Meryl Alcabes is a Seattle-based event and portrait photographer who is also a feature and humor writer. Meryl has lived in South America and in Europe, but her favorite city is Seattle, where she raised three sons and lived to tell about it. Meryl dabbles in art and was interested in how creatives were coping with the challenges of COVID-19. She felt that the conversations she engaged in with Seattle-area artists would be of interest to Real Change readers.
In early March, 2020, just as Washington state residents were beginning to voice the words “pandemic” and “quarantine,” encaustic artist Nichole DeMent was planning to open up in both her art and healing careers. She quit her day job on Feb. 14 and had a gallery opening on March 5. People had just started social distancing.
“My first goal was to make some money. My piece ‘Jupiter’ was really popular, but it is a large-scale installation. So I created some smaller prints of it to sell,” DeMent said. “I’ve been writing grants and figuring out how to move my art practice online. I already do an online guided meditation at each new and full moon. It’s pretty deep, but everything I do is deep. I create art to learn something about myself.”
Galleries closed. Many visual artists teach classes as a secondary income stream, but in-person classes were quickly canceled.
During the spring and summer, as we were all adjusting to our retreat from life as we knew it, I reached out to visual artists to learn how they were coping with the limitations imposed by COVID-19.
Here are a few of the local creatives I spoke to about how they have adapted their practice during the lockdown and how it has affected their creativity.
Painter, Activist, Filmmaker, Writer
“I’ve been reflecting on the role of art in my life during this global pandemic and escalating violence and climate crisis. As a queer, Black mom with a daughter starting high school, I would say that carving out time to get into the studio each day is saving me and keeping me sane. Art is no longer an ‘if I have time’ matter. It has become as integral as my daily writing practice. It is a must. It helps me repair and restore the parts of my soul that are beyond the reach of words.”
“I’ve had a big creative burst during this challenging time, and because I couldn’t be with my friends, I had to build some. I’ve been making Rebotz: one-of-a-kind assemblage robots made from castoff items. For me, like many creatives, art saves us. It’s the soul-soothing place we go when we need an escape. Art quiets the mind, helps us shut out the world and focus on what brings us joy, even during the most challenging circumstances.”
Painter, Sculptor, Photographer, Collage Artist and Teacher
“I live out in the country, and here, every day is the same. But the lockdown has affected my painting. I can’t concentrate for long, so it’s hard for me to take on larger projects. I’m working smaller, painting clay cups from Mexico with encaustic. To do this work, I need to be in a state of calm and to slow down. Collage is quicker — you can work with the unconscious mind, like therapy. But painting is hard work. Galleries are going online and one of my east coast galleries closed. I was going to give a class on Cape Cod in August. But out here, we always have a project to work on. The garden. The animals. It’s a retreat.”
Artist, Author and Instructor
“Due to the pandemic, we had to stop filming the artist-teachers that we feature on our website. That opened up some time for me to do my own work. I’m working on a new book and I met a deadline in April that was a huge step forward. I haven’t been interrupted by someone else’s creative process. Because of that, after the initial shock, my life has become pretty simple. I’ll need to teach a little more, but I really love teaching.”
“I’ve been drawing and painting my whole life, but I started doing it more often when I got home from my stressful job. That began about 20 years ago. No one but my son and wife knew I did that. I experimented with acrylics, watercolor, pen and ink. I amassed a large inventory. A few years ago, I allowed my wife to hang some of my work, and friends offered to buy the pieces. But I had a hard time letting them go. They were like my kids. I reluctantly agreed to let the work be part of a show, and I sold every piece. One received the best in show award, and that got things moving. I now post every day on Facebook and Instagram. When COVID started, I was already retired, so that wasn’t a big change. But when the racial protests happened, a lot of my white friends got in touch. ‘What can we do?’ they asked. ‘Educate us,’ they said. The riots, the looting — this made me sad. It affected my emotions and influenced my work.”
Encaustic/Mixed Media, Collage and Assemblage Artist
“When quarantine started, I was thrilled. It was very appealing to be home for a month, in my pajamas. But in the spring, I lost my way. Paying rent on an unused studio felt irresponsible. We didn’t know what was going to happen next. What was my purpose? I felt I was in a void of creativity. I had taken a class about making connections without relying on glue, so I decided I would make ‘Memory Bundles.’ I can be a bit obsessive and I got into the frame of mind that I could create items I love for money. Totems that combine joy and humor. I got started, and it worked. It was fun to rediscover these little bits I had buried in drawers and boxes and it pumped some energy into the artist part of me.”
Painter and Illustrator
“I grew up in California, in a creative home. I’ve dabbled in many art forms — photography, film, illustration and fine art. Before COVID-19, I was creating banners using watercolors with acrylics and printing them on plastic. I still see myself as a fine artist, but during the pandemic, it’s so hard to sell myself — so I am back to illustration. I love what I do, but I want to make money doing it. During COVID-19, I’ve been creating illustrations of flowers with affirmations that have been successful.”
“Most of my work is small — maybe eight to 10 smaller projects and one large piece each year. My larger projects are often rented to parks, but sometimes are purchased by patrons. My day job is in commercial real estate. As the lockdown began, I spent less time at my job, leaving me more time to work on my sculpture. So this year, I will create fewer small projects, but two or three large pieces. I realized that with the extra time I have, I can work every day on a big project. I learned about myself that I can do it a little at a time. I have some scraps from a welding project and I thought I might create a coronavirus sphere. I’d call it “Wuhan.” But no one wants to be reminded of coronavirus right now.”
Read more in the Oct. 7-13, 2020 issue.