Artists in Quarantine

As artists worldwide continue to forgo studio access and show openings, we reached out to those we’re working with, and asked them to share their experiences of how the Covid-19 lockdown has affected them.

We asked: How has your practice been affected by the quarantine, and how has this impacted your ability to create? 

New Jersey

March 17th was the first day I was en-route to NYC to work in midtown when I got the call to go home. I had just co-curated and exhibited work at the Spring/Break art show, and just finished a regular work week when all this unfolded. Luckily, I’m able to work remotely and keep my income during this time. In the first two weeks I kept feeling like I was at the train station waiting to get on, but kept letting that train pass me by. I use this metaphor because it was an immediate intense shift of stimulation, environment and time.

I did not have trouble making work. I immediately stretched 5 medium canvases with oil ground, because when I’m anxious I need to keep myself occupied. I was actually kind of excited. I’m looking at this time as an at-home residency, and have been able to be very productive. Artists have always had to change the way they make work because of environmental factors, income, and identity. If anything, I feel like this is a great time for artists to shift their practice, maintain self-care and to use this time to heal.        

We’re living through a world pandemic, which is traumatic, and no one should feel obligated to produce if they do not feel well enough to do so. I do think we should support each other, continue to do virtual studio visits and engage just as we would when we didn’t have to practice social distancing. If anyone is having trouble making work, generally feels lonely, or wants to talk about this experience, I am here to listen.

London, UK

I think quarantine has pushed me to explore different avenues in my practice which may have sat on the back burner otherwise. Before I was really enjoying a sense of freedom in my work playing with: vast scale, various material and painting methods. It was like having a bunch of ingredients with the run of the kitchen. 

However, with lockdown it became too impractical to continue in this way. I had to create smaller dishes with less in the cupboard. Instead of exploring outward with physical processes I started exploring digitally inward with appropriation and photography. When I started to view the world through a screen, I realised I could still take a pinch of this and a pinch of that.

If they’ve run out of Coco Pops, get yourself some Rice Krispies and Nesquik.

Chicago, Illinois

Quarantine I think has caused everyone to be more introspective; to consider what is most important. With more time to think these things over, it’s created a heightened pressure, more than usual, to create. That being said, it has been difficult to stay focused and not become sidetracked by paranoia. There are a lot of things to be worried about nowadays.

Los Angeles, California

The location of my studio has not changed, it’s in my home in a sunny south facing window. The same palm trees wave to me outside happily. 

The energy within the apartment has significantly changed. Now instead of daily solitude, I share the space with 3 other people, 2 of whom need a lot of my attention. 

The expectation is that I will facilitate my children in their zoom classroom, and make sure they complete assignments which often seem oddly inconsequential now. Some sort of illusion of normalcy being projected upon us by the school district, yet it seems to have the opposite effect on us. 

My work has mostly fallen by the wayside. I’ve tried to shift to projects that require less focus or time. More reading and research instead. Drawing rather than painting. More abstract improvisational work.

Taking the attitude of mindfulness in all my activities has helped a lot. The act of existing as a performance.

It’s a good time to refocus on the inner world, with more time to look closely at my work. The art I’ve sold during this time has brought me a lot of happiness. It is now a part of someone’s memory of this historic moment, a document of their desire to live fully regardless of circumstance. 

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

During quarantine I was not working, so I had a lot of time on my hands. This was a perfect opportunity for me to get back into the studio and really focus on my painting practice. Just before quarantine I had used up the last of my canvas frames. I usually make them myself at a woodshop but with the pandemic I didn’t have access to one and ordering custom built frames online was just not an option for me as I couldn’t afford any of the nice, large frames. This was both a blessing and a curse because I couldn’t paint but it also forced me to re-discover other materials and really helped me dive back into drawing. 

As a result, during quarantine instead of painting in my basement studio which was the original plan. I spent a fair amount of time on my dining room table surrounded by a multitude of materials just drawing, experimenting and quite honestly just playing around which was really relaxing and highly enjoyable. Usually I treat my practice a lot like a workshop. Motivation to create work has little to do with inspiration to me or about whether or not I’m “feeling like it.” Personally, it’s definitely more about forcing myself to spend a couple of hours in the studio after work and striving towards finishing my goal. My practice was very therapeutic for me during quarantine as it gave me something to focus on amidst all the chaos and uncertainty. For a lot of artists, I know that quarantine was really hard on their practice because it separated them from their studios and their materials. For me it felt a lot like a stay at home artist residency where I feel like I learned a lot and through it my practice has stretched beyond painting.

