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A View From the Easel During Times of Quarantine

This week, artists reflect on quarantining from their studios in Tennessee, New York, Texas, and New Mexico.

This is the 176th 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.

Jodi Hays, Nashville, Tennessee

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I last submitted to View from the Easel in 2013, right as I had built a backyard garage studio.

I have been quarantining with my family in East Nashville. I have exchanged the care for my MFA students for caring for and helping to teach my own three kids in virtual school. I spent most of fall 2019 researching and writing. That deep work set me up for a productive and gratifying studio practice in spring 2020, creating a strange and vivid contrast between what was happening in the work and outside in the world. The feeling of immense gratitude for this space stands in direct contrast and in equal measure to the darkness around us. My work has a deepened connection to materiality and home/land through the use of cardboard, paper, and textiles, calling attention to a “southern” povera and rural vernacular.

Lisa Zawadzki, Albuquerque, New Mexico

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My glass-covered atrium home-studio works well in winter and summer during the daytime. In summer months I hang an old bed sheet up to keep out the direct sunlight because here in Albuquerque, New Mexico we receive 330-plus days of sunshine a year. While it’s a small space, I have room for two easels and plenty of storage for a beautiful box of pastels, as well as acrylic and oil paints and all sorts of supplies. I often spend as much time sitting in my armchair in the foreground thinking about what I am going to paint, how I am going to paint next. Since taking a break from landscape painting in pastels and working on new, and more abstracted, pieces, I am using that armchair almost as much as I put brush to canvas.

Carol Diamond, Manhattan, New York

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I live and work in upper Manhattan. During quarantine I made a big leap and moved my bedroom-size studio into my living room, the largest space in the apartment. With the help of my very strong 18 year old daughter, we transformed the apartment, swapped bedrooms, and are in the midst of recreating our own spaces as we desire. This photo shows my messy new studio (with fresh linoleum to protect the floors), and a variety of works in progress; wall pieces in various media, some sculptural assemblage, and lots of materials. I use cement, latex, oil paint, pastels, metal and glass, epoxies, paper.

COVID-19 has engendered this intense period of isolation, contemplation, anxiety, protest, virtual connections, and soul searching. My recent experimentation with sculptural assemblage has engaged me most in my studio practice, allowing me physical, tactile expression of conflicts and passions in my current life, in our current time. This is a year utterly redolent of history, of the unknown, of humanity’s fight, of fear and hope. Unlike any we have known! I am thankful for the strong community of friends, family, and artists in my life.

Michael L. Benson, Dallas, Texas

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I have been painting since the 1970s but stopped about six years ago, for various reasons, but started taking ceramics classes at a community college after my wife gifted me with a class and I have been hooked ever since. It’s been a challenge yet an incredibly wonderful experience in which I have totally immersed myself. I take a Saturday class and am there all day. It’s been great being back in a class environment with different teachers and an incredibly talented group of students. School shut down in mid-March due to COVID-19 and so did my pottery work. Although I have been staying busy, I miss making art (my doodles watching reruns of basketball games don’t count), so my wife convinced me to enroll in an online summer painting class that meets every morning for a few hours for five weeks via Teams. I had to modify my home office (I am a realtor by day) into a combo painting studio and found a lightweight metal easel, a three-tier rolling cart for supplies, and am painting with heavy body acrylics for the first time. I had always used oils in the past.  It’s been great! We have lectures and critiques and I have finished a few paintings and am currently being very ambitious working on a triptych for the final assignment. It’s been great making art again after a few months, particularly during the pandemic, and really wonderful painting again. I use a lot of drawing and painting techniques in my pottery and I feel a bit like I am back at the Arts Students League. I plan to continue taking online classes as long as school is shut down and continue making art. Although it’s not my profession, after more than 40 years making art is far more than a hobby and something I plan to keep doing as long as I am able! It’s been inspiring seeing all the views in this series.

Lise Kjaer, Manhattan, New York

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During my three months confined to a small Manhattan studio apartment (of which three weeks were in complete isolation), I had scaffolding outside my windows, no light and no view. Instead, I found myself inside a “black cube,” that seemed to function a bit like a Camera Obscura. I began to photograph the few beams of light that occasionally made their ways into the space, and came to think of it as an equivalent of Plato’s cave, COVID-19 style. From the inside of my walls, I tried to make sense of the world, while navigating sounds of sirens and news outlets. Unable to go to my studio, my apartment became my sleeping, working, and living space, and my main focus to stay healthy, eat nutritiously, and survive. I began to make a series of short videos with my iPhone that corresponded to my new experiences of insomnia and strange sleeping patterns. In times of uncertainty, it seemed appropriate to simply try and give it a form. I am now working on an installation in reference to my great grandfather’s story, as a castaway on the Midway atoll, in which I interconnect his existential experiences of solitude with mine.

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