Now that I've finally fully adjusted back to my quiet life in Ballyvaughan I want to share a bit about my experience in London. I spent two weeks with the Royal College of Art. The idea of the exchange was that a student from the RCA would come to the Burren College of Art and take my studio and my apartment for two weeks, while I used theirs in London. Due to extenuating circumstances, the student who I was supposed to do the exchange with was unable to make it to Ireland. This realization initially put me in an interesting position: where would I stay for the two weeks? Would I still go through with the exchange? Am I still allowed to go to London and spend time at the RCA if one of their students isn't taking my spot here?
Luckily, everything seemed to fall into place and I was on the plane to London with my suitcase full of sketchbooks and paint. I was not sure what to expect, but I was prepared to take in two weeks of city-living and excited for what lessons lay ahead of me.
Upon my arrival into London, I took the tube to Clapham South station and made the 15-minute walk to Jhonatan's apartment. Even though he wasn't able to make it to Ireland, he still graciously offered to share his space with me for the two weeks. Jhonatan is from Columbia and has the kindest, most generous heart of anyone I've ever met. When I got to his house, he helped me carry my suitcase up the stairs to his room and then we set out to get some additional sleeping supplies (pillows and blankets). Jhonatan shares a house with a group of people who he didn't know before moving in. Everyone has their own room and there are two shared bathrooms and a shared kitchen on the first floor. Jhonatan's room is just enough space for a twin bed and room for someone to sleep on the ground beside it. After pleading for him to let me sleep on the floor, Jhonatan insisted that his bed was mine for the two weeks. In his country, the guest never sleeps on the floor, so he didn't feel comfortable letting me give him his bed.
As a 23-year-old woman, sharing such an intimate space with a strange man should have felt pretty uncomfortable. But because Jhonatan is so good-natured, I immediately felt at home. On the first day of school, Jhonatan took the public transportation with me to make sure that I knew which buses to get on and off of. He then walked me around the studios, introducing me to all the other incredibly welcoming and equally talented painters. I spent the day settling in, made friends, and was filled with excitement for the life I was getting a glimpse of for the two-week period.
Each day was filled with gallery and museum visits, events put on by the RCA, insightful chats with the other students, interesting commutes through the city (by foot, bus, and tube), gallery openings, and quick breaks for food. Almost every morning I went out for a run before showering and saying goodbye to Jhonatan while he made breakfast and I walked to school. By the time I arrived, he was usually already in the studio. He cycles to and from campus, which makes his commute significantly shorter. Every night, Jhonatan and I spent time debriefing the day. Many times over Indian food at this really cheap and fabulous Indian restaurant across from Clapham South Station. We shared stories about our lives, our artistic influences, our backgrounds in the art world and our personal lives. We spoke in both English and Spanish--getting to practice my Spanish was just another added bonus of our relationship. Jhonatan quickly became a dear friend and I am selfishly glad that the exchange didn't work out for him yet.
In the two week period, I visited David Zwirner, Michael Werner, Victoria Miro, the Parisol Unit, Saatchi Gallery, the Whitechapel Gallery, the White Cube, the Menier Gallery, BEERS Gallery, NOW gallery, the Serpentine, the Serpentine Sackler, JGM Gallery, Frith Street Gallery, Spruth Magers, PACE, Skarstedt, and the TATE Modern--many of these art venues, I visited multiple times. Jhonatan took me to see an exhibit at the Royal Academy of Art: From Life. Though he'd already seen the exhibition, he went with me so that I could benefit from his free access as a Royal College of Art student--such a treat! On my own, I also perused the collections of the National Army Museum, the Victoria and Albert, the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood, the Wellcome Collection, and the Science Museum for their exhibit on India Illuminated. Obsessed with markets, I squeezed in time to sample and take in the lovely sights and scents of the Greenwich and Borough Markets. I met up with my friends from the states: Kendall Hanselman, Morgan Weller, and Jing Xu. Each day was packed from the moment I woke up around 6:30 or 7 AM until the moment my head hit the pillow at midnight or later in most cases.
Life in London is fast paced and time feels both fast and slow. It's easier to get a lot done in a day, but days feel continuous, unending, as one leads into another--like a loop on a conveyor belt.
In the speed of it all, I took some time out for mindfulness and meditation. One session was led by the Royal College of Art. Four other students showed up for the event, held in a small room and directed by a mindfulness and meditation expert who visits the college once a week to lead hour-long mindfulness sessions. One of my favorite experiences of the trip was a visit I took to NOW Gallery in Greenwich. The exhibition was Harmonics in Space, put on by the designer Fred Butler. Fred is a designer from London who has worked with Lady Gaga, Adidas, MAC, and several other prominent names and name brands. Her style is full of color and energy, emitting positivity full-force. Though she is not a painter, she concerns herself with color and its ability to change the way humans respond and interact with their environment. Butler is interested in aiding humanity in a return to a more peaceful and pleasant existence. According to NOW Gallery’s website, the installation’s ‘inclusiveness addresses Fred’s concern about the future of human nature becoming introverted, isolated and immobile’ (2018). The installation offers a space to reflect, meditate, and experience an environment filled with colors that mimic the entire spectrum produced by the sun.
Upon entering the gallery, I was offered a set of Beats headphones to hear a calming playlist specifically designed for the exhibition by NatureBoy. Paper and colored stickers were provided to create pieces of origami. The interactive nature of Butler’s exhibition allowed for an entirely immersive experience. It was a relaxing oasis from the bustle of London that existed just outside the glass of its gallery’s windows and doors. I felt intimately connected with the other viewers. Even though we were not directly interacting, the common exposure, observation, and awareness in the space generated a positive feeling and encounter between us. Sitting on the floor with shoes removed created a relaxing and home-like feel to the environment. Butler's work is effective because it promotes relaxation and removal from the pressures that come with city living.
Outside of Butler's exhibition, I was enthralled by the amount of incredible painting on display. The work of Jules de Balincourt and Eric Fischl most powerfully stood out to me, though there were many amazing exhibitions to brag about.
Being back in Ballyvaughan, I've reconnected with friends and spent time making preparations for the end of the semester. I am surprised by the sense of calm I felt in the return. London was like a dream, a quick blip of a life I could be living. In some ways, I feel like I could thrive in a city. I am also reminded why I chose to go to school in such a secluded and quiet area. When I left London, Jhonatan insisted that I keep the keys to his apartment and room. He said that anytime I want to come back for a visit, I have a place to stay. Thank you, Jhonatan and thank you, London for filling me with inspiration, good memories, and for giving me an experience I will always be grateful for.