Articles

A View From the Easel During Times of Quarantine

This week, artists reflect on quarantining from their studios in Sea Ranch, New Rochelle, San Francisco, Mattapoisett, and Los Angeles.

This is the 159th 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.

Susan Field, Sea Ranch, California

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My husband and I are in our late 60s, an at-risk group. We go into town for food and mail, but otherwise, I’m free to go to my studio, a former family room over our garage.

I’ve started a routine of lighting a candle and meditating before getting down to work. I study images by Agnes Pelton, which also settles me. She was a strong woman who drew sustenance within and her gauzy paintings soothe me. I’ve worked on the iPad with one app for five years and, as our stay-at-home guidelines went into effect, I bought a different app as a challenge.

With so much free time, I need goals: Do 10 images on a single subject, usually one a day. The first group was of imaginary houses. I wanted to feel grounded. One home was solid in the earth, with steps going down and deep. One has an underground reservoir to draw from. I’ve also done owls and lately I’m working on ladders, ascending or descending.

Though the outside news is distressing, this time has been a gift, actually. It seems to be deepening my work and eliminating distractions. I hope I can carry these new habits forward when life becomes “normal” again.

Christine Aaron, New Rochelle, New York

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I moved my studio home two months ago. Deeply ambivalent about the decision, it was difficult letting go of the tall-ceilinged, natural light-filled, and spacious previous space. My converted garage (half is below ground) is functional, though narrower and smaller. Yet, it turns out it works better for me. I am spending more time in the studio than before.

A home studio is more in sync with my natural daily rhythms: tea, art paperwork, and correspondence catch-up in the morning; followed by a long walk, then in the studio by early afternoon; then back for a couple hours after dinner.

During the initial part of this shelter at home there was pressure to produce more, do more, create more relevant, important art with all the extra time we supposedly have. I am pushing back against that notion. Instead, with suddenly fewer deadlines, I am experimenting with materials and processes and following ideas that have been fermenting within. I ask “what if” without self-censoring or over-thinking. Working with cocoons and handmade paper, thorns, and nests. Dying, staining, and piercing. Make, make, make. Once this is all over I can see where the work has led me.

Paola de la Calle, San Francisco, California

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It’s been more than six weeks since the shelter-in-place order in San Francisco, but time feels irrelevant. This new sense of timelessness has given me the freedom to incorporate more play into my practice. My studio used to be on the floor, where I’d pack it all up after I was finished working and there was no evidence that an artist lived here. Now I’ve built a studio throughout my apartment and am savoring each opportunity I have to leave work out and return to it the next day. The workspace I set up in the corner of my bedroom doubles as a recording studio for my partner who films his sixth-grade science lessons there. The wall between our bedroom and the bathroom now has a massive in-progress textile piece hanging on it that I’m slowly adding to. It’s become a sort of ritual. Oddly enough, I’m working at a larger scale than I was before the pandemic and documenting more of the process. Documenting feels important right now. Most days I’m finding joy in the bright colors in my studio and solace in the time I now have to start, take apart, set aside, and restart work.

John Magnan, Mattapoisett, Massachusetts

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My studio is basically a basement woodworking shop where I create wood sculptures, occasionally incorporating mixed media. During normal times my work can be large, and my preferred voice is that of social commentary, usually addressing everything from economic inequality and the environment to identity politics. Creating that kind of work is draining, and during these times, for my own well-being, I don’t need to further exhaust my emotional self.

So I’ve been making smaller work than usual, with no conceptual content; work that is beautiful, fun and relaxing to make and look at. My method is changing, too, as I find myself enjoying more than ever those aspects of the process that involve simple, detailed, repetitive tasks. As the work allows, I am spending hours upon hours doing those ditzy little things that quiet the spirit, while creating that kind of intricate work that only an artist would be crazy enough to make.

Brenda (Bz) Zhang, Los Angeles, California

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These days, I’m making work in my bedroom instead of my (shared) studio as a precaution for myself and others. Mostly, my body has learned the time of day when the bed is transformed into a giant square of sunlight, and I’m compelled to lie there daily. I have become extremely acquainted with two birds who have been mating outside the window and building their nest in my neighbor’s wall. Every week is different. I’m lucky to be able to continue working as an architectural designer remotely, so some days can flow easily between my laptop in the makeshift living room office and the makeshift bedroom studio, while others are packed full with virtual meetings and deadlines, and I’m falling asleep surrounded by stacks of untouched work. My ongoing portrait series began with the premise of loved ones and chosen community sending me reference photos from afar, so that goes on. My other newer work is matter-of-fact: quotidian objects and figures in masks. This photo apparently also shows that I’m getting creative with a yellow desk lamp as lighting, and it seems the snake plant on my shelving unit has wandered into several paintings.

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