The Malta Independent 23 June 2021, Wednesday

Marie Benoit's Diary: The Corona Chronicles of an artist

Marie Benoît Sunday, 12 July 2020, 09:00 Last update: about 13 months ago

Artist Madeleine Gera shares her Covid-19 experiences of lockdown

Madeleine and her husband Henry Deguara Caruana Gatto in Madrid on New Year's Eve 2019-2020
Madeleine and her husband Henry Deguara Caruana Gatto in Madrid on New Year's Eve 2019-2020

"Working mainly from home in my studio means there was no adaptation period for me during the partial lockdown. We have recently redecorated my studio and I love working in a space that looks good.

During this Covid period Henry and I developed a routine together. We started each day with a power walk from Valletta to Marsa. Normally, the waterfront would be bustling with activity, but most days we had the place to ourselves and that took some getting used to. After our walk I would do some yoga and found these two things to be essential. I called my yoga time my "two minute holiday." Every day I would say "thank you" and again before I go to bed. I believe we have a lot to be thankful for and gratitude during these extraordinary times helped me to focus on my daily life.


During lockdown there was also more time to practice and learn new stuff. Such as more about cooking which is fun and creative. After lunch I would read and sometimes Henry and I would go for a drive or for a walk somewhere outside Valletta but more often than not we would stay within the city. Deserted Valletta with all its shops shuttered and not a soul in sight was extraordinary. There were times when we would be alone in the streets. It was incredibly austere and fortress Valletta as a military machine re-emerged from the shadows. I missed our usual haunts, the cafés and restaurants we would frequent. Outside Valletta was also devoid of human activity. It was amazing as so many places which were normally vibrant and busy were deserted.

‘Landing with Mannequin’

We both love entertaining at home and seeing our family and friends and naturally this wasn't possible to do in real time. We made it a point to call or Zoom friends and even had a glass of wine on Zoom. I spoke to my parents daily. Travelling is also something we love to do and initially we both found being grounded here to be difficult. Henry and I both love reading and with more time than usual spent at home here are the books I enjoyed the most. The first one was Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harare. It's a history of humankind from Stone Age to the 21st century. The next was Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler which is about an old Bolshevik who is arrested, imprisoned and tried for treason against a government he helped to create. Hisham Matar's A Month in Siena was an extremely enjoyable account of the author's s immersion in Sienese painting, a consideration of grief and violence and an encounter with the city and its inhabitants. I loved the book because it shows how art can console and disturb in equal measure. I always have found Hisham Matar's writing to be profoundly moving.

One of the main purposes of reading books and looking at painting is to experience life through the eyes of another. We encounter diverse angles on life's most common situations. Talented authors and painters will inspire empathy for their characters or viewpoints different to one's own. Certainly reading doesn't mean we agree with all these different perspectives but it does give us an opportunity to understand them.

Three months of partial lockdown gave me more time to focus on my painting. Again, spending more time indoors made me look at my surroundings in a new way. Our home is decorated in a very particular way with a fascinating hybrid of furniture and paintings. It inspired me to paint Landing with Mannequin, The Courtyard and The Letter. Again, paintings will or should prompt a whole set of questions. When we were in St Petersburg I enjoyed looking at paintings by Korovin Konstantin and most of all his paintings of interiors. It was a way to travel back in time to 1913 St Petersburg.

‘St Philip's Garden, Floriana’

Gardens were out of bounds during lockdown however I had some sketches of St Philip's Garden, Floriana which I referred to for the painting above. So what was different about gardens during Covid 19? They seemed to be taken over by cats having a fabulous time enjoying the silence and having the place to themselves. Here in Malta public gardens and cats go together. They're always there watching you from a safe distance. During these months they took centre stage. Partial lockdown made me more aware than ever about the need to care for our environment and those we share it with.

All these months left me with a new updated state of mind. I feel more inspired and prepared for the future as well. In a sense lockdown drove home how important it is for us to use time wisely. It's our most valuable asset as well as being an opportunity to learn something new."

‘Valletta interior with palm and cat’

AND AS FOR ME: I  am still relishing self-imposed partial lockdown with its almost complete freedom. I have seen most friends I want to see, even if not all, but it will happen in due course. I don't miss the too many invitations to launches and openings which can be bewildering even if I am grateful to those who so kindly invite me. In fact without them and the concerts there is not Diary.

Life is quieter and there is less dashing around and am very happy to be able to see my family as often as I wish. A simple tea on the balcony with one of my sisters; a barbecue with just a handful of friends; a quiet meal with a couple of colleagues; tea or supper at the breakfast table with my daughters and their family. .. life is less complicated and calmer. That is the way it should always be. But I do so hope that Corona will not make a comeback. None of us can take it.


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