Artist Spotlight, Arts & Culture, Arts & Culture, Interview

Creatives in Quarantine

Three studio artists talk about making shit in the Spring of 2020

by

Boston Hassle put out a call for writers to author pieces about the creative person’s perspective on how we’re holding up in the time of COVID-19 and I thought, HEY, I’m a studio artist, maybe that’s interesting? Now, studio artists are a solitary lot (and that’s partially by design) so in a lot of ways, life hasn’t changed much for a lot of us. We hang out in dank, scummy studios by ourselves (or nicely lit, clean and pristine spaces depending on how you like it) and retreat into our thoughts more than most professions. However, there is a social aspect to it. When you create a piece and then put it into the world, on some level, it’s not the first line of a conversation. There are artists that really do follow that cliche and “only make art for me” but these people (despite what they profess) are the exception and not the rule. That art, made just for art’s sake, is usually only seen by the people that make it and then sent directly to a storage space where it is then maybe only seen by the people that clear out vacant homes. (This is only my opinion as a 40-year-old artist, no one else involved endorses this viewpoint.) 

So, what happens to us when we, as artists, are now speaking into an even greater void than we had previously? That’s what we’re here to find out.

I make especially social art. I started Two Thangs about 5 years ago, and I consider myself to have collaborated with over a hundred people to make a shit-ton of paintings. People come to me and give me two pieces of the outside world and we work together to make them into original acrylic paintings. A lot of this can now happen digitally through Skype, phone calls, email or really any way of connecting, so that hasn’t changed. However the Internet is so vast that there are few people actually searching out new things, and you’re more just connecting with the people that are already aware of you.  So at the moment, my art is in a bubble.

On top of this, I am an artist who believes in outreach. I believe in taking my art to communities that may not have even considered original art to be something attainable, and showing them it can be. I take my wares to any place that a large number of people are gathering and talk to them all day about what kind of painting they would want to see and what it would say about them. I love/hate it. Out of every 5 people I talk to, 3 couldn’t give a shit, 1 is obstinately set in the mindset that art is worthless and then there’s 1 person who gets it and wants to have an interesting conversation. I miss those conversations! That’s some magic that can’t happen in a self-contained environment. 

There’s also a second level to my art that is about the ways that people connect. I make a painting with a man who lives off the grid in the hills of Chelan in the closest thing to bumblefuck in the Pacific Northwest and I take that image around the country. Some rough-and-tumble dude at a tattoo convention in Philadelphia is searching through my stack of prints, finds it, and it speaks to him so much that he comes back hours later because he connected to it. There’s something magical about making the art of other people and seeing how we all connect. As we shift globally to a mindset where our connections are with smaller spheres of quarantine groups, I really want to use my art to remind people that there are lot of great people in the world. You probably have a sister from another mister halfway across the world that you haven’t even had the chance to meet yet.

 

GOLDSUIT

But, that’s my very specific experience. What about other artists in the world? GOLDSUIT, aka Genevieve, is one of my favorite artists from the city that is ground zero for the epidemic: Seattle, Washingon. She is a visual artist who also does digital design, illustration, and mostly painting. She makes a ton of paintings ranging from small pieces based on pop culture (La Croix cans with flavors like “Send Nudes” and “Feelings”) to large, “hangable murals,” which are big ol’ street art-style pieces with custom-made panels that she spray paints with otherworldly characters and scenes. They’ve been dubbed “Saturday morning cartoons on acid” which seems appropriate. Anyways, she’s putting some great things into this world and you can follow her at @Goldsuit on IG or buy direct at www.artofgoldsuit.com

 

2T: First, hi! How are you? How are you doing in all this?

GOLDSUIT: Hi! I’m doing okay, thank you for asking. I’m a pretty solitary beast by nature; I mostly trek back and forth from my home to my art studio. So my day-to-day routine hasn’t changed much.

2T: Have you been working in the studio during quarantine, and how has the physical state of being shut in affected the productivity of what you make or how you make it?

GS: I’ve definitely been spending a ton of time in my studio, but that’s pretty normal for me. I think the slowing down of the outside world has made it psychologically easier to be shut in; if there’s not a whole lot going on outside – no socializing, parties, shows – it feels more okay to spend more time working in the studio. So my productivity has definitely improved in that regard. Also, I’m feeling a huge sense of gratitude and fulfillment that I’m able to keep working on art and make an income from it, and that feeling of pride has been fueling me to get more done and to continue to do my best to produce the best, happiest little art pieces to send out into the world

2T: Is there a lag between when you process the world (or your emotions as transferred from your environment) and then they show up in the things you make?

GS: That’s interesting. Yes; sometimes, months or years after I paint something, I notice that I was subconsciously getting some feelings out via the artwork. In this case, though, I think the processing of the world was pretty immediate. I starting making paintings with the sole purpose of creating something positive that delivers messages or imagery that I feel would boost people’s spirits: the little ghost paintings that I make all have happy/hopeful expressions now, my La Croix cans all say things like “Everything is Going to be OK” or “Be Good to Each Other”, and the designs for my larger pieces have started incorporating more humor. 

 

2T: Do you think the changing world will impact your work going forward? 

GS: I’m sure it will. I think there will be a more conscious, deliberate attitude of “what good will this bring to the world?” when I work on new things.

2T:  What is it specifically about the environment that you think might be causing your want to counteract or to enhance with positivity? Just a general balance to anxiety and isolation, or is it something else? 

