Art is something people look toward in times of both triumph and heartbreak. It might be a song that soothes a listener’s soul, a painting that centers a viewer’s mind, a poem, film or book that brings comfort or provides inspiration.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, as we’ve found ourselves locked down and unable to congregate like we’re used to, art plays an even bigger role in our lives. It’s hard to imagine surviving 2020 without centuries’ worth of words, sounds and colors at our disposal to help.
We asked a group of the region’s artists and art lovers how they’re getting their art fix during these strange days. Here’s what they had to say:
KAREN MOBLEY, visual artist and author
My poetry book, Trial by Ordeal, was released in May. I have been working to get it into bookstores (Aunties, Atticus, Wishing Tree and From Here). My art show, Water and Sky, for the Moses Lake Museum and Art Center was postponed but opens in October. I’ve worked on new poems, stories and paintings. This has been punctuated with gardening, reading my backlog of books and New Yorker magazines, and outdoor excursions.
I have been spending time almost daily with my neighbor 9-year-old triplets. We painted a “magical forest” mural on the side of my house. We’ve played with art materials and they have befriended my cats. It’s been fun to watch them grow, and I’ve been experimenting with materials that I haven’t used for years. I have made a few small sculptures and helped cut 22 rolls of duct tape for numerous forts and “cat entertainment facilities” and “zen huts.” I’ve been listening to Spokane Public Radio. I have listened to numerous home recordings created by musician friends. I missed summer outdoor concerts and performances. I look forward to more Zoom theatre and poetry readings.
I’ve worked hard to encourage other creatives to know about emergency funding sources, grants and opportunities.
REINALDO GIL ZAMBRANO, printmaker and co-founder Spokane Print & Publishing Center
I ordered several books for personal research: Street Art Today, Animals and Printmaking by Bill
Fick. What I did with these books was to explore more into the techniques, aesthetics, similarities and approaches so I can combine my love for mural painting and printmaking. I have also been doing Instagram Live with several artists friends where we talk about our practice, answer questions and do some demoing. Also Facebook Live with my homies from Spokane Print & Publishing Center. I am a huge fan of the Chef’s Table and Street Food documentary series on Netflix. The cinematography is great, but the inside stories on how people make and work in their craft is super inspirational to me. I have checked many “how to” and tutorials on the incorporation of digital tools for my own art making. I have conducted interviews with some of my favorite artists for a printmaking podcast in the Spanish version titled Pine | Copper | Lime. Also recommend this podcast for some insightful conversations with some amazing artists.
LINDSAY JOHNSTON, aka, Vanna Oh!, musician
I’ve been studying and consuming Frank Ocean tunes from Channel Orange and Blonde pretty much every time I hop in my minivan. He’s a genius. As for newer music, I recently discovered Tierra Whack while doing YouTube workout videos (RIP gyms!). Her music and persona is so interesting to me. I watched the Rocket Man movie (finally) and started learning to play “Honky Cat” by Elton John on the keys. I wrote some music with DJ Spicy Ketchup (also from Spokane) for fun. We’ll see if anyone ever gets to hear it. I also devoured the first season of Homecoming on Amazon Prime which is up there with Pushing Daisies and Twin Peaks as one of the most artistic series I’ve ever seen.
JULIE GAUTIER-DOWNES JACKSON, artist and former Richmond Art Collective executive director
I have found the pandemic and challenges I faced trying to keep the Richmond Art Collective afloat to be very distracting for me creatively. I haven’t been able to create any conceptually relevant work since last winter. I have, however, been using the pandemic to focus on family time, regroup professionally, and learn some new skills. I taught myself to use a sewing machine and quilt. I made each of my stepdaughters a quilt and then taught them to sew. It has been fun sharing skills and developing new ones together. Nesting and building more stability at home has been a welcomed distraction from the chaos and uncertainty of the outer world.
TOD MARSHALL, former Washington poet laureate
This spring and summer, when American life (already on a grim road of despotism) took a COVID swerve and then kept going (and now may be hurtling toward a Nov. 3 guardrail), I engaged in some reading jags with a couple of friends — stuck at home (like everyone), we simultaneously read a dozen or so Faulkner novels (to understand the Confederate monument issue? The myths of the South? Maybe. But more likely to lose this world by diving into Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha world — a place as violently messed up as ours, sure, but seemingly driven by understandable forces rather than the haphazard absurdism of our moment) and all of Proust’s A Remembrance of Things Past (which means seven volumes — in translation — of the most obsessively constructed novel in modern literature, books that spend dozens of pages recounting exchanges at parties, considerations and reconsiderations, a magnifying glass put over all lived moments in order to transform those lived moments into that singular vehicle for redeeming the past: art). I don’t know if all of this reading helped or gave me sustenance or satiated a fix, but I am glad for the diversions. As for my own creativity — well, since the end of the poet laureate gig — a frenetic overdose of telling people how much language matters, how words matter — which coincided with the ascendency of Trump and those who empower him and the many, many for whom, it seems, words do not matter, I haven’t felt a compulsion to return to creating. I am glad, though, for the words of others that have helped me look away from the wreckage, and, thus, maybe I’ll find my way back to making things.
