When the country shut down in March, my Think A Bot It robot team and I were alerted that the USA engineering STEM festival which we and the Robots had been invited to, was cancelled. The Think A Bot It exhibit had just had a successful showing at Cove Street Arts. I had been spending time fundraising for traveling the exhibit. Shocked and stopped in our tracks, I regrouped. ( A professor at Brown University is still interested in bringing Think A Bot It to RI and has been writing grants that will allow the Robots to be part of an art and science curriculum – a whole other story :).)
The impacts of the pandemic were tragic; people began dying at alarming rates.
Hearing Boston had shut down, knowing Maine was not far behind, I gathered supplies from my studio and brought them home. Painting was to become my refuge. I lived alone and was isolated like so many, and was searching to understand and reflect upon living within and through a pandemic. How does one paint about something so big while existing inside of its immensity. We were all in this together.
When each painting was finished I posted it on FB with commentary. Posting the paintings was not only about sharing the paintings, assuaging my loneliness, it was about communing with others. I was soon to realize that engagement around my art was important not only for myself, but others too who were moved to comment. The painting allowed a space for people to begin to voice feelings that were arising. We were all craving opportunities for engagement. Sometimes over a hundred folks would engage (!) in general 30 to 60 people. We were venting, commiserating and dreaming and questioning together.
#12 The Faithful, 24”x24”
When we moved deeper into the pandemic, I asked folks to reflect on the world that had ‘stopped’.
I asked “What kind of world would you want to see?” I incorporated their visions into paintings, engaging in dialogue about what could/would a sustainable world look like.
Here were some of the thoughts left on my FB wall: “Something new is born.” “Kindness is released.”
Todd R. Nelson contributed a stanza from The Cure of Troy by Seamus Heaney. “I’ve taken this stanza for inspiration from poem IV.” he said.
‘That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.
It means once in a lifetime
That justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.’
The painting above, The Faithful, was inspired by what folks offered.
However, at the beginning of the series, I was simply documenting, and somewhat removed. Remember, I was coping too. My thoughts were to paint/reflect events in a joyful narrative style; so maybe, we as a community might be better able to digest what was happening around us and talk about it. The series was titled GREETINGS FROM A NEW WORLD.
#1 Greetings from a New World: 24” x 30”
We learned that possibly bats and pangolins or pigs in Wuhan had spread the virus to humans; some surmised it was an escaped Bio Weapon. In America we were advised to social distance and greet each other by tapping elbows.
Masks were optional at the beginning. Information came at alarming speed. Some ‘truths’ about the pandemic contradicted each other. We would come to find the President knew how contagious this virus really was and chose to downplay the facts so as “not to alarm folks”.
#3 Easter, 24” x 24”
We were told in March, by President Trump, that the pandemic would be over by Easter. Ah, the Easter surprise. Yes irony was part of the series.
#2 And The Air Cleared, 24” x 24”
Planes stopped and sequestered in place we drove less. My own mother, 93, lives in Dallas. The planned March trip to visit with her was cancelled. Colleges and schools shut down. My two adult daughters, young activists, who had been living away, made their way back to Maine so we could all be in the same place. Having the kids close over the summer was one of the gifts of Covid. And as the world stopped pictures emerged of pollution clearing from smoggy cities around the world. My community and I wondered would we remake capitalism within environmental confines? Would Green New Deals frame us toward the ‘real’ costs we place on the environment and develop new ways of doing business?
The virus was laying bare the many inequities sewn within the fabric of our land, and my heart filled with despair. Those whose work depended on children being able to attend school and with no child care available had to stop working. Working families children, with poor internet connection or without computers would suffer. Children with learning differences would suffer. Neighborhoods of color proportionally, were impacted far more than their white counterparts. Health was not equal. And who received and gave care was not equal. Many POC were on the front lines. The reasons found within systematic racism.
# 7 Shelter In-No Place, 24”x 24”
Homeless and other communities with no placement can neither sequester or shelter in place. My dear friend works with the homeless in MN. Hearing his stories, which I do almost weekly, impact me deeply. I paint a painting about having no home to shelter within.
#5 Comforts, 24”x24”
As our federal leaders fail, our Governors become heroes. Governor Cuomo becomes a model of what leadership might look like, as he begged for PPI from the federal reserves. And as hospitals became overcrowded and staff stretched beyond capacity Governors Cuomo called for help. And healthcare assistance answered the Governor’s call, arriving from around the country. The Navy sent Hospital Ship Comfort to New York. We were in this together.
#13 Dreamers, 24”x24”
In May I asked my community dream a new world with me: Nance Goucher offers “the interconnectedness of community and between humanity and nature. We are all in this together.” Rebecca Booth offers Humans tending to the plant forms and listening to their healing properties and whatever else they have to communicate to us.” Joa Marquis offers “People living i n harmony. Fine tuning our telepathic technology.” I offered up a painting. Portraying the ones who work between time and dimension.
My daughter Serena and her friend are living here. I’m painting in a small room upstairs. Serena is downstairs on calls with other activists around the country. She is a founder of Never Again Action. Their conversations become the soundtrack for my paintings. And daughter Ana, is living in Portland at my ex husband Larry’s small condo.
