A unique body of work created by renowned artist Professor Sue Williams during lockdown has been purchased by the National Library of Wales.
Cardiff-based Professor Williams, who is course manager in Fine Art: Studio Site & Context at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s (UWTSD) Swansea College of Art, spent the lockdown of 2020 at home alone and used the time to create artwork in three Chinese folding books which she had had specially made on a trip to China in 2017.
Faced with the loneliness of the lockdown, she used books to record a unique diary of the mental and emotional impact of that period. The resulting work, titled BARE RED BOOKS, forms a remarkable record of, and reflection upon, that extraordinary time.
“Finding myself alone at home in lockdown, I had to reach out for some sense of normality as going to my studio was not an option,” says Professor Williams. “Living in isolation I started to imagine the world was moving yet I had stood still and other than social media, virtual platforms with our wonderful students and my mobile (for which I was indeed grateful) the lack of ‘real life’ human contact in my home environment became an obsession so I found the books became my constant source of communication, my companions, a way of creating a two-way conversation.”
The books form a powerful and highly relatable record of an important period in history, and as such Cat Gardiner, owner of GalleryTEN in Cardiff, was pleased to exhibit them in her From the Studio Series exhibitions, which showcase work made during lockdown.
Recognising the significance of the work, she also got in touch with Morfydd Bevan, art curator at the National Library of Wales, to suggest they should be added to its collection.
“We started the Studio Series in April to share what our gallery artists have been doing over lockdown,” says Cat. “For some it’s been a really creative time and Sue hit the ground running. There’s a strong focus on communication in these books: communication online, the loss of face-to-face communication, and communication between the sexes – issues she has always addressed but which were amplified by lockdown.
“The books became her diary and they really have that feel. It’s a really interesting documentation of that period of time and I think when people look back at these in 10, 15 or 20 years, they will form an important historical accounting of the first lockdowns.
“I felt it was very important for them to be in a public collection and to form a part of cultural life in contemporary Wales. I commend the library for buying this work and I’m so pleased for Sue because she’s so brave in what she does and the work in these books is so accomplished and so characteristic of her work.”
Professor Williams already had work in other public collections, including the Welsh Government’s Pierhead Building in Cardiff and the National Museum of Wales, but this is the first time her work has been bought by the National Library of Wales.
“I am delighted to have my work in the National Library of Wales,” she says. “I consider it to be a great privilege to be part of Wales’ major art collections. Work in all three public collections present different periods of my creative journey from 2005 to the present day.”
Morfydd Bevan, art curator at the National Library of Wales, adds that she is delighted to add Sue’s lockdown books to its collection.
“These emotive, raw and challenging visual diaries by the respected artist Sue Williams are iconic additions to the National Library of Wales’ collections in Aberystwyth,” she says. “It is integral that the Library collects works which record people’s experiences during the pandemic. They reflect upon mental health, loneliness and the central importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. The Library is proud to house the works within its national art collection.”