JENI HEGSTED, visual artist and Emerge director
I often have a dark way of finding comfort. Instead of seeking out comedy and lighthearted content, I’m always drawn to something darker than I’m experiencing. I like to think, “It could always be worse.” Somehow there is comfort in this. During quarantine I read The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time. As an avid reader, I’m not sure how I missed this dystopian gem. I then binged all 4 seasons. I was impacted by Margaret Atwood’s words in describing this book: “I made a rule for myself: I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time, or for which the technology did not already exist. I did not wish to be accused of dark, twisted inventions, or of misrepresenting the human potential for deplorable behavior.”
I don’t think you can read this book, during this time of COVID-19, great civil unrest and the most important election maybe ever, and not be challenged to fight for the betterment of humanity.
In addition, I had a very hard time focusing on creating art work. Found myself channeling my energy towards creating comfort in our home. Painting many walls, hanging art from people I admire and love, shopping online for the softest bedding. All of these things, along with dancing everyday with my daughter, helped keep my creative spirit alive.
GINGER EWING, Terrain executive director
Art has truly been a coping mechanism for me during COVID-19. It has brought me to tears, made my soul feel less heavy, and allowed me to do silly things like dance my stress out. I’ve been listening to [Beyonce’s] Black Parade and Run the Jewels on repeat. I’ve been binging Lovecraft Country, Hannah, Insecure and Watchmen. I’ve been looking at Nina Simone’s quote, “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.” And Kendrick Sampson’s quote, “There is no revolution without art” for inspiration. I’ve been seeking out visual artists such as Yungai, Damon Davis, Shirien, Joshua Kissi and Dominic Chambers for new perspectives, and have looked towards literary artists and activists such as Charles H.F. Davis III and Kimberly Latrice Jones for guidance. These experiences make me feel less alone. They make me feel rooted in this place and time, and they make me feel more connected to my humanity. They’re giving me hope to hope again.
JAMES LOWE, Spokane Symphony music director
Music is always my first port of call when I need comfort or solace, but I try to make sure I don’t get stuck in any genre bubble. I’ve become increasingly interested in traditional folk music lately and think of it as a living aural history of the land from which it comes. I recently geeked out when I got hold of a rare copy of Lithuanian folk music that Stravinsky “borrowed” from for The Rite of Spring. It’s incredible to see how different languages affect the rhythms, too. In Hungarian, for example, the accent is on the first syllable of each word, and so the folk music has a similar lilt.
My wife and I are also trying to fill in some glaring blanks of films we haven’t seen, so have been on a bit of a Hitchcock binge. Some of the special effects that were so groundbreaking at the time look a bit dated when you compare them with the current trend for green-screen mega blockbusters, but his control of tension is incredible. Last night we watched The Birds and found ourselves holding our breaths for large chunks. I just read that after the premiere in London, they hid speakers in the trees outside the cinema and played the threatening flapping and squeaking noises used in the film at the traumatized audience. What a git!
THOM CARAWAY, former Spokane poet laureate and printmaker, co-founder Spokane Print & Publishing Center
I cut several things out that kept me occupied prior to COVID, mostly because I had a hard time focusing: reading, movies, sports (hard time caring, once they came back). I have been listening to a lot of music, but mostly familiar, comfortable stuff. I have written almost no poetry since March. In place of all that routine and “normalcy” has been print-making. Even when we were totally shut down, I was able to spend a lot of time in the press room at Spokane Print & Publishing Center, and just made prints. I experimented with new techniques, moved in less representational directions, landed my first prints in some international exchanges and juried shows, and really started to feel like a letterpress print artist, rather than just a dabbler. I’ve connected with many other print artists through Instagram and the United in Isolation video series (print artists giving tours of their studios and talking about craft). Generally, I think there has been a lot of trimming out of what wasn’t truly important for me. The poetry will come back, and the reading already has to some extent. The other thing that kept me going, strangely enough, has been RPGs, and reconnecting with my passion for writing them. Almost all the writing I’ve done has been in that genre, and it’s been great.
MARSHALL PETERSON, photographer and Marmot Art Space owner
I’ve had many peak experiences in the big museums of Europe and Latin America over the years. There’s nothing that can take the place of seeing works of art in person — so I haven’t spent much quarantine time looking at pixels on a screen. I’ve needed to pick up art a couple times in Seattle and when I’m there, I go straight to Foster/White, a massive space that often has incredibly inspired (and inspiring) fine art. And Phen, the owner, is a super gracious host. To keep up with what’s happening locally, I listen to podcasts: Mike Malsam’s Art Hour on KYRS and Jim Tevenan’s Northwest Arts Review on Spokane Public Radio. If I want to tune into what’s happening nationally, I listen to Hrag Vartanian’s Hyperallergic and Artnet News’ The Art Angle. And we get in new pieces every day at Marmot, so I’ve found myself staring at them during quarantine. Nothing beats the first time being in front of a work of art, but great work deserves multiple viewings. It’s fun to space out while staring at art. ♦