Artist diary: The Madge Gill Co-Commission, part six

Julia Oak shares how she met her deadline only for the world to throw us the curve ball of covid restrictions and a closed gallery

I can’t believe its Friday already!

It took me a while to understand that events, either good or bad, do not happen in isolation.

This is a thought that surfaces in my mind quite frequently, long before 2020. The first time this really impacted on me was when I became ill, as a single parent I still had the responsibility of my family, my son needed to be fed and cared for whilst I was in hospital 60 miles away and that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Throughout my recovery I have learnt a lot about contingency plans to make sure something happens the way it should be. But sometimes, like my illness, the world throws us a curved ball, this is how a see the pandemic, a curved ball.

Before I applied for Madge Gill co-commission, I mulled things over for a long time, should I, or shouldn’t I? Once I got over that anxiety the next was, will I finish in time for the deadline? It was good that I had asked myself that question as it was one that I had to answer in my interview.

I was able to answer Yes, because I had broken my proposal into bite size pieces. I knew I could complete an A2 sheet in a day. In my mind I sectioned of the 10-meter roll of paper into A2 sections and knew that if I drew every day, I would finish 4 days before Christmas. So, it was achievable, I could do it. However, that meant drawing every day without a break.

The deadline date for all my work was 7th January 2021.

For the first 16 days I drew every day without a break. That was tough going, and I realised I needed a breather. So, I had a weekend of from the big drawing, sorted my daughter birthday present and continuing work in my sketchbooks.

3rd December- resumed work on my large drawing.

6th December- my dear friend died, I needed to draw even more, dedicating a section of the drawing to her.

‘Katharine’ by Julia Oak

I kept drawing.

9th December- a week early my grandson was born. From death to birth in three days was a rollercoaster of emotions and it took its toll, I stopped drawing for the day.

10th December- the clip below begins the dedication of my work to the new life of my grandson hundreds of miles away in Berlin.

I was very aware that this is an emotion Madge Gill never experienced because none of her children had children.

Kian by Julia Oak

12th– 13th December- finished making new-born baby clothes, wrapped presents and boxed everything up to post to Germany.

14th December- filming part of the drawing at Pallant House Gallery.

15th December- drawing resumes.

18th December- present wrapping, icing Christmas cakes, postage and a funeral.

Each time I had to stop. I would check how much of the drawing was left to do and make sure I could achieve the 7th January 2021 deadline

Family in quarantine, family in tier 4, family in Germany and Ireland.

25th December- drawing continues.

26th December- drawing continues, my home and Pallant House Gallery are now in tier 4.

27th December, midday- 10-meter drawing FINISHED.

A week later than my original estimate, but well in time for 7th January 2021 deadline.

I was elated and shed a tear.

Drawing continued in my sketchbooks.

On 31st December I received an email, part of it reads as follows-

As you know, the gallery is currently closed until further notice and, although agreed before Christmas, we will now not be able to arrange for you to come in on Monday 4th to finish filming your wonderful drawing.  Unfortunately, at this stage I am unable to confirm any new dates, but I will keep you up to date with any new information as and when I can.

I finished my fourth sketchbook.

1st January- New year, new sketchbook, drawing continues


4 Comments about this

  1. Melanie

    Oh Julia, what a rollercoaster! The drawing I’ve seen so far is beautiful, intricate, and despite all of your carefully explained timings – it feels timeless. May the curve ball thrown eventually straighten, the bouncing back and forth, become stillness. Then, fingers crossed, may we gather on zoom, with you in the gallery with your work, to celebrate your achievement as it ought to be celebrated 🌱🌻 I’d hope we might even all be in the gallery with you but I’m too impatient to want to wait that long!

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  2. Hannah Whitlock

    Julia, so moving to read this and see your dedication to Katherine in the work. I am really looking forward to seeing this in real life. Hopefully soon. Best wishes, Hannah

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