From left Mequitta Ahuja in her Baltimore studio © Mequitta Ahuja. British-based Russian artist Yelena Popova with her work, Untitled, in the background. © Yelena Popova

What are artists doing now?

As Christie’s fourth Handpicked  sale in collaboration with Saatchi moves fully online, we speak to a quartet of artists with works offered in the auction about how they’ve adapted to making art under lockdown

For the fourth time Christie’s is partnering with London’s Saatchi Gallery to present Handpicked — an auction of 100 works of art chosen from the gallery’s collection to represent its cultivation of young talent. With estimates in the sale ranging from £1,000 to £15,000, it’s a doorway to the market for young collectors, too.

This year, as the world adapts to life under lockdown, the auction will take place entirely on Christie’s website for the first time. To mark the occasion we asked four artists who each have works offered in Handpicked  how they have adapted their practices to lockdown, and what impact they think it is having on the art world.

Rafael Gómezbarros

The Colombian artist Rafael Gómezbarros (b. 1972) has become celebrated for filling galleries and public buildings with his giant ants. This work ‘is a nomad project which reconstructs memory processes. My intention is to address the plight of millions of displaced people who constitute the invisible but dominant mass of immigrants crossing the planet’, he says. ‘Casa Tomada represents the different social problems of each country where it has been shown.’

Rafael Gómezbarros (b. 1972), Casa Tomada (House Taken Over), 2013. Resin, fibreglass, screen cotton, wood, rope, Cerrejón, in five parts. Five units, each 32 x 28 x 6¾ in (81.3 x 71.1 x 17.1 cm) Overall dimensions variable. Estimate £8,000-12,000. Offered in HANDPICKED 100 Works Selected by the Saatchi Gallery on 12-28 May online

Rafael Gómezbarros (b. 1972), Casa Tomada (House Taken Over), 2013. Resin, fibreglass, screen cotton, wood, rope, Cerrejón, in five parts. Five units, each: 32 x 28 x 6¾ in (81.3 x 71.1 x 17.1 cm) Overall dimensions variable. Estimate: £8,000-12,000. Offered in HANDPICKED: 100 Works Selected by the Saatchi Gallery on 12-28 May online

Where are you spending lockdown?

Rafael Gómezbarros: ‘I live and work in Bogotá.’

Has the lockdown changed how you make art?

RG: ‘Because my projects are on a large scale, during this time I am working with the different audio, visual and technical media that technology offers.’

What are you currently working on?

RG: ‘Two works: Burtally Resilientes  and Smokescreen. Both works are created in the framework of the pandemic and are my reflections during this isolation. Both are already published on Instagram and are in development.’

What is currently inspiring you?

RG: ‘The tension between the individual and the social as we confront this pandemic.’

Do you think there will be a lasting impact on your industry?

RG: ‘No! Art evolves, it is demonstrated in history. I do believe that new dissemination and business platforms will be created.’

Yelena Popova

Born in Russia but now based in the UK, Yelena Popova (b. 1978) is a painter and video and installation artist whose work draws on Russian Minimalist and Constructivist aesthetics. ‘Untitled (Cool Flames) is painted on linen I acquired on a residency in China, or maybe on a trip to Estonia. I remember hunting for different types of linen, something outside of the UK’s art-shop range,’ she says.

Yelena Popova (b. 1978), Untitled (Cool Flames), 2011. Distemper on linen. 47¼ x 35⅜ in (120 x 90 cm). Estimate £2,000-3,000. Offered in HANDPICKED 100 Works Selected by the Saatchi Gallery on 12-28 May 2020 online

Yelena Popova (b. 1978), Untitled (Cool Flames), 2011. Distemper on linen. 47¼ x 35⅜ in (120 x 90 cm). Estimate: £2,000-3,000. Offered in HANDPICKED: 100 Works Selected by the Saatchi Gallery on 12-28 May 2020 online

Where are you spending lockdown?

Yelena Popova: ‘At home and in my studio. We live in Nottingham, in the centre. I do miss nature and the sea.’

Has the lockdown changed how you make art?

YP: ‘Things have slowed down a bit — I have less studio time and I spend more time parenting. I've also started to make more fun art with my 7-year-old: clay pots, masks and collages.’

What are you currently working on?

YP: ‘Last week I finalised the designs for two new tapestries, commissioned for the EUROfusion project. Now I am going through my paintings in the studio to make sure every mark “sings in tune” — so it is a studio sorting out, but also sprouting new ideas.’

What is currently inspiring you?

