This is the 170th 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.
Under quarantine, my Brooklyn kitchen has become my artist studio. “Setting the table” has taken new meaning. Every day I run through video appointments with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I set up my laptop, sketchbook, and other supplies on the kitchen table because it’s the biggest workspace available. Pre-pandemic, I made art with these folks at the day habilitation program for a nonprofit organization. In what now feels like a distant era, I held art workshops, made artwork to display, and helped curate art shows. Now, I only interact with these individuals in Zoomland. Depending upon the mood, sometimes I show them how to do something step-by-step. Other times, we freestyle it and talk about what’s on our minds while drawing. Usually, “I miss day hab” is uttered at least once per video call. Of all the populations suffering because of COVID-19, this is one of the hardest hit in terms of illness, death, and isolation. Group homes don’t allow for social distancing — preexisting comorbidities among this demographic are common — and some folks I know haven’t left their residence at all since March. Art brings them hope and opportunity for creative expression.
Before the lockdown happened, I moved, and had to give up my studio. Creating a work space in your living space is not easy. It is challenging to shift your mindset to creative work when a few feet away is the place you cook, eat, and sleep. The greatest hurdle to leap during quarantine is the lethargy of being isolated. I have tried to maintain discipline, and use this time productively. Luckily, I know someone who owns an art supply store, and can get materials to work with. It feels to me that this is a time that demands creative production: we need to nourish our empathetic and aesthetic selves, and share it with others. I think the role of the artist is to see clearly and find a way to communicate what you see.
Well, it happened… In mid-March, my university locked its doors. I scrambled to gather as much as I could from my studio, packed my tiny SUV FULL of supplies and half-finished artworks, then drove several hours to my mother’s house in Columbus, Ohio. Ever since then, I have been creating artworks restricted to the confines of half of a two-car garage. My mother so graciously loaned this space so that I could continue my artistic practice. Being limited to the garage has dramatically changed productivity and the size of my artwork. Due to the stay-at-home order, I have more time for reflection and more time to consider the current social climate. The most exciting part, we are existing during this historical shift, and making artwork that captures these moments. In some weird way, I am happy to have this space, for I would not have created my most recent artworks.
Because of COVID-19, I couldn’t be by my mother’s side in the hospital when she had a stroke in May. I flew to Milwaukee and hastily set up a temporary studio space in her apartment while I waited for news and tried to manage my emotions.
This trip has been an exercise in humility and patience. I’ve taken refuge in working a bit in the evenings when others are asleep. After the work emails, homework, Zoom meetings, and phone calls are done, this studio time is my own.
My current work focuses on drawing vultures on Amazon boxes. I enjoy the temporary nature of using recycling materials and the theme of patience. In my Prime and Prejudice series, I’ve been using the easy returns and sending back boxes to the Amazon warehouse. I create a narrative tracking the delivery, returns, and confirmation prompts. Like a one-sided pen pal, I imagine the box returning and upon (a person, a robot?) seeing no tangible return, the artwork is crushed and the cardboard is recycled.
I was tremendously fortunate that I had moved out of a work space downtown last fall, which allowed me to conveniently, when quarantine started, to have everything in place in my home studio to continue making things, writing, and working on chapbooks. As such, I basically got to live out my dream of spending all day creating at home with my cats. The problem was a certain paralysis when it came to all things creative the first couple of months, which had my focus shifting between frantic news scrolling and making myself useful from home as much as I could be for my day job (in an academic library). As such, those first couple of months resulted in a few half-hearted writing attempts and a lot of doodling while I was on the phone, but not much else beyond some online exhibit design and workshop development for the library. Toward the middle of May, the ice started to break. First, the writing came back and I was able to get back to daily practice. Then some painting in June. Just in the last few weeks have I been able to get back to laying out and designing chapbooks for authors through the press. The world is still terrifying, but I feel like I am beginning to be able to float in all that uncertainty. To make something whole of it. The cats, however, have been thrilled…