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New documentary explores painting through the pandemic

Mark & Colour, a new documentary by Will Hazell released on 9 February, features three RCA MA Painting alumnae. The vivid, evocative short film demonstrates the creativity and resilience of these Painting graduates as they negotiated finishing their studies at the RCA and continuing their practices in a post-pandemic world.

Francesca Mollett spends the early morning painting in her garden, collaboration helps Ellie Dragone navigate out of a creative rut, XU Yang finds an inventive and unconventional way of displaying her paintings in public, and BlkBrd Creative respond to the pandemic with bold portraits of key workers on boarded up pubs and shut down venues.

a hand draws in charcoal on a yellow canvas
Still from Mark & Colour, a documentary by Will Hazell
Like many creatives, Hazell responded to the March 2020 lockdown by focusing on documenting the transformative times he was living through. The initial result was Life in Lockdown, a short documentary filmed completely from inside his car. Wanting to continue recording the impacts of Covid-19 he turned his camera closer to home.  

‘Like the rest of the country I was confined to my home, in my case a six-bedroom shared house in South London’ Hazell explained. ‘My flatmate Fran could no longer access her painting studio at the RCA, where she was studying MA Painting, so she turned our garden into her studio.’

woman kneels to paint on a canvas
Still from Mark & Colour, a documentary by Will Hazell
Mollet took to early morning painting in order to find the focus she needed. This posed a challenge for Hazell, who didn’t want to disrupt this concentrated solitude. Instead he set up his camera and left it to roll, collecting hours of footage of her paintings taking shape.

‘It was fascinating to see Fran's large, visceral paintings come to life’ Hazell commented. ‘They were so vibrant and created a special energy in the garden. In a time where we had no visual stimuli they gave us something to look at and talk about.’ In the film, Mollet observes, ‘I wouldn’t have made these paintings if I was in my studio’, reflecting on how the changing qualities of light in particular impacted on her abstract works.  

Large abstract painting in a domestic interior
Still from Mark & Colour, a documentary by Will Hazell
The garden also became a site of collaboration for Mollet and Dragone, who created a large fabric banner to display from the front of their house. Discussing the collaboration in the film Dragone comments, that ‘it actually just feels like a lot more fun, and there wasn’t as much pressure to make this final product.’

the backs of two women seen through metal railings
Still from Mark & Colour, a documentary by Will Hazell
Hazell discovered other painters through Instagram to include in the film. One of those was RCA graduate XU Yang, who creates paintings based on her childhood perceptions of the ‘exotic', which Hazell sums up as ‘luxurious depictions of French Rococo.’

woman in pink wig carries a painting through a park
Still from Mark & Colour, a documentary by Will Hazell
In response to the closure of galleries and her studio, Yang publicly displayed her work by walking around a local park carrying her paintings while dressed in costumes that further explored her childhood fantasies. Explaining this expanded approach to painting, Yang comments in the film: ‘The only one thing you have that is unique is yourself. So you have to use yourself as the material.’

woman in a pink wig and fairytale corset dress
Still from Mark & Colour, a documentary by Will Hazell
Overall, the film is a testament to the importance of the creative industries in times of adversity and challenge, as Hazell states, ‘creativity is such a beautiful and unifying force and this has really become clear during the pandemic.’

Interested in exploring art as a powerful, restorative force, and a catalyst for seeing things anew? Find out more about the School of Arts & Humanities.

Full details of Mark & Colour can be found on Hazell’s website

Alongside the RCA Painting alumnae, the other artists featured in the film are BlkBrd Creative, made up of Deanio X, Tasnim Mahdy, Seen K26 and more. Find out more about their work here.