How lockdown has led to the creation of brilliant art, from wry comedy to poignant poetry

Naomi Campbell, Noel Fielding and Jamie Demetriou are among those who’ve produced fantastic work during the pandemic. Adam White, Alexandra Pollard, Charlotte Cripps, Ellie Harrison, Jacob Stolworthy, Louis Chilton, Isobel Lewis and Roisin O'Connor pick their favourites

Sunday 24 May 2020 10:33 BST
Many musicians, poets, screenwriters, novelists and artists have been producing great work during the pandemic
Many musicians, poets, screenwriters, novelists and artists have been producing great work during the pandemic

Out of adversity can come great creativity. Frida Kahlo painted masterpieces while suffering from a broken heart. George Orwell wrote earth-shifting novels amid the despair of the Great Depression. Hollywood’s last golden age came against the backdrop of the Seventies oil crisis.

Now – as the world reels from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic – many musicians, poets, screenwriters, novelists and artists are creating wonderful work.

Whether they are pure escapism or sharp satire, a way of understanding the crisis or simply passing the hours, their creations have brought joy to many during lockdown.

From Jarvis Cocker’s Domestic Disco to Simon Armitage‘s latest poem, here are The Independent’s top picks…

Molly O’Cathain’s recreations of famous art

Costume and set designer Molly O’Cathain has been keeping herself occupied during lockdown by transforming her parents into famous artworks.

Theatres across the world are closed because of the crisis, so with a lot of time on her hands and access to her mother’s “excessive scarf collection”, O’Cathain has turned her attention to a new project: Parental Pandemic Portraits.

All of the photographs, which can be found on O’Cathain’s Instagram and Twitter pages, feature her mother Liz and father Brian gamely posing for spot-on reproductions of classic pictures, from Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss to a portrait of Salvador Dali and his wife, Gala.

The results range from funny to haunting to oddly uplifting.

Ellie Harrison

Jarvis Cocker’s Domestic Disco

For those distressed at being unable to go for a dance on Saturday nights, Jarvis Cocker has become the saviour of lockdown. One miserable night in early April was given a funky injection when the Pulp frontman popped up on Instagram Live with nothing but a record player and stereo system for a DJ set named “Domestic Disco”, which has become a weekly fixture for music lovers. What’s more, Cocker posts the curated playlist the following day so you can revisit the songs you enjoyed the most.

Jacob Stolworthy

Isolation Stories

Home truths: Sheridan Smith as Mel in ‘Isolation Stories’

Billed as the first drama made under lockdown, this four-part ITV series is a must-watch – if only to see how the cast and creators pull it off. It’s a wonderful concept: each story a moving, funny snapshot of life during the coronavirus crisis.

I love the bite-sized episodes of 15 minutes and the madness of the actors being directed via Zoom in their own homes. Sheridan Smith is mesmerising in the first story as pregnant Mel, who is facing the birth of her child alone. There’s wicked humour in episode two when a son tells his elderly father – who is suffering from Covid-19 – that the NHS clap is for him. The paranoia of a hypochondriac faced with a pandemic is explored in episode three and a mother gets to see her children through a window in the last instalment.

All in all, this drama from Bafta-winner Jeff Pope sums up these extraordinary times with immense beauty.

Charlotte Cripps

Naomi Campbell’s YouTube talk show

Fashion show: Anna Wintour chats to Naomi Campbell

No one has taken to quarantine quite as successfully as Naomi Campbell. After all, she was a walking surface cleanser even before we all became furious hand-washers this year, with her Dettol-sponsored pre-flight cleaning routine going viral in 2019.

It’s her YouTube talk show that has become a lockdown lifesaver, though. Shot in her New York apartment, Campbell looking immaculate at the centre of a living room plastered in vintage photographs of herself, the show serves as both aspirational and oddly ordinary.

Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, designer Marc Jacobs and Diddy have been among her guests, each beamed in via Zoom, and Campbell proves to be an insightful and gently probing interviewer. An edition with fellow supermodel Christy Turlington is the show at its best – intimate, funny and wonderfully nostalgic, the longtime friends recalling the time Kate Moss taught them how to be more grunge, and name-dropping the designers they adored and fashion writers they couldn’t stand.

Adam White

Stath Lets Flats: Lockdowned

“Delicious to see you my friend, like a long lost meal,” bellows Stath, as he reunites with his hapless colleague Al over Zoom. “Tasty to see you!” replies Al, having to repeat himself an excruciating four times because the audio is glitching. And with that opening exchange, Jamie Demetriou masterfully sums up the awkward – and often strangely moving – nature of our virtual lives with his unique brand of silly, heartfelt comedy.

The whole Michael & Eagle Lettings crew is back for the reunion – Stath is self-isolating in a toilet, Carol is more passive-aggressive and Apprentice candidate-esque than ever, Dean is depressed (“When I think about seeing you lot, it feels like I’ve been shot”), and Sophie insists on joining the call, despite being furloughed.

Like the series, this snippet is somehow both surreal and relatable, and serves as the perfect top-up for those mourning the end of the Channel 4 sitcom.

Ellie Harrison

Noel Fielding’s art club

Noel Fielding’s art has brought me a lot of joy during this lockdown period. While many fans know him for The Mighty Boosh, or perhaps more recently as a host on The Great British Bake Off, he’s also a talented artist. He trained at Croydon Art College and counts Jean-Michel Basquiat and his mentor, Dexter Dalwood, as influences; among his more famous fans are Ringo Star and Keith Tyson.

