Keep On Keeping On

What do you do as a group of artists when your plans for an exhibition are disrupted by a global pandemic? You adapt – your work, your practice, and your exhibition plans. You keep on keeping on.

Barrie West of The Sunderland Indie offers us an insight into the ways in which local artists have adapted their practice during 2020. He also gives us a peek behind the scenes of The Next Step, an exhibition at Arts Centre Washington of new contemporary art works which form an artistic response to the Coronavirus pandemic and Lockdown.


You see, it was already planned for sometime in the Autumn of 2020, probably October, because that is what The Sunderland Indie does, plan ahead. We were moving nicely towards the close of 2019 working on a few different themes, when we smacked straight into the worse year of our lives.

Arts Centre, Washington was going to be our venue and everything was going to plan, and then Covid 19 hit and life was turned upside down.

Seven artists, each one working towards a personal goal had been stopped in their tracks; we had to survive a pandemic, and then we had to survive the remedy to the pandemic, the lock-down.

My practice was based on “routine”. I had to make art, it was a compulsion, and it is probably the same for many artists, they have to make art, it’s a habit, a drug, as necessary to us as oxygen. I keep office hours at my studio, others cope in their own way, but routine is necessary for the times when the process dries up and we rely on turning up and slogging our way through another creative block.

Because travel was a problem during lock-down, I found it necessary to move my ‘studio’ to our dining table which meant working small, to build art from small units to assemble later. Hence the creation of The Langdale Wall which was big enough to keep my mind occupied, and portable to be able to clear from the table if necessary.

Photograph showing a painting of a landscape on a white gallery wall in the background, with a man wearing a cap, the artist, standing in the right foreground
Barrie West and The Langdale Wall


Denise Dowdeswell had to clear her studio at the Frederick Street Gallery and turned her whole flat into a studio; living and painting in the same space, a seamless transition from bed sheets to painted canvas, from cooking up a meal to cooking up a storm.

Photograph of large, colourful paintings propped up against the wall of a gallery

James Wilkinson was isolated from being able to analyse and respond to the world around him and became more retrospective and introspective. He drew from a wealth of past interactions and it showed in his development.

Photograph of artist sitting crosslegged on the floor of a gallery, surrounded by pieces of his art propped againt the wall.

And Dean Turnbull had the pressures of the day job momentarily lifted and submerged himself in research and analysis, or as he expressed it, “Now I was able to take my time”.

So, hello, we are The Sunderland Indie and all seven of us are exhibiting at Arts Centre, Washington. The exhibition, The Next Step, tells the story of how we coped with 2020; how we kept our sanity and kept on keeping on.


You can find out more about the work of The Sunderland Indie over on Facebook as well as a supporters page, Friends of the Sunderland Indie.

While it isn’t possible for us to welcome you to Arts Centre Washington to see The Next Step exhibition in person at the moment, do take a look at the exhibition webpage with artists’ profiles and a selection of their work.

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