Articles

A View From the Easel During Times of Quarantine

This week, artists reflect on quarantining from their studios in Mill Valley, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Huntington Beach, and Basel, Switzerland.

This the 157th 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.

Alexandra Bailliere, Mill Valley, California

.

My spouse is a medical professional who has (fortunately) been working every day, so I am holding down the fort with our three teenage sons. I teach visual art in continuing education at two local colleges, but my spring classes were cancelled due to COVID-19 and not moved online, so initially I thought I might have a bit more time for my studio practice. However, it has been a massive adjustment to have my sons at home all day. At first I felt I needed to be around to oversee the boys’ distance learning. Now, I am around in the mornings to make sure everyone is where they need to be, and then I generally go to the studio for a few hours in the afternoons. I rent a studio in a local arts center about two miles from my home. It is a private studio in a standalone building, so I am able to be there without seeing anyone else.

I feel like I have been shuffling through various series during this time, and there is a freneticism that has felt at times like I have had too much coffee. I have started and abandoned a few directions. I have brought many of my painting and drawing supplies home, but my level of concentration at home is never what it is in the studio. Even when my sons are quiet, at home, I am overwhelmed by the tragic news cycle, the dust bunnies on the floor, the laundry, and what provisions we need. The one silver lining is that my family has been privy to my art practice, where before they really only saw finished work.

My studio is not exactly tidy right now as I am prioritizing work over organization when I am there, but it is still a refuge. My teaching supplies remain in a sad, defeated heap where I left them in mid-March when my spring classes were cancelled, and I rounded up my supplies from the studio classrooms. Somehow, leaving them by the door feels like a hopeful gesture, like we may return to that other world of buzzing classrooms and interacting with others in person and not on screens.

MelanieJoy, Basel, Switzerland

.

I am a Canadian quarantined in Switzerland. In January, my husband’s work sent us to Switzerland for three months. We were just starting self-quarantine when they started to evacuate people to their home countries. We missed our opportunity to get back to Canada.

My current set-up is between two bright windows, on a patio table covered in newspaper, with a kitchen chair. I paint with oils, with plans to buy a few items here. I only brought my brushes and apron, so we ordered paint, a small easel, a few mediums, and canvases from a local store. I am learning to be better at color mixing and to be very stingy with supplies.

I go outside once a week for groceries as my husband is Immune Compromised and must stay in.

I am not one of those gifted painters who can paint in the face of pain and fear. I am gifted in the art of seeking out wonder and awe to create my art. Needless to say, the heartbreak in this pandemic is making it very hard to create. I paint on better days and when my mind drifts too far into sadness, I stop.

But I have the love of my soulmate, the moon, and my Prussian Blue.

Elena Dorfman, Los Angeles, California

.

This photograph is of my studio in Los Angeles, where, because of the privacy, I’ve been able to consistently work during the crisis. On the table are bunches of flowers which I found in the trash, or purchased, at the last open shop in the downtown flower market on the day all businesses in Los Angeles were forced to close. I photographed the flowers every day through mid-March and into April.

My practice has never included flowers but they were compelling to me at this particular moment in time. Waking each morning to the news, and grim counts of death, I was particularly driven by their resilience and fragility. While shooting I questioned what role beauty plays at this moment in time. Is there even a place for it now?

These flowers sustained me over the course of many weeks in the studio. They gave me something to focus on, to devote my nervous energy to, and allowed me to care for them through the last days of their lives.

Jillian McDonald, Brooklyn, New York

.

Since I can’t fly away as planned to shoot video in Newfoundland and Colorado, or take a daily ferry to my quiet studio on Governor’s Island, I am homebound. Drawing holes on a table near a window in Bushwick, Brooklyn, that looks out on a small yard. I grew up on the Canadian prairie, where winter locked us in for months. I have claustrophobia. Growing up I worried about people and snow mobiles falling through cracks and holes in ice on the rivers where we skated. 

I have a yard for the first time in my adult life. When I moved in, I dug a deep hole outside, pulling out bricks and barbed wire, glass, and cans as I dug slowly deeper. The hole was dense with garbage, it was hard work. I developed asthma which sneaks up sometimes and takes away my breath. Lately I’ve been digging again and drawing holes. Thinking about escaping across closed borders. About going underground until it’s safe to resurface. I haven’t left my home in 39 days.

Valerie Samuel Henderson, Huntington Beach, California

.

I have temporary housing while waiting to move into new live/work space in the next few months. Everything is moving slowly now with things like city permits. I’m renting a room in a house, where I have access to the kitchen for light cooking but am mostly confined to my room except to go out for a walk or the grocery store.

But I am confined to a room with an alcove window with an expansive view of tidal wetlands and can faintly see some cars in the distance driving on the Pacific Coast Highway and can make out a few low structures on the state beach that borders the ocean. On really clear days I can see Santa Catalina Island which is about 30 miles off the coast. My workspace is the alcove shelf where I’m working on small, mixed media pieces, mostly on watercolor paper. I stand at the window to work and the sense of openness at the edge of the land and the big sky is exhilarating. Though I’m confined right now to a small single room, my inner vision feels exalted and the future is open and fearless.

comments (0)