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The Walk of Life

Perhaps I should have called this post “the invisible people”. I have a bit of a fascination with things and people that often go unnoticed. The unnoticed have now become the invisible. With the coming of the terrible coronavirus crisis, the sight of elderly people on the street is a thing of the past. They are now “self-isolating” for anything up to 12 weeks.

My confinement is more of a challenge than the “lock-down”. My broken leg has me confined to my bedroom and the bathroom. We have too many steep stairs for me to go anywhere else. I just look out the window and take satisfaction in the quietness in the street outside. As an artist, I am used to quite a high degree of isolation. Yet, I know that this level of isolation must be incredibly hard, especially for the elderly or vulnerable if they do not have the internet or can’t work messaging apps. Even if they can, it’s still hard. People need face-to-face interactions with other people, even if it’s only buying groceries at the local shops. I know my father is missing his shopping trips.

I hate how news reports of coronavirus deaths often like to report that a certain number are elderly or “had underlying conditions” as if that somehow means those people don’t matter so much. Every single one of them matters. They are all someone’s loved ones; nan, dad or sister, son.  My husband has “an underlying condition” as do my parents, my brother-in-law and many of my friends. They are sheltering indoors, relying on the fit and young to keep the hospitals and shops up and running.

So today’s gallery of my people paintings has an added significance for me. This is a reminder of all the vanished; the people you don’t see on the streets. They are still here, at home, maybe, watching TV or listening to the radio. I hope that they are chatting away on skype or messenger or maybe like me they are just peering out their windows.

Painting of Woman with Zimmer Frame_EmmaCownie
Walk of Life (Sold)

My “The Walk of Life” painting has added significance for me. When I painted it was struck by the old lady’s determination and how tiny she was in comparison with the younger people around her.  I thought the composition captured the variety of life on Swansea, Oxford Street on a summer’s afternoon.
I never thought that I would have my own zimmer frame, but I do. I have to keep the weight off my healing left leg for another 4 weeks so it is vital for getting from my bedroom to the bathroom. It’s a fantastic bit of kit. Light and simple yet sturdy and reliable. Like the lady in the painting, mine has two wheels at the front and I will sometimes carry an object like a book in a bag from one room to another. I have tried holding stuff in my mouth but it just doesn’t work.
I am delighted that the American collector who recently bought this painting is a nurse who works with elderly ladies like this one. He will understand just how liberating a zimmer frame is to the disabled and elderly. During my stay in the hospital, I watched very elderly ladies, who had fallen, broken their hips and had them replaced,  push past pain and discomfort slowly but steadily make their way up and down the ward with the help of a frame. Once they proved their mobility they could negotiate their return back home.  I have a set of crutches but I like the frame better. So although “The Walk of Life” always was a celebration of the human spirit and determination, but I now know that the old lady is just getting on with her life. She probably doesn’t want applause or pity but she certainly might want to have a good chat.

Painting Swansea people by Emma Cownie
Soldiering On

 

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Hay Fever

Painting of Stroud Market
Painting of a Stall at Stroud Farmers Market
Hay Fever
Here’s another footnote to last week’s post about the inspiration provided by markets. It’s the last, I promise. Sometimes, I feel the need to take a break from one sort of subject matter to paint another. I’ve painted quite a few landscapes lately and so I relished painting what I call “people portraits”, or paintings with people in them. Unfortunately, these sorts of paintings they don’t sell so easily as landscape paintings, I don’t know why.  So painting people paintings is a bit of an indulgence. Saying that sometimes I need to change what I am painting to keep my style fresh. Too much of the same subject and my painting goes off a bit. It was the bottles that called to me. So many of them in the sunshine. I was attracted to the light and colours in this composition. Painting all those bottles was wonderful, slow,  self-indulgent joy. It took quite a while and I swear that everything bottle is slightly wonky but it still works as a painting because its about light and colour, not perfect bottles. The stallholder looks slightly embarrassed to be sneezing, surrounded by a colourful forest of bottles. I liked the stallholder’s green top too as it nicely complemented the colours of the bottles. There’s also a green jacket on a chair back, to the left of her, repeating this theme. I simplified the composition, removing certain element that distracted from the bottles and shadows on the purple table cloths. I have a great deal of sympathy for the stallholder in the picture as I have developed hay fever this year. I may have had it before. I assumed that hay fever meant you sneezed and had runny eyes when you went near the grass. How little did I know! I had sneezing, itchy eyes, itchy throat and felt altogether rotten and very fatigued. It made me very ill. I thought I had a virus or a horrible cold. Eventually, my mother suggested it could be hay fever. I bought some over-the-counter antihistamines. Miracle Cure! So now, I consciously head for the coast to avoid the tree pollen, grass or whatever is out there that I am allergic to.  
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Playing the Market

