The pandemic changed everything, so my work shifted as well. Formerly the paintings were gestural abstractions, while those painted from April of 2020 to this moment are in a Surrealist vein. This new work is influenced by the simultaneous psychological impact of a confluence of realities: Covid, political discord, inequality, surveillance and technology, and natural disasters resulting from climate change (California wildfires, flooding and hurricanes here in Miami). There is genuine joy, as attested by the color, yet an underlying discordant feeling that beauty can also be a veneer. Luxurious beaches offer escape while climate change threatens them.
When my studio building closed, I worked at home creating emulsion lifts from Polaroids I took on walks. The technique involves pulling an image in water, moving it like a jellyfish across paper where it settles. My fascination with these distorted yet realistic images carried over when I began painting again, painting concrete forms that seem tangible, yet dislocated in liminal spaces. Lockdown heightened people’s spatial perception with regard to their living space and each other (with respect to social distancing). This led to my new interest in architecture and its relationship to psychology. In many of my paintings, spheres are placed inside geometric forms or seem to peak around corners. These spheres are substitutes for people and their isolation (Jung said that circles symbolize the self).
To give specific examples, a winding line is symbolic for the virus itself, moving through the air as society hides. A black oval represents the possibility of a misstep leading to disaster. This symbol is inspired by Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, a Surrealist novel that I read during lock down in which a character spends a lot of time thinking at the bottom of a well. All of this stress and discord is compounded by the society’s growing awareness of the role of social media in elections, the distribution of misinformation, and Big Tech and governments’ tracking of individuals. Surveillance takes the form of a hanging lightbulb with a pupil, reminiscent of the way the eyes of the fictional optometrist T.J. Eckleburg, printed on a billboard, appear to look down at the city in The Great Gatsby.
Another layer to this shift in style results directly from museum closures due to Covid. Although I have memorized passages of paintings over decades of looking at originals, I missed the experience: discovering an artist’s thoughts, feelings, and observations communicated across time and space through paint. My passion for the Old Masters made me want to paint what I could no longer see, and so I began studying their compositions and paint handling, binge watching museum lectures and studying high-resolution images online. Many people have said that the pandemic made them feel more connected with people from the past, as they struggled with diseases like the flu and the plague. On the one hand, time seemed to collapse, while on the other it seemed to never end, as daily life seemed monotonous.
Working to make the world a better place can feel like fighting the tide. Painters throughout history steadfastly plugged along, creating poignant moments in oil. Painting is my constant, even as my studio roof might leak at any moment.