GS: Yep, exactly – it’s a counterbalance to the feelings of fear, stress, and loneliness that a lot of us are going through. At first, it was just a personal realization that I needed to hear and remember that everything is going to be ok, and then it was like, “well who DOESN’T need to hear this right now?” That’s when it turned into an art production; leaning into the positive sentiment and incorporating it into my work.

2T: Is art the means with which you pay your bills?

GS: 100%

2T: Art-world finances are something that definitely seem like the first thing to be impacted by a rough economy. Have you seen that already, and how do you intend to deal with it if it all goes to shit?

GS: Thankfully, I’m seeing the same amount of orders and commissions that I would normally get. I’m no longer hosting Open Studio events, though, and that might prove to be rough. We’ll see!

2T: As solitary artists, it does seem that we exist in a vacuum, as you described, and that can fit to our personalities by design. If we wanted friends, we’d be in bands or something! Haha. It sounds like your open studios were a place where the community intersected with what you do/make. Will you miss it (besides the monetary necessity) and are there other places in which you feel like your art and community came together? Is that part of your process (or not)? 

Goldsuit: Oh my gosh, YES I am going to miss it like crazy. As I said, I’m pretty solitary, so my Open Studios were my main source of socialization and connecting with artists and fans. The events were just kinda getting off the ground, too; we were drawing more and more people every month and the atmosphere was so positive and funky. I’m definitely missing the feeling of connecting with people. Right now, there aren’t really any other public events or art community-related things that I’m taking part in, aside from some public art to cover up the wood paneling that businesses are using to board up their windows. Haha, when this is all over, I want to host the biggest, sweatiest, most crammed Open Studio ever. Gotta get that human connection back!

 

The cliche of a “starving artist” is there for a reason. Art is the first thing to go as the budget tightens, and all of us know it.  Those of us that are lucky enough to be fully employed by our artmaking know that every fluctuation of the market is an axe above our heads, as there is little guaranteed income in the industry (SIDE NOTE: SIGN UP FOR SOMEONE’S PATREON TODAY AND HELP CHANGE THAT!). But the majority of artists in the world today are doing their work part-time. They get their income from other professions, outside help, or whichever way they can, and they work hard to make art when they’re not doing that. How does this affect them?

 

BELLA STEELE

Bella Steele is a Boston artist and creator of installations and objects. I came across her work at the amazing Allston show, “Our Secret Language,” a few years ago. She had some very interesting and challenging pieces in the show and I’ve been a fan since. You can find out all the deets and see more of her work at www.bellasteele.com

 

2T: How are you? How are you doing in all this? 

BS: I’m doing alright! Definitely ups and downs; some days are better than others. But as of now, I am thankful to be safe, healthy, and making a lot of bread.

2T: Have you been working in the studio during quarantine? How has the physical state of being shut in affected the productivity of what you make or how you make it? 

BS: I think I have changed my idea of “studio time” a bit while in quarantine. My bread making, building a bench, and going on bike rides with a camera are the bulk of my studio time these days. It feels like the primary goal is to remain sane and safe. I do still have the urges to make things, though perhaps at more irregular times. I’ve been working on a couple of projects – I’d say they’ve taken a pandemic turn. I’ve been thinking about the hierarchy of information, and how odd it is to be relatively “on the same page” as everyone else in my state, or in the US, and in the world.

2T: Could you expand on why you think it feels odd to be “on the same page” as everyone else?

Bella:  It feels odd to be on the same page as everyone because that isn’t “normal”. There is the obvious change where, if able, people are staying home more than usual, but there are also social dynamics that are shifting. I’d imagine it is a mix of anxiety and being afraid. I’ve been thinking of it as an analogy to a term coined in game theory; something called “The Magic Circle”. It is like when there is an understood change in awareness of appropriate actions when a table of people sit down to play a competitive card game. 

2T: Is there a lag between when you process the world (or your emotions as transferred from your environment) and then they show up in the things you make? 

Bella: It depends. For me, it typically needs to be many puzzle pieces (both research-wise and emotionally) that eventually add up to something substantial. But then there is that final puzzle piece that brings it all together – which, in a moment, can feel immediate but it wouldn’t have been possible without the previous pieces being placed. Does that make sense?

2T: Do you think the changing world will impact your work going forward? 

BS: I don’t see how it couldn’t.

2T: Is art the means by which you pay your bills? 

BS: No. However, I do work in the art world, as in, I work at galleries and museums as an art installer, and that all came to a shockingly abrupt halt over a month ago.

2T: With so much discussion of “essential workers” and who is deemed to be one, where do you think art and the creators of art fit into that?

BS: Art is essential, but art and the sharing of it can be done from home. Perhaps, for now, the emphasis can be shifted away from the monetary relevance and inevitable characteristic of art, and switched to small scale sharing of works and introspection.  It is a privilege to be able to be at home and still be making work.

 

2T: Art-world finances are something that definitely seems like the first thing to be impacted by a rough economy. Have you seen that already, and how do you intend to deal with it if it all goes to shit? 

Bella: I believe artists and their communities will always find a way, even if it may look a little different than it used to.

2T: Is there a social element to your work? Do you enjoy or find necessary the discussions you have with people about your work while or after it is made?

Bella: There is a point where I find it helpful to discuss work. I am lucky to have inquisitive friends and a very smart and helpful partner at home.

 
 

So, Art is a conversation, and it’s still being had. Seems like we’re holding up and ingesting the world. Pretty soon it’ll all be spit back out in whatever form that comes back up. At the end of all this, we, the people, will be rebuilding the world by what we chose to support. Stay safe, buy local, and support good things so that the shitty things are the ones that fall to the wayside.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License(unless otherwise indicated) © 2019