January 2021


‘Covid Glam’, Mediterranean beach, Spain, July 2020

The sign gives advice for a COVID-safe stay on the beach but we’re lucky here as this part of the beach has pebbles along the shoreline and few people come down from the crowded sandy beaches further north. After weeks of lockdown in Madrid in our stifling attic flat it was a great relief to get away for some sea air.

‘Covid Glam’, my photograph of Colombian friends Lilián Pallares and Karina Cantillo from the series Sea Air, has fun with this strange moment in our lives where the mask is compulsory in Spain. You even have to wear one in the street unless you are doing sports like jogging or cycling. On the beach we could remove the mask while maintaining social distance but right here on the walkway you could potentially be fined for not wearing a mask.

Although not so comfortable in the summer heat they sometimes have their benefits. I’ve got used to running in the mask and in the spring this helps avoid pollen allergies and also protects you from the icy air in winter. Although medical masks are ubiquitous many people have sewn their own masks, adding decorative details and turning the mask into a fashion accessory. Some politicians have sparked Twitter debates by wearing – or not wearing – masks with the Spanish flag on them. Lilian is wearing one of the masks I sewed for us from a colourful African fabric at the beginning of the pandemic.

As we enter 2021 still wearing face coverings, I’m reminded of a dream I had a couple of months ago. I put my mask on and went downstairs and out into the street. No one I passed in the street was wearing a mask. It was a very strange sensation.


Artist and poet Charles Olsen (b. Nelson, Aotearoa New Zealand, 1969) moved to Spain drawn by Velázquez and flamenco guitar. His paintings have been shown in Madrid, Barcelona, Oporto, Paris, Wellington and the Saatchi Gallery, London. In 2018 he was awarded the III Antonio Machado Poetry Residency in Segovia and Soria. His latest collection of poetry is Antípodas (2016). His poetry films have been shown at international festivals and featured online in Moving Poems, Poetry Film Live and Atticus Review. His collaborative film Noho Mai was awarded Best Poetry Film in Ó Bhéal’s 8th Poetry-Film Competition. In 2020 he received a Visual Arts residency jointly with Lilián Pallares at Matadero Madrid.