A monochrome painting of a woman withe white hair.
Portrait of a Beautiful Irish Lady by John McDonald

“This is reminding me what the joys of art are”: reflections from Andover

From Chapel Arts Studios, resident artist John McDonald updates us on CAS:AIR “Themes of Life,” an Unlimited supported, community-focused project aimed at telling local stories and engaging residents in artistic practice. Participants from his ongoing art clubs and workshops also share their reflections on the impact of the programme.

I had a strong idea of what I wanted to do and achieve in Andover as I approached my interview for the CAS:AIR artist in residence role. I always get ideas instantly, and some are so strong that nothing will sway me from going for it. I got the residency, and was so looking forward to starting work.

View from the top of a balcony in the chapel. The decor is white and modern, behind the balcony there is the tradition church stained glass windows.

I started my project with a launch event. I put on an exhibition of my work, all large scale statement pieces, and it was a good way to meet Andover.

View of John's exhibition from the balcony. There are various paintings on the wall below, some of frida khalo, some self portraits and in the center a painting of Christ on the cross.

Three people stare up at a painting on the wall.

In February, Chapel Arts opened and they started coming: my collaborators of Andover. Some don’t know just how good they are. (I did not know at this point, but I know now.) I set a task for us all to do and achieve. Together we built a structure based on St Mary’s Church. I see it as our Cathedral of Young Peoples’ Art. It gets bigger by the minute, growing higher and higher, just like the confidence of our newly formed renegade group.

The artist lies on the floor painting with a little girl beside him

Our Cathedral will eventually be a cardboard building housing the work of our young artists group, an after school club that was established in the second week. I was so inspired by a painting session with five-year-old Heidi Dixon. Her approach to painting influenced me so much that I was very excited to start a Young Andover Artists Art Club, which attracted fourteen visitors immediately, despite the short notice! The art club has been invited by the Vicar of St Mary’s to use the Church, so we will gather there next Tuesday to paint under the stained glass windows and shafts of light.

CAS:AIR Themes of Life is in its third week. A developing segment of the community is emerging and exploring “themes of life.” Our collaboration, as yet untitled, will be on show at Chapel Arts Studios (CAS) from April 11 until May 23 2020.

canvas's lean against a wall, some are painted and hung up and some are blank.

the artist paints outside in front of the chapel

My initial idea was not only reinforced, it also took a different turn when my artists influenced me and swayed me with their different talents. Over the coming weeks, I want to introduce you to my amazing team of fledgeling artists. I want their work to speak for itself and at the Themes of Life exhibition, it will. You can join us for the opening night on April 11. In the meantime, here are some of their responses so far.

Badger:A man sits by a grave surrounded by trees and bushes
I remember I could paint
I can draw
I can put pen to paper
And be some more
More of what I am
Not what I do
The artist inside me
Because of you

I came along because it was something to do, and to rekindle my love for art that was destroyed at school. I’ve found from coming along that I enjoy traditional art a lot more than I thought I did. I had been working in digital media, influenced by the fact that I studied IT at college. This is reminding me what the joys of art are. There’s no pressure, as everyone here has different skill sets. What I’m hoping to get out of it is the ongoing desire to keep making art.

I came for something to help fill up my day. I like the social aspect because I don’t socialise. It’s helping me to get used to being with people. I am slowly improving with my artwork, too, as my confidence is growing. I am stronger conceptually and now developing practical skills. My life hopes are to join the military, and this is giving me a schedule and commitment which is good preparation.

Lou:A woman paints in the studio

Mostly it’s a free opportunity to find out if I can paint or draw. I did A-Level art and textiles, and a four-year creative degree, but never really painted or drew. I have a few weeks off work, I work creatively all the time, and teach, but I never do anything for me. so, this is an opportunity for me to learn to paint and draw, and to bring fun and joy back into creativity, rather than the demands of a brief. I am looking to increase my confidence, self-belief, enjoyment, and sense of accomplishment. I am also proving to my son that you can do something, even when you’re scared.

I came with inquisitiveness. I studied art in the past, then growing up, having children, and having to go out to work, it got left behind. I have been drawing now for about one year, and it is such an important natural release. It has become a positive, constructive way to cope with my mental health; an effective way of processing emotions. It has actually inspired my daughter, too. When she saw me drawing last night she came with her own sketchbook and joined me.

Follow Chapel Arts Studios to watch these artists reach new heights.