Interview with a Vaulter - Jonathan Brennan

Still from 'Mamalujo' © Jonathan Brennan

How’s it going Jonathan?

It’s going fine. I can’t complain: I have a garden and I have access to other humans. I know many people who don’t have these simple things, so I feel very lucky, and every time I’m about to complain, I remember what I have and I shut my mouth! It’s not a bad habit to have developed under lockdown.

What is your living situation? Do you have outside space or are you living in an underground bunker?

I live with my wife and three children in our house – so, again, I’m very lucky. We inherited the type of garden estate agents (remember those?) call ‘mature’ – with a greenhouse and decking and plants and a pond and for a while after we moved in, I tried to keep it the way I found it, but it got ahead of me and a lot of it is now a 12 foot trampoline; however, now I’m finding the time to rehabilitate it and that is very satisfying. I don’t have an underground bunker, maybe if lockdown continues I’ll dig one, like David Essex in the War of the Worlds.

How has the pandemic affected your arts practice?

Well, both of my studios have closed, so I don’t have any dedicated space to make work. Also, home-schooling three primary-school children, and keeping them from climbing on my wife, who is working full-time from home, takes up most of my time. Technically, I have materials to create, however, mentally, spiritually, however you want to put it, I can’t face it at the moment. I was about to embark on a key phase of a project to do with urban rivers, but it involved going out for ‘non-essential reasons’, as they are now termed, and meeting and interviewing strangers face to face. The pandemic has entirely ruled that out, and Zoom doesn’t quite cut it. But as things go on, I realise I’m going to have to find ways to adapt. Otherwise, I’m drawing a bit, learning Procreate, dabbling with watercolours and portraiture, and trying to keep a sketchbook some days – it’s all very bitty and piecemeal though. I was invited by the NI Mental Health Arts Festival to make a piece so I’m working on that too and looking forward to premiering it – it’s a 10 min short film called ‘Mamalujo’ to do with living as a family during lockdown – to be screened online at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday 21st May. Normally, I would be teaching linocut at the Belfast Print Workshop or out working with community groups, but all that work is gone and I really miss it. I realise now how much that drives me and feeds back into my own practice. Someone said to me recently – you’re very driven by deadlines aren’t you? I thought everyone was. Now I have no deadlines, maybe that’s the problem… but I know I’ll come out of it again.

How are you coping with the temporary closure of the Vault?

In the very beginning, I held on to the hope that somehow we’d stay open for a bit! It took a while to dawn on me that our studio would be no different than all the other places of work that have had to close. I very much miss my space there, and the community feeling, and those chance encounters in corridors with other members which have led to collaborations and work in the past or simply to have opportunities to sound out ideas. Things were a bit unanchored at the start – the days blended into each other and I was reading too much news which wasn’t helping in any way. I had to find a way to snap out of it and put some structure in place, a timetable of sorts.

What do you appreciate during lockdown?

There’s a unique consolation, which I haven’t experienced in such a way before, in knowing we’re all in this together. I’m not saying that the pandemic is some kind of ‘leveller’, because certain groups are suffering disproportionately, and in different ways, but there’s a small solace in knowing you’re not alone. And there’s a strange synchronicity in how a lot of us are behaving – I’ve gone mad making sourdough bread and gardening, and a lot of my peers have too. At the moment, my son is obsessed with quantum physics, and there was a Blindboy podcast about the topic recently, and I’m watching Devs (as recommended by my Vault colleagues) which is all about quantum computing and time, and at the same moment, time seems to be bending – I can’t quite believe we’re nearing six weeks of lockdown. What was the question? Oh yeah: I’m appreciating living local, shopping local, cooking, being on a WhatsApp group with my neighbours who I hardly knew till now, etc. And I appreciate my health, and the extra time I’m having with my family, and not driving.

How do you imagine the future after lockdown? For yourself and the wider art world in general.

I hope that the arts will be more valued. I’m hearing so many stories about people catching up on reading, taking up new hobbies, crafting… I’m not sure if one necessarily leads to the other, but I’m hoping that this increased appreciation and recognition will somehow have a societal impact and get through to decision makers looking at the redevelopment of our city e.g. the Cathedral Quarter. In terms of the wider art world, I’m not sure, but I think the impact will be felt for some time to come. It’s not apparent right now how that might look, but I believe it’s something which has had such a profound impact on all of us – even to the level of how we interact with our loved ones and friends, to whether we touch our own faces, etc. that we’re bound to see it and feel it in new work, or at least place that work in the context of the pandemic. In terms of the future, it’s exciting to think that a great wave of change for the better might be coming, but if history is anything to go by, people have short memories, we don’t seem to learn. However, despite that, I’m optimistic – there’s no choice! And maybe, when the time is right, I’ll take out my Christmas present from my wife and give it a go. It’s a board game. It’s called ‘Pandemic’.

Where can people find you online?

 usually hang out at and my website is