A look at #Corona Chronicles - Portsmouth artist Kevin Dean's record of 'quite a crazy year'

Back in January artist Kevin Dean embarked on a project which he intended would tell a year in the life of his home city, Portsmouth.
The Queens Hotel, Southsea, lit up for VE Day, painted by Kevin DeanThe Queens Hotel, Southsea, lit up for VE Day, painted by Kevin Dean
The Queens Hotel, Southsea, lit up for VE Day, painted by Kevin Dean

As he sat in a box at The Kings Theatre, Southsea, for our own celebration of the arts and culture, The Guide Awards, drawing his fellow nominees and taking in the atmosphere, he had no idea the project would soon take an unexpected turn.

He had planned to attend and document events like the local elections, Victorious Festival, Remembrance, and many more throughout 2020.

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But as the pandemic began to bite, his commissioned work dried up. And so the 61-year-old artist started regularly posting his drawings and paintings documenting the developing crisis, along with his written thoughts, on Facebook and Instagram.

Self-portrait by artist Kevin Dean, on January 1, 2020Self-portrait by artist Kevin Dean, on January 1, 2020
Self-portrait by artist Kevin Dean, on January 1, 2020

It has become a chronicle of this most unusual of years.

Now Kevin is about to release a 120-page book, #Corona Chronicles, compiling his artwork and writing from 2020.

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‘In a way the project has become more important,’ he says. ‘Now it's a poignant reminder of what has become quite a crazy year – even though this is probably going to continue on into next year.

Head hairdressers in Albert Road, Southsea, summer 2020, by Kevin DeanHead hairdressers in Albert Road, Southsea, summer 2020, by Kevin Dean
Head hairdressers in Albert Road, Southsea, summer 2020, by Kevin Dean

‘I started putting the drawings up on Instagram and Facebook and was quite enjoying the process, and I also started writing more as well, which I'd not done to any great degree before. I started enjoying the writing as much as making the pictures.’

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A graduate of The Royal College of Art, Kevin is a full-time artist – an illustrator, designer and teacher. In 2001, he designed most of the marble decoration at The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, one of the largest mosques in the world. He also started The Omega Art School with fellow Portsmouth-based artists Sadie Tierney, Chris Wood and Jacqui Mair in January.

‘This sort of reportage drawing, I'd not done it for a while. I used to do them when I was a freelancer in London, but a lot of my work over the past few years has come from my work in the Middle East.’

In August one of Kevin’s friends, who’d seen the social media posts, invited the artist up to Stoke-on-Trent to see how the pandemic had affected things there.

The Guide Awards at The Kings Theatre, Southsea, in January 2020, by Best Artist nominee Kevin DeanThe Guide Awards at The Kings Theatre, Southsea, in January 2020, by Best Artist nominee Kevin Dean
The Guide Awards at The Kings Theatre, Southsea, in January 2020, by Best Artist nominee Kevin Dean

‘I went up there for a few days and while I was there, he said: these posts are really fun and informative, why don't you get them published?

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‘I said lots of people have said that, but it's quite difficult to get a book published, and I don't really want to go down the vanity publishing route where I end up spending thousands on something which might not sell.’

His friend showed him Kickstarter, an online crowdfunding platform.

‘My friend kept nagging me to do it, so a few weeks ago I started putting it all together and now it's all out there.’

Kevin Dean painting at the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protest in London, summer 2020.Kevin Dean painting at the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protest in London, summer 2020.
Kevin Dean painting at the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protest in London, summer 2020.

Kevin set a target of £5,700 to cover the costs of publishing the chronicles – he will only start making money on the project if it raises more than that.

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‘It's a bit stressful actually because you put yourself in this position where you're asking people to put money towards a project which is quite personal – you've got skin in the game, suddenly, whereas before it was just an enjoyable thing putting posts online.’

The Kickstarter needed to hit its goal by November 29 for Kevin to get the money, and it passed its goal on Thursday evening, but there is still time to buy.

When it’s done – Kevin is continuing to add to the project right up to the deadline – the finished product will blend the personal with his take on wider events.

As such his family, with wife Zirrinia and their sons Mataio, Kai and Andre feature, as do portrayals of the Black Lives Matter protest in Guildhall Square, the weekly clap for carers, and an Extinction Rebellion march in London, among others.

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The nature of the project sees Kevin ready to draw whenever something piques his interest.

Queuing at B&Q in Fratton, painted by Kevin Dean for his #Corona Chronicles projectQueuing at B&Q in Fratton, painted by Kevin Dean for his #Corona Chronicles project
Queuing at B&Q in Fratton, painted by Kevin Dean for his #Corona Chronicles project

‘If I can I'll take my bag out with me – I have a waterproof bag to keep my paper and paints in, and a little stool. If it's not convenient or I don't want to be seen to be in the way, then I might draw in my sketchbook.

‘Then on other occasions, it's impossible to draw quick enough, like with the clapping pictures I had to take pictures of individuals and then did a drawing of the street itself and slotted them in later.’

And he reveals not all of his subjects were willing.

‘My boys aren't that keen on being included,’ says Kevin with a laugh, ‘but they're in there too, and my wife.

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‘And when we went to see my dad in Dorset after lockdown – we'd not seen him since February – so I drew that occasion.

‘Some of it's fun, like having my hair cut by my 16-year-old son with a pair of blunt clippers, and then you've got this very poignant visit to my dad, which was quite emotional because we then had to leave him again and he lives on his own.

‘And then I have gone a little bit into the politics as well – I couldn't resist doing a post about the Dominic Cummings debacle. But I don't want to rant about things, so it's all done with humour and trying not to be all party political about it.

‘I think we need to learn from this pandemic and come out a better world.’

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A keen environmentalist as well, Kevin hopes we’ll all learn something from this year.

‘Because we abuse animals and we've gone so far into wilderness areas that has in fact caused, I think, this pandemic in the first place.

‘There's more problems with viral infections going to come our way unless we start doing things differently.’

HOW TO GET YOUR HANDS ON A COPY

The #Corona Chronicles book is available to pre-order online now.

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Packages start at £20 for the book alone, through others including being signed by the artist, with prints and postcards, to £350 with original artwork.

Kevin says: ‘I think it's going to be quite an emotional occasion when I see the finished book.

‘It encapsulates so much of how I feel about the whole situation and for lots of other people as well.

‘And of course, a lot of it is about the city.

‘Although I wasn't born here, I've lived here for over 20 years and it's become my home and I know so many people here – it's a place that’s become very important to me.’