Updated: May 29
A map artist draws detailed layouts of his apartment.
A photographer somehow snaps pictures of herself in a cupboard.
A sketch artist moves her class online, sharing her students’ work via email, for critique.
Many artists routinely work alone, seeking the distance needed to concentrate, to pour themselves into their pastels, scrape their sculptures into delicate parchment, idle silently while waiting for just the right light. But what happens when alone becomes mandatory, when the solitary becomes confinement, when the quiet rings.
A photographer in Norfolk who shoots “day-in-the-life” documentary stills has resorted to her own family. Angela Douglas Ramsay says her four kids are fairly used to her invasive lens. Still she consults them before making the results public. Her latest workaround is the self-portrait. She’s committed to one per day, documenting herself in various, constricted, somewhat
“They’re quirky and fun and I really just do it because it makes me laugh,” says Ramsay, in an interview for “Focus on the Story,” a non-profit organization which supports visual arts. (https://focusonthestory.org/) Before the stay-in order in New York, she took porch portraits of high schoolers in their prom outfits, shooting from the street.
Another photographer decided to use her art to re-create togetherness, embellish it, even. Gulnara Samoilva, holed up in her New York City apartment, took family photo scrapbooking to a new level. She created collages of her relatives and others, then added color to the black and white photos. She says it helps her feel like her family is near.
British mapmaker Gareth Fuller usually goes on vast walking expeditions to get the lay of the land before he puts pen to paper. Once he found himself confined in Beijing, he began drawing intricate layouts of his apartment.
“"You end up spending more time looking at the details, slowing back down, getting into the meat of certain subjects you wouldn't usually have time to do. Your day is much more planned and less reactive." The result is a series of 14 drawings, titled “The Quarantine Maps.”
Artists who have been driven from their studios are faced with finding creative space at home. One California fiber artist who is now home schooling her daughter, has set up shop in a Volkswagon camper, parked in her backyard. Tanya Aguinita says it’s “meditative” to continue her work, even though she’s been separated from her own new exhibit at Pasadena’s Armory Center for the Arts, indefinitely. (LA Times Carolina Miranda April 3)
Eddie Lavin, a sculptor who has studio space at the SoCo Arts Lab, here in Tracy’s Landing, often works there or in a warehouse but has also created new space at home out of a “dinky” walk in closet. He says his current project in which he’s demonstrating oscillation, has “flowed out onto my living room floor, and has created quite the mess.” Still, he’s embracing the seclusion.
“Isolation is synonymous with solitude; solitude is where I find my peace of mind, which when channeled properly, provides for creative energy,” says Lavin. “Creative energy is not bound by limitations of space, time, or even a global pandemic for that matter, therefore I am grateful for this opportunity to use this time wisely."
Lora Collins, a lab founder, had just begun a drawing class there when Maryland’s Governor Hogan shut pretty much everything down. So she started a drawing group on Facebook where contributors post their work and others can comment. She says it’s been rewarding to see how other are motivated.
SoCo Arts lab painter, Ruth Bailey says watching watercolor pigments melt together on paper makes her happy and during these anxious times, getting to a happy place is more important than ever. Normally she works alone in her studio. But now she and her students as well as other artists “are connecting via recorded lessons on YouTube and having art chats and showing each other what we have done via emails and remote meetings on the internet. In some ways I feel more connected than usual, as time in my studio was usually a solitary affair.”
Another lab founder, Nancy Oliver says she worries that social distancing will quash the group’s growing outreach and presence in the community.
“I struggle with the decimating effect of isolation on the lab’s building momentum,” Nancy says. “But that same isolation has also created an opportunity for me to focus on my own art, a welcome cathartic respite from the current chaos.”
Artists who work solo outside are on the periphery.
One New York photographer, Reuben Radding says he must conquer his fear daily, to keep his feet on the street. Once he’s outside, though he says he feels more normal, less reckless. “…I walked down the middle of 42nd street between 5th and 6th Avenues in the middle of the day and it’s incredibly easy not being near anybody.” And documenting this time, which he says is like nothing he’s ever seen in his 31 years as a New York resident, is important and feels essential.
“When I walk around this city I see this incredible adapting going on…the street skateboarders are just killing it! They are just loving this time because their city is now just this open playground.”
Documenting the current situation is critical for generations to come. History is not necessarily recorded by VIPs of the time, but by those who are watching. More well-known writers craft articles for newspapers or magazines. But non-essential scribes might simply keep diaries or journals to pass along to their children or grandchildren.
Or, as Joan Didion recommends, write for yourself.
“I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
Art is often a product of the times. As we look to the next few weeks of isolated creativity it will be telling to watch how our passions and creativity evolve.