For our final #spacebetweenus, we have been speaking over the phone to artist Leon B about his experiences of lockdown, about COVID-19 interrupting important life events and the importance of routines.
Leon B works with found objects, paint and drawing to make works and strategies that respond to his immediate context. By repurposing objects often used in his daily routines and making new meanings, his works become part and parcel of his personal drive to better life.
You went through a big life change just as lockdown came into force, what happened?
Things became real when I was getting discharged, I put into protocol preparations for being back in the community, such as well needed dry goods, I chose to take it slow then suddenly the whole COVID-19 came about. All my regular schedule was put to shambles; things like gym, sauna, supermarket shop, social commitments and a regular 3-4 mile walk that I take every week which probably was the only thing I could keep in place. The whole experience was a real eye opener, I dealt with it myself, I had to improvise most of the time.
The gym and sauna are really important routines for you, that must have been hard?
Routines are a productive part of life, if you have issues, you can weaken them with routines, they help to keep you well. It was a coincidence that just before lockdown I suffered an injury which meant I wasn’t able to go to the gym anyhow, so to keep going for me it was about trying to eat healthily and keeping walking.
Every day of the lockdown I spent time outside. The scenery was different, a lot less people around, they were scared. Shops had to shut, this for me at the time was scary as I knew I would never give in on my principle of being out every day.
Can you tell us more about being out every day and how you survived during lockdown?
When cooped up inside, it can affect our mental wellbeing, so walking to take in the scenery has massive therapeutic benefits. For me, staying in can get boring and bland, sitting around watching TV, I’m just climbing the walls. I had to get out as much as possible, carry on with my routine, whilst keeping safe. I occupied my time with bus journeys and sometimes trains. I travelled to places like Mitcham, Sutton, Wimbledon, Farringdon, and the City to do some walking and then walk back. I found loopholes and leeways and I survived.
This whole experience has been a big eye opener, I have more confidence now. I know about what to do in this situation, how to stay enthused and entertained. I did this alone, without the help of my friends. Rather than put a burden on others, I know I can do it. There is definitely a connection between this experience of lockdown in the community and my experience on the ward at Bethlem. There is a level of restraint at Bethlem which means there is more freedom during lockdown, for me it has been a space for productiveness. You learn to appreciate it, the regime is not there anymore, you’re in the community. I can freely walk to the park or down the street.
The image above comes from a series of work the artist was commissioned to make for the exhibition Art & Value in 2019. Artwork: Leon B, photography: Ben McDade.
Leon B, as other artists living and working onsite, has his own ways of maintaining quality of life, which for him is about having autonomy and (self)-control. When he paces the lino floors of the ward, he is able to imagine himself elsewhere and also keeps his fitness levels up. The works made for the exhibition are made from the pieces of lino cut out from the ward corridors when they become worn; by painting and re-positioning them as art, he makes a statement about how he manages to survive (and even thrive) in his day-to-day routine. – Michaela Ross