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A View From the Easel During Times of Quarantine

This week, artists reflect on quarantining from their studios in Oakland, Philadelphia, New York City, San Diego, and Northern England.

This the 154th 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.

Marion Wilson, New York City, New York

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Two months ago, my father died of complications from pneumonia. It could have been a case of very early COVID-19. We won’t ever know, and it doesn’t really matter. I stayed with him during his last days, sleeping with my sister on a small hospital cot like when we were little kids. As his lungs were filling with liquid and right after he died, I photographed him. A month later, I began to paint these very intimate portraits of him, as well as his funeral bouquets.

Last week, I was diagnosed with COVID-19 by my doctor. Since that time, my world has gotten very small. Although the severest symptoms seem to have passed, I still feel lethargic. Unable to travel to my studio, I begin to look around my house for supplies. First, there are all those herbs that I am taking for my immune system, then there are the spices, the teas— and suddenly my bed is my studio table. Although my geographic footprint is small, my imagination keeps expanding. I seem to have discovered my shadow side — which is not to say I feel sad or lonely. Rather, I am noticing different details in my shadow; there is a kind of intimacy with myself in the quiet.

Katie Ruiz, San Diego, California

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My work has changed since the #coronvirusartistresidency started. I began merging paint and fiber together in a cohesive way for the first time. They feel like healing alters or mandalas. I just busted out the sewing machine to start making masks for healthcare workers. I’m grateful for time to think, dance parties in my studio, and my health.

Chloë Lamb, Northumberland, England

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I am in my studio in the North of England at the moment. I work between here and my home studio in the south of England. In Northumberland the views from my studio are distant and beautiful and I compete with the spiders for window space. My larger canvasses I paint stretched, nailed directly to the wall so that I can transport them south rolled up. I have lots of space here and I am enjoying the lack of pressure on my time. I share the studio here with an eclectic mix of things — a ping pong table, a vegetation shredder, a very old piano, and a wardrobe with mystery contents. With the diary now empty and confined to home there is an unusual peacefulness.

At the moment my paintings are relentlessly cheerful, and I vie between the simple and complicated compositions. I am running low on canvases, so contemplating my options — the sides of old wine boxes a possibility. We as artists are very lucky that on the whole I don’t think we get bored if we have access to our studios.

Dorian Katz, Oakland, California

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When I have trouble focusing, I work on whatever requires less concentration, remembering the John Cage quote “begin anywhere.” I draw the reality of now more than usual for me.

My art typically deals with adventurous, queer human and critter sexuality from the perspective of an alter ego, Poppers the Pony. It’s generally fanciful or world building. Now I have a worktable in the living room for drawing and folding comics/zines. Luckily, I printed out pages for several little books before California began sheltering at home. Poppers made a comic about the cleaning process after visiting the feed store. It’s funny and contains multiple fetishes.

While Zooming with friends — queer artists and comics makers, our art salon (15 years and going strong), and queers involved in sexual culture making — I am drawing us. With cartoonists, I draw us drawing each other. I draw us during the Zoom lingerie party where we figured out who tops their Roomba. As queers we work to move beyond stigma toward sex and intimacy while taking care of each other. We’ve done this historically. I try to document our commitment to safer sex, pleasures, and camaraderie in this time.

Bill Scott, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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In 2001 I started painting on the top floor of my Philadelphia home. It’s not complicated. I work on one canvas at a time, yet usually have 10 to 15 paintings in varying degrees of completion. Most face the wall and I focus on the one that is on my easel. My work is abstract, but the shapes and colors of the plants, fake flowers, and view from the window, appear in my paintings. When I realized I will be inside for a long time, I rushed out and bought two gallons of turpentine and four extra tubes of paint. I now sit in the studio and just stare. To paint I need to allow myself to feel extremely vulnerable and to know that I will fail. That is how I feel, yet am unable to do much more than stare. Sixteen years ago, a painter-friend died. I admired and loved him. Just before he died, he gave me a blank canvas he had stretched and primed. He’d not yet painted on it. He said, “You paint this one,” but I couldn’t bear to touch it. This week, I realize it is time I paint on it.

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