Painting Markets
I love markets. I love outdoor markets and indoor markets alike. A busy market is fun to visit as a shopper, but even better for an artist. To be honest I often just look at the people and stalls and don’t buy a lot. It provides inspiration. There are lots of things to look at, the light, in particular, is what attracts me, whether it’s indoors or outside, there is always lots of natural light at a market. I also like the distracted people, and also the bright colours of the stalls and the people shopping or sitting outside at cafes (both in summer and winter). Swansea has a cracking indoor market that was rebuilt after the original market was blitzed during the Second World War. It has a wonderful barrel-shaped roof. The light is a combination of natural light and artificial light. The light in the painting below is natural sunshine that was streaming in from the roof.
Painting of Swansea market
Knick Knack Attack (Swansea Indoor Market)
Outdoor markets are more variable, the rain can make them rather sad places to be in but in the sunshine, they are great fun. The Uplands, in Swansea, has a monthly market.
Painting of People at Uplands Market
Uplands Outdoor Market
Painting of Swansea woman
On a Mission
Painting of Welsh women
Double Trouble (Uplands Market)
I particularly like the dogs that come along too. They are usually on leads but also sitting with their owners at outdoors cafes at and near the markets. The strong winter shadows make for a dramatic composition.
Painting of Dog
Well Deserved Treat (Uplands)
I also like the little “unobserved” vignettes, such as these children playing with a typewriter. I like to imagine the conversation this smart-phone generation might be having about this relic from the last century.
Painting of Children with typewriter
What does it do? (Uplands Market)
There is a Victorian indoor Market in Cardiff too. It reminds me of a railway station, with its steel fixtures, supports, and arches, the huge glass, skylit, two-tone ceiling. They have a record shop upstairs and several cafes.
Painting of Cardiff Market
Overlooking Cardiff Market
Cardiff painting
“Weighing it Up” (Cardiff Indoor Market)
There is a fish stall by one of the two entrances, it gets natural light from the left side. This stall is particularly expansive, the fish and crabs are displayed in a generous display shelf. There is plenty to choose from. Again, it was the light that drew me to this composition. Although we cannot see the customer’s face, only his back, I am speculating on the conversation he is having with the fishmonger. I love that word “monger”. Its a wonderfully old-fashioned word (probably Anglo-Saxon) for someone who deals in a particular trade, there are others like an ironmonger, cheesemonger and more unsavory ones like fleshmonger, scaremonger and warmonger. My parents live near Stroud, in the Cotswolds and I sometimes visit markets, there’s an indoor market most days of the week as well as an outdoor farmers market on Saturdays. I visited the market last Saturday.
Market at Stroud
Farmers’ Market, Stroud, England
Again, its the dogs that catch my eyes. There are lots in Stroud of different shapes and sizes. You can tell a lot about an area by its dogs. Fashions come and go in towns and cities like Swansea. Huskies used to be all the rage, then smaller dogs like French Bulldogs became popular, more recently cockerpoos are everywhere. When I visit Cirencester I see lots of dachshunds, in Stroud, there’s more a mix from larger lurchers, Jack Russells (my favorite dog), and very cute Chihuahua-mixes with Jack Russells. In Ireland, the towns also favor smaller dogs but in rural Donegal, it’s larger collies and black Labradors that are very popular. So as we drove the length of Ireland, I noticed that little Mitzie (our Dashund/Jack Russell cross) got admiring looks in Wexford but it was Biddy (our Collie cross) who was more popular in Donegal.
Painting of Terrier
Stroud Terrier
Painting of sausage dog
Just a Second
Again, it’s the “unobserved” that I am interested in. A dog on its own isn’t as interesting as one with its owners unless it’s looking “out of shot” at its owner. In “Just a Second” the dachshund is obviously hoping its owner is going to produce a treat from her bag. I doubt it somehow.
Two women and their dog painting
Table for Three
In “Table for three”, my most recent painting, the little pooch looks very much loved by its family, after all, as she has the best seat. I would not be surprised if she has been fed a biscuit or two or a slice of cake. Look,  there is a knife, and a stack of plates under the coffee cup on the left, evidence of food eaten.  There is a clearly comfortable vibe between the two women, whom I am guessing have been in a relationship for a long time. There are no smartphones to interrupt their revery in the sunshine. The woman on the left has difficulty walking as she has a walking stick in her hand. I love the rich red color of her hair, catching the sunshine. That color says to me I am still young at heart. It chimes with the red stripes of her partner’s top. This painting has caught a moment. It may an illusion. For all I know, they could be having a row, but I really don’t think so. I enjoy looking at the details in the picture and speculating and writing a story about them. If you want to see more of my people and or animal paintings please click here.