New Jersey

The quarantine and the months leading up to it have been a period marked by tremendous loss: my long-term relationship, my beloved beagle, two old friends, my best friend’s father and aunt – all suddenly gone. Grief has washed over me in relentless waves and has affected my ability to make work. So much tragedy and uncertainty have left me feeling shocked, confused, and alone.

But I’ve found comfort in others’ communication and kindness. I’m an artist and also an adjunct professor of art, a position that comes with its own set of challenges during quarantine, as the boundaries between work and rest blur, but more often than not I’ve taken heart in connecting with my students. Encouraging them to create has helped me to get out of my own head and into my studio space. Here I’ve taken comfort in making drawn worlds that I can escape into for an afternoon and forget for a bit.

Prior to the quarantine, having studio visits was a challenge as my studio is outside the city limits. Since the quarantine began I’ve found myself connecting more than ever with an online community of artists. Suddenly we are all remote and more willing to take a chance, share a compliment or an insight, or start a conversation. The sense of community I’ve experienced with fellow artists has helped me emotionally during this time of heartache and for that I am so grateful.

Winnipeg, Manitoba

This SUCKS. This whole year has been a gigantic pile of suck. In January my long term relationship exploded and just when I was starting to pick up the pieces and dive back into an exciting new body of work – pandemic. Almost everything I had planned for the rest of the year has been cancelled or put on hold, I haven’t been able to go to my studio for almost two months now because of work and travel restrictions, and my dad is an ER doctor who’s had to work through most of the outbreak which has been stressful and worrying. So I crashed. The first two weeks of quarantine I didn’t make a single thing, instead spending a lot of time reading poetry and playing games and talking with people old and new.

This quarantine has been disorienting in a lot of ways. The daily rhythm of life has been disrupted and I’ve been feeling like there’s potential for a new rhythm to develop out of this, one that isn’t focused on production and quantity, both personally and globally. I’ve returned to my practice very hesitantly now that I’m working from home on a small table where mostly all I can do is paint, and I’ve discovered it’s an absolute slog. Questions about why I’m painting and why I’m making things, what I’m trying to do with my work, are much more pressing to me in the context of the long term fallout of this pandemic. I don’t have a clue how to answer these questions but I’m sure the only way I can really know the answer is to keep making for as long as I can.

I’m thinking about the role of art in the world right now, how places like Netflix have seen a huge boost in viewers, new game releases like Valorant have hit the 1 million viewer mark on Twitch for the first time, and I’m wondering where static visual art fits in here, the kind of work that can be seen in a second in an algorithm-curated feed that hides half of the people I follow for opaque but certainly profit-oriented reasons. Galleries are curious siloed spaces and now that all of them are digital only for the foreseeable future, I find myself thinking more and more what the point of physical art is – the kind that needs to be experienced in person. Does this kind of work become even more important in a way, an elaboration of the inherent uselessness of the art object? Or does it become even more irrelevant in the face of the impossibility of experiencing it outside of a handful of privileged individuals? The only thing I’m sure of is that I’m changing and I don’t know exactly how yet.

Lately I’ve been sketching and thinking a lot more than I’m making and I think that’s more important than figuring out how to keep my practice going as if nothing’s changed. I’m tired, nervous, excited, depressed. The impotence of waiting is overwhelming.

Boulder, Colorado

Before the pandemic, I often felt like I was on a hamster wheel, struggling to hit that elusive work/life balance while prioritizing my studio practice. In late March, the work part of the equation was removed from my balancing act and I promptly filed for unemployment. Today, I’m making more money on unemployment than I was working 3-5 part-time gigs, and I haven’t had this much free time since I was a kid! In addition, my student loans have been put on a temporary no-penalty hold, my health is good, I don’t have kids to homeschool, none of my loved ones have contracted the virus, and the city I live in has a relatively low rate of infection.To say that I’ve been lucky would be like saying that the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic has been a shit show. (Both are hUGE understatements.) 

Time is such a privilege when you don’t have to worry about money. I’ve been running outside now that the weather’s nice, stopping intermittently to smell the flowers, admire the local birds, and survey the land. Last week, I discovered a pristine fishing lake just blocks away from my apartment- I thought it was a mirage. Besides the increase in dopamine, these micro-doses of exercise in nature have prompted me to think more carefully about my art materials and consumption in general. Since we went into lockdown, I’ve made an effort to recycle all the watercolor scraps that have piled up in my studio, repurposing old failed paintings into new collages and plastering my refrigerator with paper moth cut-outs. I’ve also returned to drawing in pastel, and I’ve just begun a series of cyanotypes with the aforementioned moths. Moving forward, I would like to be even more self-sufficient with my materials- homemade mushroom ink is the next frontier. 

