This is the 171st installment of a series in which artists send in a photo and a description of their workspace. In light of COVID-19, we’ve asked participants to reflect on how the pandemic has changed their studio space and/or if they are focusing on particular projects while quarantining. Want to take part? Submit your studio — just check out the submission guidelines.
Lucy Rovetto, Jersey City, New Jersey
Exactly one year ago, I moved from a 500- to a 1,500-square-foot studio space. On March 16, I was released from my bartending job and told to go quarantine. I chose to leave my studio space to be with my sister in our two-bedroom apartment. I searched the studio like someone desperately trying to find what would be most important to save from an approaching fire. I couldn’t take large pieces with me to work on, so what supplies could I take to the apartment? For some reason the classical piece “The Planets” by Gustav Holst came to mind, and I knew that music could inspire me. I grabbed seven small black frames, a small watercolor pad, fluid acrylics, and ran out the door. I didn’t know it then, but I would not be back to the studio for three months. In the apartment I began to listen to Holst’s pieces over and over… Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Neptune, Saturn, and allowed the music to take my imagination into the universe. The dining room table became my research office and art studio. I painted small planets, fueled by bold music and fluid acrylic. A couple of weeks later, when I looked at the framed fiery reds and ice cold blues, I knew what I had to do next. This time I wanted to work from a more intimate and quiet place. I taped seven pieces of paper to the wall in my bedroom, took out pencil and fine line pens and began to scribble. These simple drawings were a therapeutic refuge for me during the pandemic. To my surprise, moving into a smaller space made me crave intimacy and even smaller spaces.
The weekend before the city of Columbia, Missouri issued the shelter-in-place order, I snatched a $25 drafting table from FB marketplace and packed my studio in town in order to move my supplies and paintings into our living room.
We live in a very small Sears House from the 1930s. As a family of three, we enjoy its simplicity and as a European, I am used to limited living space that is designed and used smartly. My husband and I quickly established a new routine in which I would work and paint three days a week while he would escape the house with our four-year-old daughter and spend it on our farm a few miles away. We have maintained this routine until now.
The quarantine was an eye-opener, enabling me to become more keenly aware of what really matters to me and how little I need to be happy. In May, I decided to give up my rented studio space in town and in July, I renounced the offer for an adjunct position (and deferred a PhD student position) in order to dedicate more time to my studio practice and to feel more rested and present. Life is fragile and precious and I want to enjoy every minute of it.
At first I cancelled all my appointments and put all show plans and travel on hold. I felt relieved. Nothing was happening outside, so I could have all the time I wanted in my studio/home. I stocked up on food and materials and started working on a painting. But soon I found that I was distracted and could not focus on one thing. I am a multidisciplinary artist but I concentrate on one project at a time. Now my art making resembled the activity of a bumblebee. I got my sewing machine out and started making masks. I went back to the keyboard and tried to recapture what I used to play some years ago. I made portraits of endangered species in an effort to reconnect with nature. I went for long walks and took eerie photographs of the empty city and of discarded gloves in the gutter. I got my bike back in order for longer distances. The days blended into one another and fused into weeks and months. The ambulance sirens reverberated in the empty streets outside seconded by the dog howling along with them in the studio. The loss of life from the virus is disheartening but the incompetence, the absence of national leadership, and the systematic erosion of our precious democracy is what hurts most.
My studio is located in a former 1950s dress shop in a small town 20 minutes from my home. Seventy years ago, this space was filled with women’s clothing, but now my paintings lean against the walls and posts. The two dressing rooms have been converted to closets with great shelving, thanks to the former tenant who was a woodworker. The photo shows my recent acquisition: a baby-changing table repurposed into a counter for my oil painting paraphernalia. The white folding table was purchased when I moved into this studio. I keep it free of clutter so that it’s readily available when I need a surface on which to work. I love my studio. It is my secret garden; my nirvana. With the onset of the pandemic, it has become a place of refuge and my sanctuary for renewal.
Georgia Lale, New York City, New York
During the first weeks of quarantine I felt paralyzed. The quiet New York City nights were terrifying. I had lost my employment and all of my art opportunities were canceled. I finally had a lot of time on my hands and I was feeling guilty for not being creative. In April, I started coming out of my devastation. I needed to express myself and our times. However, I did not have any money for materials, so I started using the hospital gowns that I had collected during my cancer treatment surgeries in 2019. I made use of my sewing machine that had been sitting around for a couple of years. As the work progressed, I realized that it does not only reflect my personal fight for my life but also the health crisis that is bringing America to its knees. COVID-19 exposed many underlying conditions in our society, such as racism, social injustice, police brutality, a housing crisis and flaws in the healthcare system. We are paying the price of lack of leadership with an unprecedented loss of life. When I manage to sleep at night, I am dreaming of making art in a new society that has social justice and healthcare for all.