#8 Sheltering in Group Homes 24”x24”
Larry presently resides in an assisted living facility at Piper Shores. We tune in daily, anxious, hearing how Covid-19 rampages thru congregate living facilities. For safety, Piper Shores closes down. When the facility does open to visitors a few months later, visits will be held for a half an hour twice a month, allowing only two people to visit a loved one at a time. The visits will only be allowed outside. An attendant will sit close by making sure everyone stays masked and 10 feet away from each other. My friend’s Mother in law passed away in a dementia facility from Covid. The family was unable to visit her while she was dying. The sadness of the times becomes a backdrop for us all. My own cousin died of complications other than Covid. Unable to gather or travel, I attended both funerals on Zoom.
In the middle of the summer I came down with pneumonia; having my own Covid scare.
#10 Cages, 24”x24”
Daughter Ana, who speaks fluid spanish and has worked on the boarder accompanying undocumented folks into Arizonia, was spending her time fundraising for food in an undocumented community in NJ whose members had contracted Covid. Ana having been arrested and held at the border in Arizona, detained for essentially doing her job, was also engaged in a lawsuit that the ACLU had brought to the courts in hers and two other aid workers’ names. ACLU was taking Customs and Border Patrol to court for intimidation tactics used against aid workers, preventing them access to folks in need. They miraculously would win this case. My kids are amazing. This also was the backdrop I worked in as I painted.
#6 Shelter In Place, 24”x24”
Personally, I chose not to leave the house even though I have a studio in town. I found comfort in the small quarters I painted within and felt safe at home. It was strange to pull in so much. Loneliness – it did become an issue. Sequestered, we hear about the increase of domestic violence. For several weeks, before my daughters arrived, I hardly saw anyone. And like everyone else, online communities became my outlet.
The virus became more politically divided. One side asking us to wear masks to protect each other and ourselves. The other side eschewing masks: tying the wearing of masks with independence and freedom. Trump was at war with his own medical advisers. The discord heightened everyone’s anxiety.
#15 Whose Breath 24”x30”
George Floyd is murdered. We collectively gasp. The violent cruelty of brutal police action now flapping like white sheets drying in the wind. Cries of defunding the police become communal cries from communities who have suffered so much death in the name of law enforcement. We grapple to understand the scope of what our POC’s have known for years – they are unjustly targeted. WE as a country finally see that racism is undeniable and can no longer lie undercover. Social movements already in place organize and we all take to the streets! America splits apart and we are hurting. Trump fans the fire’s of hate, finding division is politically good for him. Different news outlets in power take a stand as they try to tell the story. Trump declines to denounce white supremacy during a Presidential debate and continues with theatrics of ‘ othering’; delighting his base. I paint about this as well.
#17 Say Their Names 30”x30”
John Lewis would die. His funeral would become a requiem for social justice. As we went to church we all were schooled. Breonna Taylor is shot while sleeping by 3 plain clothes police who enter her house. Rayshard Brooks fell asleep in the wrong place and ended up dead at policing’s hands. Daniel Prude, a mentally ill man needing help, not death, is shot too by police and dies.
#19 Pants on Fire 30”x30”’
Social Activism brings communities together in new ways as many take to the streets protesting the inequities found in the halls of systematic racism.
#16 Church and State 24” x 36”
The world was becoming more absurd. My online community hurt, reacted and expressed. Almost 300 folks left comments when I posted the above painting. Amidst the unacknowledged, pain and anger circling our country, Trump stages his own action; clearing protesters to the side with military tactics, he brings ‘church’ into ‘state’. And standing near a historic house of worship, holding a bible upside down, he calls for law and order.
#1 Fly Rhymes with Lie 10”x 10”
A fly lands on VP Pence’s head during the VP debates as he was explaining to the country that “there is no systematic racism in America”. Finally I had a metaphor and outlet for painting the absurdities perpetuated by the The Trump Presidency.
#6 Divided Flies 18”x24”
Trump’s tactics of divisive politics fueled by lies bruises Democracy. The country suffered. Once again I engage with my FB community.
The Flies as Lies paintings provided humor, generated discussion, and became an outlet for so much pent up frustration.
#4 Super Fly 18”x24”
Trump came down with Covid – armed with the best medical care money can afford, he recovered – saying: “It was no big deal”. My heart went out to all the families that did not have that kind of privileged access to medical care when their loved ones became ill and died. It was reported before Trump was to leave the hospital, he had asked his advisors if he could wear a superman T shirt under his white shirt. Where at a press conference he would rip his white buttoned shirt open, revealing his prowess with a big red letter S. One can’t make this stuff up.
#5 Masked Flies, 12” x 16”
Trump continued to hold large rallies – Governors fearing Trumps unmasked rallies would become super spreader events asked him to consider not campaigning in their states.
Our election results were so close. Votes were split almost in half. Biden ‘eaks’ out a win. And we all realize our collective dreaming must include healing our divided country. Lately I’ve been asking myself, how might art help with healing this division?
Needless to say this has been a richly frustrating, painfully exhausting, liberating, and stressful time for us all. Economic injustice and other fall-out from Covid still impacts many. We pray relief and aid, still held up in Congress, will be approved and released soon under the Biden administration.
At this writing, the third wave of Covid-19 rampages through our communities. Again we are asked to limit non essential trips, to not gather indoors unmasked for longer than 15 minutes, and traveling, to be with our families during the holiday season is discouraged. Collectively we suffer from Covid exhaustion.
We long for touch and miss greeting each other unmasked. And with a vaccine on the horizon, wonder how long it will be till we can safely gather again, and wordlessly hold each other?
Be well everyone and big hugs to y’all!