Our Artist of the Month Erika Flowers has been documenting the current Lockdown situation with a series of daily ‘Covid-19 Postcards’, responding to daily news bulletins and reactions and exploring both the darker and lighter sides of the pandemic and human nature. For Erika, this is not her first experience of lockdown however, as she has previously served 3 years in custody, which she documented with an epic project, ‘Postcards from Prison’, a visual diary consisting of around 1400 drawings giving a unique insight into the emotional and physical aspects of her journey, from being on bail to her time in HMP Holloway and HMP Send. Recorded in Art by Erika is an ongoing project looking at the world around us and recording aspects of news and society in art. We meet the artist to find out more about her unique projects.
When did you first start drawing or creating work?
I have always drawn and studied Art at college. I have worked in many different media and was concerned that I would not be able to be creative in prison
Did you produce a visual diary prior to Postcards from Prison and what did you document if so?
I had never done such a project or kept a diary before, however I had illustrated world events on occasion. Whilst on bail I realised that a postcard diary would be the perfect way to document my journey and to keep drawing in some small way. It was also a very cathartic thing to do as it enabled me to be reflective and occasionally see some humour in events.
When did you decide to embark on Postcards from Prison and why?
I wanted to document my experience!
The idea evolved once I had started.
A prison is a place which most people never see. Anyone may find themselves in such a difficult situation. I had an opportunity to reveal this closed world and hopefully raise some awareness of some issues and it would be great to change stereotypical views of our penal system and have an open debate about whether incarceration vs the subsequent break up of families, better more community-based sentences and less draconian drastic solutions can be found than taking someone’s liberty, especially for women who are generally the main care-givers in a family and may be sentenced for non-violent offences.
Do you have a favourite amongst the many postcards?
I definitely have some that are more poignant than others. I made a 10 min slide show of about 170 images and it was really hard to edit them into a chronological story that took you through the sentence. I selected 12 to do limited edition prints of, available on my site. This was even harder!!
Did you exhibit or make the project public once completed?
I have exhibited a collection of the, not the whole lot. In the Koestler 2017 Southbank show they were displayed as a 2ft high pile! I still publish them daily on Instagram . I also show the film at conferences occasionally
What sort of reaction have you received?
I think people like them! They are probably overwhelming to follow, but the fact that people are still interested in them is really encouraging. They are also really useful to illustrate such things as education and have been used in a number of publications
I would love to put them into a book, but that would require funding as I cannot afford to take the time out of paid work to do it.
Tell us about the Covid-19 Postcards.
I stopped doing the Postcards from Prison a year after my release, I needed a break after 4.5 years of doing them every day! Then Coronavirus happened! I realised that the postcards would be a great way of recording this historic event. They have upgraded to being done in pen as it is easier to scan and boost the colour in photoshop. Then I got some new pens and they got more colourful.
I really wanted to look at how the Lockdown was affecting people as well as documenting the key events
How is your own experience of lockdown?
Lockdown is great in so many ways, obviously not others. I try and go for a daily bike ride over the hills of North London, I only stop at shops with no queue so have discovered loads of local shops I never knew about. I work from home anyway, so cycling to meetings has been replaced by zoom meetings, which I have just discovered I can be a part of and paint at the same time!! I have also tried to turn my garden into a ‘Pot-allotment’ in an effort to grow veg for later in the year. I cycle to my parents to deliver care packages every few weeks, all at a good social distance and all items put through quarantine. Peeing in a bucket as I can’t go into the house is only a minor inconvenience!
What advice would you give to others at this time?
Do your daily exercise – this should be mandatory in the future!!
Be creative and get lost in a project
What are your plans and hopes for the future?
I would love for my artwork be used for raising awareness of a variety of issues and ultimately I would love to have a studio space again – my workspace is small!!
I would like to raise awareness of many things, however ‘Postcards from Prison’ is an ideal vehicle to voice the need for quality arts in the Criminal Justice system and how the arts also help people in the community. I wonder if Lockdown will give the public a brief glimpse into the consequences of incarceration and some creative solutions can be applied to the criminal justice system.
Love Erika’s Covid 19 postcards she is a brilliant artist with a brilliant mind!
What wonderful artwork and wry humour. Erika’s postcards are a lockdown tonic.
I love reading postcards from prison and have only just found this! The artwork is wonderful and so meaningful.
I am amazed your ‘Postcards from Prison’ have not been picked up and produced as a graphic novel.