Digital art in a time of virus

Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Alice Strang, is a keen user of social media channels Twitter and Instagram, matching current affairs with works in the National Galleries of Scotland’s collection. With the closure of our Galleries following the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19), not only is everyone joined in common concerns but the power of art to boost morale, in digital form, is becoming more apparent every day.

Edith Rimmington The Decoy 1948 © The Estate of Edith Rimmington

Despite being a curator of the national collection of modern and contemporary art for over twenty years, the coronavirus situation has made me look afresh at our holdings.

The early advice to wash our hands gave Edith Rimmington’s The Decoy of 1948 new meaning (tweeted on 2 March 2020).

Her painting of a hand in which the metamorphosis from chrysalis to butterfly plays out, combines the beauty of nature with a sense of menace. The importance of this simple act of hygiene and the consequences if we fail to carry it out seem to be summed up before our eyes. Warnings since issued not to shake hands have made this image all the more poignant.

William Crosbie Design for Living [Cats Cradle] 1944 © The Crosbie Estate, courtesy Private Collection on long term loan to the National Galleries of Scotland

When notions of self-isolation first began to circulate, I started a series of posts based on things to do if you found yourself in this situation.

William Crosbie’s Cat’s Cradle (Design for Living), 1944 (tweeted on 6 March 2020), features a man seated on his bed playing this traditional game, with what looks like a cut-out elephant caught amongst the strings.

Who knows, perhaps this might encourage people to try it for themselves, as the idea of over-70s self-isolating gains momentum.

Samuel John Peploe Tulips - The Blue Jug About 1919

By 13 March 2020 – a Friday to boot – it was time to simply provide some cheer with a beautiful Scottish painting, S. J. Peploe’s Tulips (The Blue Jug) from about 1919.

One of the best still-lifes for which this Scottish Colourist is celebrated, it skilfully choreographs these curvaceous flowers with objects including an orange in a white bowl and a Japanese print, using a carefully balanced, high-keyed palette.

26 retweets and 133 likes later, it is still proving popular and shows how great art can boost morale, even in digital form.

Jozef Sekalski Papers on a Table Dated 1963 © The Estate of the Artist

On the morning of 16 March 2020, as an increasing number of people began to work remotely, Jozef Sekalski’s Papers on a Table of 1963 seemed apt.

Could any of us match the cheerful mass of papers and ink bottle in this colour linocut at our kitchen table or bedroom desk?

Little did Sekalski know almost sixty years ago how his image would one day be interpreted.

Martin Creed Work No. 975 EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT 2008 © Martin Creed, All Rights Reserved. DACS, London 2018

Since I wrote this blog on Monday (16 March 2020), the effects of Coronavirus (COVID-19) have become evermore significant. Yesterday (17 March 2020) I gave what turned out to be the last lunchtime talk at the National Galleries of Scotland for the time being.

Shortly afterwards it was announced that the galleries, in tandem with many throughout the UK, were to close to the public from 5pm that afternoon. This morning (18 March 2020) I posted Martin Creed’s ‘Work no. 975 EVERYTHINGS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT’; it is installed in blue neon across the façade of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art One and has suddenly gained a new poignancy.

As the Coronavirus situation continues to unfold, the benefits of visual art become more and more apparent. Not only to address and help to accept current affairs, but to provide comfort and inspiration to all, whilst celebrating the nation’s collection of art. That it can be enjoyed at the click of a mouse or the swipe of a (carefully washed) finger, shows the value of art in digital form, as we reach out to our virtual visitors. Despite our real doors being closed, we hope you will join us in enjoying the nation’s collection of art in digital form.

In order to help protect the health of our staff and visitors during this difficult time, all of our Galleries closed until further notice from 5pm on 17 March 2020. This includes the Scottish National Gallery, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art 1 & 2. We appreciate your support during this time and hope to see you in the not too distant future. We will post any further updates on our social media channels and website.

By Alice Strang, Senior Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art, National Galleries of Scotland, 16 March 2020