Like many others, I was stunned by the news that Russia were invading Ukraine, and my heart went out to all the people displaced from their homes, losing everything and unsure of what the future might hold. I felt compelled to do something to help, and art is what I’m good at. Sunflowers are the national flower of Ukraine – in fact, Ukraine is the world’s largest producer of sunflower oil. So as a symbol, it felt right.
I pretty much exclusively paint birds, so flowers were a new challenge. I felt nervous being pushed out of my comfort zone, and that felt right – standing in solidarity with those in pain is about understanding what it means to suffer. I’m in no way comparing my experience to that of Ukrainians, but that constant sense of discomfort kept me grounded to the reason why I wanted to paint the piece.
The background is a collage of wrapping papers from Who Gives a Crap toilet rolls – this is a toilet roll subscription service here in the UK, and the wrappers are lovely – they’ve been donated to me by several people from my village, to whom I am very grateful! I like the subtle nod to the brand – Who Gives a Crap about Ukraine? We do!
The inclusion of Vincent the dunnock was a nod to my own style, but he’s more than that. We have dunnock in our garden – they’re very similar to sparrows in size and shape, but they’re a lot more brown. When they’re hopping about in the undergrowth, you sometimes don’t even see them until they move, because they’re small and they blend in. In my painting, he’s dwarfed by the size of the vase and the flowers. He looks small and lost in an environment that is so much bigger than he is and so different to my garden. This can be interpreted multiple ways, but here are the two that struck me. First is the idea that we as individuals are so small compared to the world around us – it can be so easy to feel overwhelmed by things that are happening that seem to be totally out of our control. Second is the thought that many people in Ukraine are right now feeling lost – they are having to build new lives in places which are unfamiliar, with no idea when they’ll be able to go home.
I intend to sell this image on open edition prints and fairly soon greetings cards too, with 50% of profits from all sales going to the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal. Donations to this appeal are matched by the UK government. Donations will continue to be made to the fund until it isn’t needed any more – that could be years away. Hopefully, though together our contribution is small, we can make a difference to people in need.
Here are some images of the work in progress.