by Elaine Sexton
In the very early days of the pandemic, just before the call for all non-essential workers to stay at home, I was able to have a “studio” visit with artist Ro Lohin, whose work we featured in TQ15. For part of the year Lohin’s studio is the tree-lined yard of her place on the eastern tip of Long Island. Standing six feet apart, we walked around three or four new paintings laid out on tarps on the grass, both of us uncommonly lucky to be standing in the sun and shade, at liberty to move and work out in the open air as schools, museums, theatres, shops, businesses, and commerce world-wide shuttered or found ways to adapt to the pandemic. That week I began to check in on artists I know, and many I’ve interviewed for Tupelo Quarterly over the past three years, to see how they were coping and managing to work. Normally I would be looking for work of three new artists to feature here. My editor Kristina Maire Darling agreed to shift the focus on this issue from individual artist portfolios to a single portfolio, offering a glimpse of art made during this time of confinement. The work that follows was made or completed from March-May, during a time many of these contributors to TQ were also dealing with cancelled or “virtual” exhibitions, stalled or lost commissions, lost residencies. For those who teach, some were scrambling to adapt classes to teach remotely, while also working in make-shift studios, hunkered down at home in city apartments, some in the country, some in the comfort of their studios, some working at their dining room tables. What follows is a portfolio of 31 works that include sculpture, photography, water color, oil, collage, mixed media, and video. I asked each artist to say (in a caption-length text) a few words about the work they chose to share, and if they could, something about the making art at this time.
PANDEMIC PORTFOLIO: A Special Feature of artwork by TQ contributors, and a few invited guests, made during the early months of self-confinement
My studio overlooks the confluence of the Harlem and Hudson Rivers and when I look east, I see the 225th Street subway bridge the Columbia University baseball fields, and the Allen Memorial Pavilion (NYU) Hospital beyond. What does it mean, now, in the time of the coronavirus pandemic, to see that hospital, the river, and the Columbia play fields side by side? I see us all as carriers, and alternately this virus is inside, next to, or at a distance from each of us. When I look down from this window, I think about the suffering inside that building in the distance, for now, a few yards away. What then?
The mythic image of a snake eating its tale, the “Ouroboros,” symbolizes the cycle of life, death and rebirth. In response to the pandemic, I’ve made a model for a large outdoor piece, “Ouroboros Jumps the Course,” as a symbol of hope and optimism. The “end” of the piece glides into the furrow, a reference to the snake eating its tail. But the end sails beyond the furrow, refusing the limitation of a closed parameter, signifying that the cycle is no longer a closed loop. The Ouroboros transcends its trajectory and reconfigures its destiny.
The painting represents a hopeful response to the pandemic, of rebirth in the darkness.
Clouds were the first thing I fell in love with. In light of the need for social distancing, I decided to devote this year to cloud studies, and I have done one nearly every day since the quarantine began.
One of the scores of digital photographs I have taken of flowers and shrubs recently while doing my daily “social distancing” walk in my neighborhood in San Francisco. The tall hydrangea bush by the telephone pole has been perfect this spring—blowsy, cheeky, full of fun and the usual milk-white head-tossing—but also frankly sublime.
David Cobb Craig
During this sequestration in my apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, I made around 250 new pages for my storehouse of memory books from photographs I have taken over the years on road trips and from papers and multifarious stickers I’ve collected. At an early age, I set sight on visiting all 50 states; Alaska and Hawaii remain. Instagram: dcobbcraig
I’m used to working in isolation, but there is a darkness on the earth that makes it difficult to concentrate. When normal things are not normal anymore is when we realize how special normal things are.
Most times, I work in a shop that is very specific to me. The collections of materials, and most of the tools I work with were not with me when the pandemic started. I’ve had no other choice but to use what I had or could find, which has made notable changes in my work. Limitation allows you to go another way on lots of levels – It can be freeing, and infuriating. Not being able to go out into the world looking for new material is major. What I found out is – I have a lot of stuff.
In my city of Holyoke, Massachusetts, the Soldiers’ Home, a retired veterans nursing home, was our pride, but during this pandemic 73 of the residents died, creating a huge scandal involving mismanagement and under-reporting. These old soldiers were caught on the front line. Their sacrifice created a profound moment of awareness among Holyokers. It was then that, in neighborhoods, dozens of discarded gloves and masks began appearing on the ground, and they stayed there until a strong wind blew them away. They were a testimony to selfishness. The gloves seemed to take the form of contorted hand gestures, but very rarely did the fingers settle into a pointing position. The discarded protective gear on the ground triggered in me sadness for the veterans’ deaths. So I decided to create 83 grids as a monument, a reminder not to forget.
