Riot in the Meadow
9 Mar 2022
Vicky Hawkins, Roberta Taylor
“I wanted to make beautiful things”
Creating art is a transformative process, not just in the physical sense where a blank canvas can become a tableau of wonder but also a transformation of the self. As the subject of the film artist Vicky Hawkins states “I wanted to turn my grief into joy” but Riot in the Meadow, named after Hawkins’ 2017 showcase of a hundred collages only offers brief glimpses into the life and process of the artist. Director Thomas Harman puts forth a fine example of a short portrait documentary with some insights into Hawkins’ life, inspirations and techniques with interviews from herself, friends and fellow artists. Even though the honesty and sincerity of the film allow for an enjoyable watch, the surface level presentation leaves the audience wanting.
Harman’s direction follows conventional documentary techniques of talking-head interviews edited alongside b-roll footage of the subject. The film’s opening narration as read by actress Roberta Taylor finishes with the line “this was the beginning of my lifelong interest with colour”, a sentiment not expressed by the filmmaking of Riot in the Meadow. From what the audience can see and is told of Hawkins’ art, it is all about colours and patterns, vibrant and subtle alike and crafted through different mediums and techniques. Not just paint and canvas but through fabrics as well, the examples from the Riot in the Meadow showcase display eye-catching compositions of colours and shapes. Whereas Riot in the Meadow the film has the audience in drab grey studios, seeing very little of the creative process.
Perhaps an intentional decision on Harman’s part, creating a visual juxtaposition between Hawkins’ reality and Hawkins’ artistry. Though it is frustrating that the film only offers a brief impression of Hawkins’ creative process, with a hundred pieces on display at the end of the film, Harman only shows them being packed away. The interviews Harman gets from Hawkins, Taylor, and others are insightful and do allow a “portrait” to be crafted within the film but for a film about a colourful creative artist, the film lacks the visuals to enforce that image.
Riot in the Meadow allows an audience member like myself who knew nothing about Vicky Hawkins to leave the film feeling a connection to her. Either through specific commonalities, or that universal desire to overcome grief, Hawkins’ outlook as an artist is an inspiring one. A deeper look into how she created her art would have been welcome but Harman and Hawkins’ do make the film accessible enough with the time they have.