt | Oil on Panel | 150 x 122 cm


Untitled, Michèle Shoonackers


Symbiosis, Michèle Shoonackers

How do you feel about the stereotype that artists are inherently lonely people, that they are “others” in society, always pictured in film as reclusive elements who are all about themselves?

Michèle: I think that is mostly correct, haha! I don’t fully agree with artists being inherently lonely because even though I spend a lot of time by myself, I am not lonely. I think solitude is crucial to the process of creation, to fully come into contact with the creativity and the idea that is waiting to be birthed.

Daniel: I think as with all sections of society, there are all types. It's fair to say that generally artists are pretty non-conformist so I wouldn't be unhappy with the being described as "other". Each artist's practice is unique to them. I have a fairly introspective practice as my work is about my own response to my surroundings and my memories.


View to the Valley (Blue Figure)

Oil on Panel | 40 x 40 cm


Birches in the Snow (Meeting)

Oil on Panel | 122 x 100 cm

Since we all have more time to spend at home, do you feel under pressure to create more now than before or has the pressure to accomplish something eased off, become more malleable and manageable without other intrusions and demands?

Michèle: Since I haven’t been creating art in this way for very long, I feel no pressure at all to create. I do like to have a steady flow of work coming out just to avoid becoming stagnant, but otherwise there is no timeframe for me to create anything. 

Daniel: Being lucky enough to do something create as my full time job, I'm never going to complain about felling the pressure to create. That is there on a daily basis, lockdown or no lockdown. Whether I accomplish it or not is for someone else to say!

Is there anything you’ve felt or been through during this time that you think might serve as good advice for someone else, another artist?

Michèle: This time has allowed me to let go of arbitrary expectations and unconscious tensions in my body.  Most of the things we cling to in daily life are not that important. Ease your grip on everything and see how you can bring this to your work. A little example; I used to hold my paintbrush really tightly because I thought it would help me be more precise. This caused a lot of tension in my body and made the process quite tiring. When I started to let go I became more aware of how tightly I was holding on to everything, including my paintbrush. I decided to very slightly hold the brush and let it guide my hand instead of the other way around. It worked wonderfully and I was able to be more precise with less effort. Try it, see what happens!

Daniel: Don't put pressure on yourself. Allowing yourself time and space to notice the world around your is essential. Let it feed your creativity.

About the Artists

Michèle Schoonackers is a self taught artist who has dabbled in different art forms such as photography, music, digital illustration and traditional art. All paving the way to her current practice. She draws inspiration from many different areas such as nature, architecture, and astronomy. Mostly using intuition when selecting colors and shapes to form a composition that is both hard and calculated, but also owing naturally, with room to breathe. Ultimately translating the deepest parts of her own life and experiences.

Daniel Ablitt often uses his surroundings as a starting point for his work. This could be a visit to an area of outstanding natural beauty, woodland and alpine forests having a significant influence, along with the landscape of South Somerset where the artist lives and works. Daniel's memories of his childhood also have a strong influence on his recent work, conveying a sense of nostalgia.

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