The Art of Losing is a line of poetry from an Elizabeth Bishop poem. I’ve been making watercolors on paper on our dining room table since my spouse Ingrid and our puppy Ollie and I left NYC and my studio there, for our old farmhouse where once I lived back in the 1980s; it’s 4 hours north/west from New York City. Loss seems the subject of many of our lives, for now and the foreseeable future. For Bishop it was a weekend spent writing about her lover, who ran off with their good friend. Luckily for Bishop, her lover returned. For us, I’m fearful that our losses will have more finality.
There is definitely a recognizable urgency painting out in the landscape during quarantine: urgent to be connected to something, urgent to drink in color and air, and urgent to embrace the provisional as if, “Why not now to finally discover how I am supposed to be painting?”
During the first few weeks of lockdown I was feeling a lot of anxiety, even physical discomfort. I felt pretty overwhelmed and generally wrecked. I started making some collages to process and hopefully exorcise some of those feelings. It feels like we are all under attack and collectively we don’t know enough to properly defend ourselves so it feels like all we can do is hope.
Painted April 28th in my apartment living room, NYC during The Great Covid19 Quarantine.
This piece is a part of an ongoing body of work that I began in 2017 called “Samplers.” It has the quality of a “daily practice” or exercise, but one that I usually don’t have time to do daily. I used to wonder what it would be like to work on “Samplers” full time, and now I am finding out. It’s well suited to doing while quarantined at home because it is clean, lightweight and portable.
This setting is Medicine Mountain, Wyoming, but I’m thinking a lot about Bilpin, Australia, where I was in residency 3 years ago.
Corkscrew (computer generated video still), 1080HD, 2 minute looping video.
This piece was started last Fall when we lived in a very different world. Quiet solitude and a sense of time drifting loose from its moorings are frequent themes in my work. The dancing corkscrew comes from the boredom and playful imagination that is born of this experience — an experience familiar to many of us during this Spring of isolation.
These photos were taken with my phone lens-down on tablecloths and newspaper pages. Most of my making energy goes into cooking food and growing native plants — not just because we are living in a pandemic, but maybe especially so.
So far, during this quarantine, at the end of the day, I cover small canvases randomly with the left over paint. For days I look at these abstractions, turning them upside down and sideways. At some point there is a hint of recognition and armed with memory I often finish a work in one session. https://www.rolohin.com
Working with what is at hand: re-photographed personal photographs, collograph print fragments, toned paper, photocopier.
The title is lifted (randomly) from the many hundreds of books that lined my late mother’s flat -all the recent work is. On working at this time in London… I have been at the studio pretty much every day, so my working life is unaffected: however the mornings are spent with my son of five, who has not attended school in two months. I’m working towards an exhibition, but have found it nearly impossible to finish a painting. Concentrating is hard. In early March, my father was moved from hospital to a care home seventy miles away: we are not allowed to visit. There is no one else in this building, it’s silent: sometimes a train passes, or the digger starts in the scrapyard over the tracks. I leave the studio around midnight, cycling home through streets that are empty, but for the foxes. I always see an ambulance. It was a virtually rainless April here and I have never seen the stars so clearly. This is for an exhibition called ‘Ex Libris’ which is due to open on July 25 at the Hosfelt Gallery in San Francisco.
These images constitute revisits to books read or neglected — walks in found landscapes — now, when I get out less.
Seeing my neighborhood through “quarantine” eyes during sanity walks.
I’m exploring ideas of adornment as both an instrument of self-empowerment, and as a tool of engagement with systems of consumption. This work builds on previous projects focused on capitalism’s effect on day-to-day living, whether in terms of housing, food, work, relationships, etc. I use both recognized and altered home-goods to reference the everyday.
From my vantage point, the world is both strange and familiar. I prefer contemplating it from the safety of my house. Am I obedient or simply afraid? lissplatt.ca
I have often been drawn to film for inspiration. Thanks to the Criterion Channel I have been watching and re-watching a lot of film noir from the 40s and 50s. I wanted to capture something about film but in a more fluid, painterly way. http://jonathansantlofer.com/
This is #14 in a daily project during the pandemic isolation between poet Rama (pen name of a much-published author who must remain anonymous for reasons of security) and artist Diane Samuels.
Sheltering at home, I’m documenting our plague spring with almost daily scans of whatever is happening in the garden–little local beauties against a deep black background.
I was looking through recent photographs with the current situation in mind and this one seemed the most relevant.
I start the day drawing a blind self portrait, observations from my bird feeder, the news as it arrives and combine them in conversation. Reading The Conference of the Birds by Farid Ud-Din Attar. It all comes together in some work in progress.
I used a crowd of my slow, carefully rendered pen & ink studies of mineral and fossil specimens to upset geology. Nothing in this landscape is in the correct position relative to gravity, heat, erosion, weight or age.
ellenwiener.com instagram ellenwienerart
During this time my paintings seem to be more personal, about waiting, memory and anticipation. www.kevinwixted.net
Finding the correct values and colors for my collages takes many hours and much concentration. Although I can say the same thing with paint in a fraction of the time, this medium is compelling because it feels like I’m solving a puzzle. amyworth.com