It’s rather difficult to write about the COVID period. For one thing, it hasn’t been a very verbal time. With everyone staying home or wearing masks that make conversation difficult, it has hardly seemed worthwhile to even think in terms of words. There has also been a lot of sadness, obviously. I personally lost three people in my life early in the pandemic. None died of COVID, but COVID made it difficult or impossible to spend time with them at the end. Gathering with others in the wake of these deaths also couldn’t happen, which had the effect of making them seem less real, like the echoes of sounds I couldn’t hear.
Setting all the losses and sadness and scuttled plans aside, this time has also been a dream come true for the part of me that’s only concerned with living in my own parallel reality and making paintings of it: an entire year free of the stresses and obligations of social life which have always exacted a toll on me, the exact impact of which I never realized until now. The time to both prepare and to recover, the derailing of my train of thought, and my consistent failure to manage such interactions well have been discomforts I had grown throughout my life. Now I wonder how necessary any of that really is. I do miss the simple fact of being in the same space with other people—I never understood that it was due much more to their physical presence alone than to anything being said or done. Working alone all day, every day, some time with my close friends was enjoyable, but I was surprised by how quickly I adapted to not having it. The virtual facsimiles of social interactions like Zoom and FaceTime are a blight that I’ll be delighted to be done with someday.
The effect of all this has been to make me engage more contemplatively with the concrete things around me—the neighbor’s roofline, the river in the backyard, the trees behind the studio. As an older artist now, with COVID-related and other restrictions probably continuing into the future, this has also been a preview of years to come. I’ve had a glimpse of a time in which daily ordinariness takes on a different aspect, the scenes, and objects one took for granted gradually becoming entry points into something deeper.
In 2019, I went out to Monhegan for the first time, courtesy of the Monhegan Artists’ Residency, and began learning to use watercolors. The experience was transformational on a couple of levels, so I was delighted when a friend offered to make it possible for me to return for a few weeks in 2020—which was a very different experience. There was the same physical isolation of the island, this time combined with a cabin on the very edge of the village, and the COVID-related muffling of human interactions. The wind rocked the cabin and sent the deck chairs skittering along the porch at night, and eider ducks in the cove below made noises like the souls of the damned. It was not the sunny idyll of my earlier stay. However, the deepening of ordinary perceptions happened there as well, and I was drawn again and again to the view across the water to the mainland, which I painted many times. It felt metaphorical—the tiny lights across the water as the life we inhabited before the pandemic, so distant, inaccessible, and beautiful in their removal.
Image at top: Dozier Bell, Gull Rock, charcoal on Mylar, 2 ¾ x 5 ⅖ in., 2020.