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FOCUS: Local artist creates 'safe spaces' to help manage pain

FOCUS: Local artist creates 'safe spaces' to help manage pain

Sunday 18 October 2020

FOCUS: Local artist creates 'safe spaces' to help manage pain

Even trying to find a seat in Lisa MacDonald’s town studio requires much jostling with canvases which are leaning against the walls, covering the floor and displayed on easels. The surfaces are dotted with painting paraphernalia: pallets, brushes and jam jars.

Lisa, too, has the same chaotic creativity about her; her hands and apron covered in paint marks, she is animated and candid as she discusses her upcoming solo show, ‘Heart in a Jar’. An apt name for this collection, throughout which the outlines of stark glass bottles, jars and vases become an ongoing and intriguing motif – each containing and unleashing entire worlds within them.

This is one of the first things Lisa speaks about, explaining that this references her journey to recovery as a chronic pain sufferer. Remarking that she was “really lucky” to get the help of the local Pain Clinic, she speaks openly about their focus on “how you adapt to be able to create safe spaces in your life so that you can deal with pain.”

Hearing her speak about these healing “safe spaces”, the recurrent glass bottles in her paintings sharpen into focus; they become a celebration of the impulse to make small corners of our worlds beautiful, comfortable and calm amidst all of life’s struggles. “I became very adept at being able to create safe spaces and I was very conscious that every time I was in a situation where I had to go outside that ‘safe space’, all my mechanisms for coping with pain were thrown out of kilter.”

It’s this fine balance of order and disorder which rule Lisa’s paintings. As much as the bottles contain their worlds, sometimes their contents also spill out of the top – in whirlpools, shipwrecks or a flock of birds making their escape.


Pictured: One of Lisa's piece from her upcoming exhibition 'Heart in a Jar'.

 Although Lisa hasn’t exhibited for around a decade, she has a wealth of artistic experience behind her as an illustrator, maker, textile artist and, in recent years, at the helm of her own design business. Always fascinated by and in tune with colour, this is the first time Lisa will be showing as a painter, having previously used stitch to “imitate different tonal values of painting”.

Speaking about her process, Lisa’s eyes shine as she admits she didn’t plan everything out in advance. In reality, her process takes an all-encompassing approach where she has worked on almost all of the canvases throughout the two-year span. As a result, as Lisa puts it, “the whole collection feels like it belongs to each other”.

 “As the work developed, there were elements which I discovered in one painting and transcribed into other paintings because I was working on all of them at the same time.”

The way that this collection seems to balance so much on the dynamic between inside and outside seems to chime so clearly with an experience of this year’s corona virus lockdown, but this work was started two years ago – long before ‘stay at home’ measures were even on our radar. Lisa signals this resonance unprompted, conscious of how her paintings have taken on new meaning in 2020: “it just so happened that whilst I was making this work, lockdown occurred, and it was even more about how we create safety around ourselves.” Stylistically, the artist has chosen to paint the bottles just as outlines, to convey the “stark” and urgent need for her to make certain aspects of her life safe in order to bring her pain under control.

When asked if the personal inspiration for the work makes her vulnerable, Lisa joked: “I’m not meaning to get all ‘Tracy Emin’ on anybody!” before adding that she thinks if lockdown hadn’t happened this year, she “would have felt a lot more vulnerable about it”, but now she thinks many more people will relate to the work.


Pictured: Lisa’s exhibition ‘Heart in a Jar’ at Grève de Lecq Barracks is on from 17 – 30 October.

This article first appeared in Connect Magazine here.

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