Art in the Time of COVID 1
Although the Window Art Gallery is closed, Kingston and area artists are still busy. Theirs is a solo effort at the best of times, but I wondered how the present stay-at-home/physical distancing situation is affecting their art practice. Following is the first in a series of responses by a few of the artists associated with the gallery and the Kingston School of Art.
(Winner, Paint the Town, December 2017, December 2018, January 2020)
“I have been hunkered down on Singleton Lake since mid-January. My hermit, Thoreau-like lifestyle is now in vogue. Our rural satellite internet is slow to start with and now it just barely crawls as people stream movies. This encourages more painting. So I am working on a Georgian Bay series (Pine Flags on Georgian Bay) based on photos I took from the water last September. Working on this series comprising almost forty 8”x10” paintings is a great studio experience when staying at home is the safe and secure thing to do for everyone.
“I have also done some plein air work. The weather is delivered to my doorstep and I always find the sky inspirational (Singleton Winter Contrails). In fact, I have started blogging a series that explains the weather without any mathematics. The weekly ‘Weather Explained’ blog series will likely run for a long, long time.
“My work has become a bit looser, possibly triggered by the rocky music which I play in the studio, but not en plein air.
“COVID-19 has restricted some painting trips that I typically do in support of CPAWS and other nature-oriented organizations. My dream is that, when this is over, we will regain a deep connection with the simple things in life and in nature, replacing our lifestyle of consumption with one of sustainability for all creatures.”
(Second Prize, Juried Exhibition, July 2019)
“One would think that being retired and house bound during this pandemic would avail me of more studio time. But alas, I find myself squeezing in time for art between a different set of obligations and pastimes. Not that this is a bad thing; more quality family time is also a welcome use of my time.
“I am fundamentally a textile artist, but over the past six months I have been playing with more conventional mediums like paint, charcoal and pastels.
“I have a limited array of supplies and tools at home. So I have given myself a few challenges: finish stitching a number of previously designed textile pieces; play in my sketch book a few times a week to document my thoughts and feelings during this time; and use my limited supply of acrylic paints to experiment with small abstract works.
“But there was one thing in particular that I wanted to do when I found time, and I have just finished this exercise. In February I had done a pastel on paper entitled Life Lines. It was an experimental abstract using pastels. I had never used pastels prior to this piece. I wanted to duplicate this piece in textiles and stitch. It has just been completed. It remains unframed, awaiting the reopening of Art Noise. It was an interesting exercise that I may choose to repeat again in the future.”
(WAG Gallery Director; Beyond Classrooms volunteer)
“Fortunately, even before our age of contagion and confinement began, I had established a regular daily art routine. I call this practice my art injection. Along with exercise, breakfast, coffee and the morning paper, making art is essential for my well-being and helps form the pillars of my day. Everything I create is small and simple and usually spontaneous. I definitely do not need any more large pieces in my house, or my life! A mere 15 to 20 minutes a day is sufficient to nurture my artistic soul. I feel my vibration being raised as I tune into this creative and meditative state. It resonates with me throughout the day and helps me stay in the light.
“I often find inspiration in magazines and newspaper photos. Recent drawings in my sketchbook include a pastel portrait of Meaghan Markle and a conté drawing of a young man after an ad in ROM Magazine.”
(Honourable Mention, Juried Exhibition, July 2019)
“Before social distancing measures were in place I was working on a few things for a show I was supposed to have with Beth tenHove in May at the Tett Centre. I was working on some large abstract acrylic paintings. Now, with schools closed, I have my teenagers at home. My studio is also in my home, so as a result my work hours—and my attention span—are a lot more choppy. My daughter uses my studio almost as much as I do!
“I have still been working on some of the large—40”x40”--abstracts (Go), but it has been much easier and frankly more therapeutic to focus on small 6”X6” oil-on board still-lifes that, as in the case of Mini Tulips, need to be captured immediately. I have posted and sold a bunch of these pieces on Instagram. I think social media is the perfect venue for these cheery, accessible pieces—signs of Spring and hope.
“Lots has changed for sure...my outlook, the structure (or lack thereof) of my days and my weeks, my subject matter and perhaps most importantly my sales outlets. Beth and I are working on both postponing and re-imagining our art exhibit. The Kingston Glass Studio and Gallery, where I exhibit, has obviously been closed and is also promoting artwork online. I am using social media and word of mouth as sales avenues for the time being.
“I am grateful every day that for now I can continue creating as my occupation, and I welcome the way the world is embracing the arts in general in a whole new way.”
(Upcoming retrospective exhibition)
“I am really enjoying this time at home. I have not made any art, although I did sew 150 face masks. Instead, I am using the time to catch up on all sorts of things I have been meaning to do, from backing up my computer, to updating my website, repairing a couple of damaged artist’s books, updating my mailing list of librarians who have purchased or showed interest in my work in the past, and sending them an email, applying for the OAS, finishing knitting a couple of pairs of socks (both started but set aside,) and spring cleaning, and gardening.
“Here is a photo of one of my first artist’s books, Transformation Book #7, made in 1980. A friend just sent it to me to use in my retrospective entitled ‘Connection: Forty Years of Artist’s Books’. I had totally forgotten making it, so it was a treat to see it again. Had we not been in isolation, this retrospective exhibition would have opened on the May 2 weekend at the Window Art Gallery.”
BRUCE ST. CLAIR
(KSOA instructor; Paint the Town, December 2018, judge; Juried Exhibition, July 2018, judge)
“I'm presently working on a 4'x 5' oil of Glencoe, a picturesque glen of volcanic origin in the Scottish Highlands. But my main reason for painting this scene is to recognize the tragic historical significance of the location. In 1692, during one of the darkest times in Scottish history, 38 members of the MacDonald clan of Glencoe were slaughtered by English soldiers. My ancestry being Scottish, I am deeply moved by this particular story.
“Those who’ve been to my house have seen the painting. It's been waiting a few years for me to have time to finish it. I’ve been trying to 'green it up' from the darker and browner photos taken by my wife, Lori, during her 2007 tour of Scotland with the Ontario Massed Band. And, of course, I’m adding more heather! I’ve also decided to introduce patches of sunlight peeking through a mostly overcast sky (there was a suggestion of that in the photo already), which means I'll have to introduce at least a little blue into the sky.
“My mornings usually begin with the checking of my emails. When this all began and classes were cancelled, I initiated an email exchange with students in my various classes, inviting them to post what they were working on for mutual encouragement and suggestions, as well as my attempt at critiques, as I would do in class. Although I now actually have time for my own work, the most difficult aspect of the present situation for me is, of course, not being able to connect with my people in person!”
Ulrike Bender is a former graphic designer, art director and ESL teacher who, in retirement, has ventured into photography. She is currently a volunteer gallery assistant at the WAG and a docent at Agnes.