Artists need time to think and to fail in order to grow. In the “before times”, I didn’t feel as inclined to experiment or play because I didn’t feel I had the time. For the past two months, I’ve given myself permission to try new ideas, revisit old ones from the bucket list, and dabble in unfamiliar mediums. My living room and kitchen counter function as my studio space. This was the case before Covid 19, and I quite like the proximity. I’m a total introvert, so self-isolation was already my preferred state of being. I share my apartment with my partner and my cat, and the three of us are boring together. Yesterday we took Kofi (the cat) on a walk and today I watched my partner repair a button. Boredom is a privilege too. 

As the U.S. begins the process of reopening the all-important economy, a sense of dread is setting in. I’ve been given a taste of how things could be, without the pressure of having to “earn” a living, and I don’t want to go back. I’m still hopeful that we can emerge from this crisis with an expanded sense of what is possible. Here in the states, an expansion of social safety nets would be great, along with the cancellation of student loan debt, a massive global reduction in growth/consumption and more caring for the planet and each other.

Montréal, Québec

Let’s see, 

I was actually on vacation in Barbados with my mom when the Coronavirus blew up. Our first week was fine, no talk of it really, but by the second week of our stay it started getting pretty serious. Our prime minister told Canadians abroad to get home as quick as possible, and you could tell the island was emptying out at this point. It was scary!! We made it home safe, and parted ways for a 14 day mandatory quarantine. I was secretly kind of excited because at the time I lived alone in an apartment which also doubled as my studio. I started on some new paintings and was quite pleased to have unlimited time to focus on art. However, after my two week quarantine was up, my partner and I decided that it would be best to shack up together in my little apartment. He has severe asthma so we were, and still are very worried for his health. Once he moved in with me, my practice had to change. My apartment was too small to have any sort of privacy while working. I was however able to create some small works on paper. I find that when I work on paper, I am able to plant little seeds in my mind for future paintings, and experiment with different mediums. 

Through all of this my boyfriend and I decided to look for an apartment because we knew we couldn’t live in my tiny place forever. I was sad to see that apartment go, it became a really special place where I lived and created, with lots of special memories. We found a much larger, livable apartment, but with no studio! I’m nervous to sign onto a lease at the moment, in fear that there will be another lockdown and I will be stuck paying rent for a space I can’t use! So, I’m actually spending my days painting canvases on my front balcony. And I love it! I’m so inspired by all the trees and flowers, I love people watching in my vibrant community, and I get to spend the summer outdoors doing what I love most! There have been no doubt, incredibly rough moments, feelings of uncertainty and fear in the last four months, and as lockdowns have eased here in Canada I still feel sometimes overwhelming anxiety for the future. Although my practice has been in a constant state of flux since this all started, I’m very grateful I’m able to continue painting, as it is my way of coping, and escaping from the stress this pandemic has induced in us all! 

Glasgow, Scotland

At first I was really relieved when we went into lockdown as I had been closely following the situation and spread of covid-19 (my brother-in-law lives in China) and I was anticipating for the fallout in the UK. Having to work closely with the public in my day job given the scale of the situation made me feel anxious, an unnecessary risk.

The first week or so I didn’t really make anything. Reading the news pretty much paralysed me emotionally. I was distracting myself catching up on reading, working in the garden and playing video games I’d been meaning to complete. Now I’ve settled into a better rhythm. Although I don’t have access to my studio, I have lots of materials at home so I’m making small scale works on paper, testing ideas and using this as an opportunity to reflect on my practice and prep for larger works when I eventually get back. I have a small publication which has been on the backburner and I will hopefully get that finished too. 

Sharing work and discovering other artists online has been a really important factor in how I am coping with the situation. Apart from studio access, quarantine hasn’t affected me much on a personal level. I am able to make. I’m currently on furlough (although I may not have a job to go back to). I have somewhere to live. As a painter, I’m very used to being alone for long periods of time with my work. I enjoy my own company. I have a garden to stretch my legs in.

And there are lots of positives coming out of this too. I have been heartened to see the generosity and compassion of artistic communities pulling together and providing emotional support, funding and opportunities for those in need. It means a lot.

I had a solo show which was cancelled. So what? I have to put it in perspective and I encourage all others to do the same.

Both my mum and mum-in-law are nurses, working in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary (the biggest health campus in Europe). They are at risk. My mum also lives alone, so now as a result of the lockdown she is really isolated socially, especially when she is in such a stressful position at the moment and that is obviously upsetting for all of us.

So my concern is for them – and my outrage is for a government that would put all our frontline workers at risk without proper testing, without proper PPE and expect them to do this with little more than a few claps on a Thursday night.

And to the people who are complaining about being stuck at home.  You are safe at home, which is more than many of us are able to say.