LOS ANGELES — In 2020, I can’t count the number of times that my social media feeds shared how iconic names, like Shakespeare and Shelley, created landmark works while in isolation. But this overlooks the mental weariness and overwhelming grief many people — including artists — felt during the tumultuous year.
Esther Pearl Watson finds a way to channel the surrounding strangeness of this period — and our collective adapting to an unprecedented time — in Safer at Home: Pandemic Paintings at Vielmetter Los Angeles. In more than 100 paintings, the artist froze mundane moments that she observed during the pandemic, which collectively catalogue larger shifts like social distancing, racial uprisings, and economic uncertainty.
Watson describes the pieces as “small, intimate records” of the scenes she encounters on her drive to her studio in Los Angeles. She imbued her “obsessive memories” into each small painting, created in the style of the ex-voto, an artwork traditionally acknowledging a tragic event intercepted by divine forces. The artist sees these pieces as signs of resilience.
Yet the artworks are also windows into some of our privileges — yours truly included, as I write this from my apartment, where I view the exhibition virtually — in the midst of the pandemic. One painting mentions the death of George Floyd while showing figures walking their dogs. In another, a group gathers on a front lawn for a distanced happy hour, a luxury not all Angelenos get. While the pandemic changes everyone’s routine, who gets to walk without fear and who has the means to adjust more easily is still a stark contrast.
Black cloth banners interrupt these clusters of paintings, showing the number of deaths in the US from COVID-19, starting with one death and increasing to 238,000.
Watson captures the lives of people of color in the city, like those selling tamales and masks on the street. La Fiesta Party Supplies shows up a few times, eventually with a sign in Spanish that says it’s closed. This brings to mind the work of Jorge Garza, also known as Qetza, which depicts essential workers as Aztec warriors. Or the drawings of Aya Brown depicting Black women essential workers in New York. Communities of color, after all, are being hit the hardest. The growing digits on Watson’s black banners might also remind us that each number is a person someone has lost.
Watson sometimes created two paintings a day to keep up with what she saw. There are still so many changes, every day, happening around us.
Safer at Home: Pandemic Paintings continues online and in-person at Vielmetter Los Angeles (1700 S. Santa Fe Ave #101, Downtown, Los Angeles) through February 6, 2021. The gallery is open by appointment only.
The action could disrupt public access to the museum as workers campaign for higher wages and better labor conditions.
Over 500 scholars signed an open letter to reinstate the exhibition, which was postponed in consideration of the ongoing war in Ukraine.
This week, artist studios in the streets of Manhattan, a Texas high school, a Brooklyn apartment, and more.
Your list of must-see, fun, insightful, and very New York art events this month, including Ed Ruscha, Nina Katchadourian, Luis Camnitzer, Martha Edelheit, and more.
Join the New-York Historical Society on February 10 for a virtual conversation about our changing relationship to the natural world with Julie Decker, John Grade, and LaMont Hamilton.
Asawa’s life masks do not keep count of past or future losses.
At San Francisco’s Legion of Honor, Mobina Nouri took scissors to her own strands and invited others to do the same.
Amid a worsening inflation crisis, Sergio Guillermo Diaz’s banknote artworks are a poignant symbol of Argentinian resilience.
Theatres of Melancholy: The Neo-Romantics in Paris and Beyond highlights a group of artists who found acclaim and patronage only to fall back into obscurity.
Presented by Northwestern’s Block Museum and McCormick School of Engineering, this new exhibition seeks empathy at the boundaries of life. On view in Evanston, Illinois.
Jean Renoir’s newly restored 1939 classic proves that lawless wealth — then as now — makes a marvelous farce of us all.
Hamburg’s Antisemitism Commissioner disparaged photographer Adam Broomberg for his support of the BDS movement.