YP: ‘I run a #scholarswap on Instagram, and I swap small stones from my hand-picked collection (from my recent The Scholar Stones Project research) for books. Somehow it replaces social interaction: I get to know people through the books they give me and I get to spend time with them in my mind.’

What are you looking forward to doing after the lockdown?

YP: ‘I was thinking perhaps I should attend an auction sale? I've never been!’

Mequitta Ahuja

Mequitta Ahjua (b. 1976) is an American painter who was born in Michigan and now lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland. ‘In Autocartography [below],’ she says, ‘I reflect on several personal relocations, charting a process of individual and diasporic upheaval and resettlement.’

Mequitta Ahuja (b. 1976) Autocartography I, 2012. Acrylic, coloured pencil, oil and enamel on paper collage on vellum. 81⅞ x 93 in (208 x 236 cm). Estimate £12,000-18,000. Offered in HANDPICKED 100 Works Selected by the Saatchi Gallery on 12-28 May online

Mequitta Ahuja (b. 1976) Autocartography I, 2012. Acrylic, coloured pencil, oil and enamel on paper collage on vellum. 81⅞ x 93 in (208 x 236 cm). Estimate: £12,000-18,000. Offered in HANDPICKED: 100 Works Selected by the Saatchi Gallery on 12-28 May online

Where are you spending lockdown?

Mequitta Ahuja: ‘When the pandemic struck many people were already in the midst of personal emergencies due to illness. In our case, my mother’s cancer. I’m locked-down in Connecticut, where I spent my adolescence.’

Has the lockdown changed how you make art?

MA: ‘Working with time constraints (I'm a new mother) and in the midst of a process of grieving the loss of my own mother, it has forced me to work quickly and decisively, to approach figuration gesturally and to re-work my figure/ground relationship, replacing my additive process with erasure.’

What are you currently working on?

MA: ‘In 2019, after learning that my mother had terminal cancer, I replaced my own image in my work with depictions of my mother. Since November 2019, the source material for my current work is 30 photographs I took of myself and my mother when I was in graduate school, over 15 years ago.’

What is currently inspiring you?

MA: ‘The body made vulnerable by illness and ageing.’

Do you think there will be a lasting impact on your industry?

MA: ‘Yes. The trends of online sales and auctions, virtual exhibitions and remote learning, already growing due to the global nature of the art world, will increase and solidify.’

What are you looking forward to doing after the lockdown?

MA: ‘I eagerly await the reopening of the exhibition Riffs and Relations at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC.’

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Littlewhitehead

Littlewhitehead is the moniker of artists Craig Little (b. 1980) and Blake Whitehead (b. 1985). In 2012 the two graduates of Glasgow School of Art created The Overman, below, a middle-aged character with the torso of a child which satirises the idea of human perfection. 

Littlewhitehead (b. 1990 & 1985), The Overman, 2012. Mannequin head, polyutherane, towels, boxing glove, glue and child mannequin. 47¼ x 47¼ x 47¼ in (120 x 120 x 120 cm). Estimate £3,000-5,000. Offered in HANDPICKED 100 Works Selected by the Saatchi Gallery on 12-28 May 2020 online

Littlewhitehead (b. 1990 & 1985), The Overman, 2012. Mannequin head, polyutherane, towels, boxing glove, glue and child mannequin. 47¼ x 47¼ x 47¼ in (120 x 120 x 120 cm). Estimate: £3,000-5,000. Offered in HANDPICKED: 100 Works Selected by the Saatchi Gallery on 12-28 May 2020 online

Where are you spending lockdown?

Littlewhitehead: ‘We’re both at home with our families. Craig’s in Glasgow, Blake is southeast of the city in a town called Carluke.’

Has the lockdown changed how you make art?

L: ‘We can’t access our studio so, unusually for us, we’re working independently. But we’re managing to make things in garages and gardens, so we can’t complain.’

What are you currently working on?

L: ‘Right now we’re painting and making concrete breeze blocks, because that’s what suits our temporary workspaces.’

What is currently inspiring you?

L: ‘The lockdown hasn’t changed what we’re looking at, just given us more time to look. So right now Gillespie, Kidd & Coia, Carlo Scarpa, Kowloon Walled City and Gerhard Richter are important to our current work.’

Do you think there will be a lasting impact on your industry?

L: ‘Maybe. We’ve been making and using the lockdown as a distraction, taking it a day at a time rather than getting anxious about possible futures.’

What are you looking forward to doing after the lockdown?

L: ‘Getting back in the studio. Collaboration is key to our process, so although we can make things separately, these things don’t fully develop until we are together.’