As art galleries and museums around the world began to shut during the pandemic, Fielding decided to launch his own art club (“kids especially welcome”). He also appeared on Grayson Perry’s Channel 4 show, also titled Art Club, in which he displayed a number of the pieces he’s been working on. My favourite is the art exhibit in his garden, complete with sculptures and paintings of famous guests, from Grace Jones to Andy Warhol.

Roisin O’Connor

Meggie Foster’s lip-syncing videos

British politicians have been mocked relentlessly for their response to the pandemic, from Boris Johnson’s confusing and contradictory lockdown rules to Priti Patel’s assertion that there have been “three hundred thousand and thirty four, nine hundred and seventy four thousand” coronavirus tests carried out in the UK. Wait, what?

Both of these moments have been recreated to uncanny effect in Meggie Foster’s Twitter lip-syncing videos, in which she depicts Johnson as reading a bedtime story to a sulky Theresa May, and Priti Patel as swigging on vodka and smoking a cigarette as she messes up her numbers.

Her videos are simple and perfect, and introduce a new comedy format that’s certainly having its moment.

Ellie Harrison

Randy Newman’s Stay Away

Outside of his acclaimed work in cinema, Randy Newman’s compositions generally fall into two categories: poignant ballads and wry comic songs. “Stay Away”, a track about social distancing, belongs mostly in the latter.

With a jaunty piano backing and glib, loaded lyrics, “Stay Away” uses the coronavirus distancing guidelines as the basis for a droll subversion of the usual holier-than-thou celeb ego stroke (see: Bono’s execrable coronavirus ballad).

“Venus in sweatpants, that’s who you are/ And when this mess is over, I’ll buy you a car,” he sings. “We’ll drive that car so fast and so far/ All your stupid friends will be left behind.”

Louis Chilton

Hope the Rainbow Fairy

Picture book ‘Hope the Rainbow Fairy’ is helping kids understand lockdown

It can be hard to explain to children (and, as it turns out, many adults) why they’re being cooped up at home, away from their friends, grandparents, cousins and the neighbour’s new puppy, during the coronavirus pandemic. This poignant picture book from children’s publisher Make Believe Ideas, all profits from which go to NHS Charities Together, offers comforting words to kids who might be confused, frustrated or scared.

Written by Rosie Greening and illustrated by Lara Ede, the book takes inspiration from the homemade rainbows that have been popping up in windows and doorways across the country. It tells the story of Hope, whose Fairyland home is struck by a “fairy flu” that forces everyone indoors. Still, she finds a novel new way of spreading colour – and hope – across the land.

“Hope was thrilled that Fairyland had more colour than ever,” goes the tale. “The fairies were connected, safe at home, but still together.”

Alexandra Pollard

Alistair Green’s one-man Twitter sketches

Armed with only an iPhone and some excellent wigs, comedian Alistair Green has made a name for himself as one of the funniest people on Twitter through his hilarious one-man sketches.

It was his Edinburgh Fringe sketches that first made me a fan of Green, who’s known for perfectly parodying the very worst in society, but the comedian’s coronavirus content has taken him to another level.

Since the lockdown began, Green has covered everything from 5G conspiracy theories to Olly Murs’s pringles can prank, the latter spawning the immortal line: “As far as I’m concerned, if you can’t trick a woman into touching your penis for a bit of a giggle, there’s something gone very, very wrong in this country.” Treat yourself to a scroll through his Twitter, I dare you.

Isobel Lewis

John Prine covers

Songwriter’s songwriter: John Prine died from coronavirus in April (Getty)

The death of singer-songwriter John Prine from coronavirus shook the music world in April. Some small comfort to those who loved Prine’s magnificent, soulful songwriting can be found in the abundance of tribute performances that have spread in the days and weeks since.

Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker, Norah Jones and Dave Matthews have all posted touching versions of some of Prine’s best-loved songs; perhaps the best of the bunch is Phoebe Bridgers’s sorrowful cover of Prine’s recent track “Summer’s End”, performed on Instagram Live.

As Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame, put it: “John’s mind was a treasure chest, open to us all. We mourn his passing, even as we hold the treasure.”

Louis Chilton

Simon Armitage’s Lockdown poem

Simon Armitage looks to history in his meditation on our moment of crisis (PA Archive)

The UK poet laureate wrote “Lockdown” to address the ongoing pandemic, as a means of showing how art can be a source of comfort and reassurance in times of crisis. It covers the outbreak of plague in the Derbyshire village of Eyam in the 1660s and also the epic poem “Meghaduta”, by Sanskrit poet Kalidasa.

Armitage hopes readers of the poem will take away a message about “taking things easy and being patient and trusting the Earth and maybe having to come through this slightly slower, and wiser, at the other end – given that one thing that’s accelerated the problem is our hectic lives and our proximities and the frantic ways we go about things”. I couldn’t agree more.

Roisin O’Connor​

Glass Animals’ Dreamland music video

Between drummer Joe Seaward fighting for his life after a horrific accident and the band’s comeback tour being cut short due to coronavirus, it’s not been an easy couple of years for Glass Animals. Out of these dark times comes “Dreamland”, the ethereal title track from the band’s upcoming third album that marks an excellent return to form for the four-piece.

Filmed in one take over Zoom from a set assembled in frontman Dave Bayley’s kitchen, the song’s accompanying video is a pink and blue-toned fantasy of shiny paper, cotton-wool clouds and old photos dangling from the ceiling. There’s something distinctly crafty about it all, and I love that it plays up to the homemade angle rather than attempting to cover it with swish effects, which complements the incredibly personal lyrics.

Isobel Lewis

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