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A View From the Easel During Times of Quarantine

This week, artists reflect on quarantining from their studios in Connecticut, New Jersey, Georgia, and New York.

This is the 174th 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.

Emma Stevenson, Branford, Connecticut

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I knew that easel was good for something!

Since quarantine, I’ve been doing laundry outside, and the easel has become a drying rack also … not using it for painting because I’m having major creative block here. At a stand still. I see the studios and wonder if some others are experiencing the same…? A lot of artists are thriving in these times. I love this beautiful, old studio which functions as a living space (and now gym!). I’m very very lucky to have it. Hoping a breakthrough comes soon. I miss inspiration and thrashing away on this huge, sturdy easel that I was so lucky to inherit from an older friend. Those are his old paint strokes on the ledge. Seeing his energetic, old splatters makes me happy and gives hope all will come back soon!

Erin O’Brien-Kenna, Bloomfield, New Jersey

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My studio is a very sunny room in my house; not a large room, but I make it work. Normally, I paint photorealistic portraits in oil on big canvases that take many months to complete; but lately, I’ve been going much smaller, and focusing on self-portraits, which is a bit of a departure for me. I decided a couple of years ago to do a 180 on the color scheme and paint the very drab, beige walls a rich, dark chocolate brown, and I love the vibe that it gives; I find it to be very soothing (which is something that I can say we could all use a bit of right now) and for some reason, it helps me to concentrate better. Sometimes, even if I’m not in the mood to paint, I’ll come in and just hang out on the little sofa and let my mind wander off to a place where I can think up new ideas and projects. I love my studio.

Susan Weinthaler, Narrowsburg, New York

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I’m a New York City artist (or was) and moved my studio out of Bushwick, Brooklyn, to Narrowsburg, NY, when the world locked down this spring. All pending projects at the time disappeared with no end in sight, so I broke my lease and took everything to my Big Blue Barn in the woods. Funny how sometimes life gives you just what you need in the midst of tragedy. What a different perspective nature offers compared to the urban jungle, and now I can’t envision ever having a studio in NYC again. I can’t wait to see how this changes my work going forward, as I’m sure it will, but presently I feel like I’m in the middle of a tectonic plate shift between chapters. My daily process now is more like the life of a Buddhist monk consisting of solitude and sweeping. I’m living in an extended meditation retreat and tapping into a world I had forgotten about, replacing sirens with songbirds.

Brendhan Garland, Statesboro, Georgia

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This past April I packed everything I owned from my apartment/studio in Los Angeles into my 2006 Honda Civic and began the three-day drive cross-country to my parents’ home in Georgia. Along the way processing my abrupt departure from LA and reflecting upon the opportunities received and lessons learned, one of which being: how to create work in a small space (like the corner of an LA bedroom) with limited materials and resources. Through this journey I developed my current process of using found objects to reflect upon social and political issues, capture my present emotional state, and dismantle concepts of self or ego. Now, back home, because of my experience in LA, I was able to reestablish the bedroom/studio in Georgia and am currently producing a body of work utilizing plastic bags, gel-medium and “oops” paint (“oops” paint being paint that hardware stores sell for $1.50 because they messed up the color and consequently my favorite material because of its cost effectiveness). It is my hope that I will be able to expand upon the material and intuitive aspects of this body of work through research and eventually begin the process of developing another site-specific installation.

Katie Shulman, Syracuse, New York

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Monday, March 16 was the first day of my last spring break as a Master of Fine Arts student at Syracuse University. That third Monday in March also marked the beginning of the end of my access to my working space on campus. From March 16 until mid-June, I quarantined in an apartment with three other roommates, unable to find much space to work save a corner of the kitchen table or seat on the couch. Then, on June 15 two of my roommates moved out leaving behind an extra bedroom, which I was able to convert into the first designated making space I have had access to in four months.

I have never lived this close to my work — I see it when I go to the kitchen to make a meal and on my way to the shower. I am now looking at my work in the context of my daily life, which is a brand-new experience and one that feels potentially profound.

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