It was inevitable that new art would start to emerge in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, long periods of isolation, heightened anxiety and mortal fear can be excellent artistic motivators. But we weren’t necessarily expecting to see a lot of art spring up during the pandemic itself.
But Shelter, a new online group exhibition from the Meyer Vogl Gallery, is full of new paintings, collages and more by nine different artists: Laurie Meyer, Marissa Vogl, Susan Altman, Bill Davidson, Nancy Hoerter, Kathleen Jones, Melanie Parke, Anne Darby Parker and Carrie Beth Waghorn.
Katie Geer, the director of the Meyer Vogl Gallery, said that the idea for the Shelter exhibition came from her efforts to keep in touch with the artists that the gallery represents when the pandemic began to escalate.
“I was keeping them updated on whether we would close,” Geer said, “and if we did close, how we would stay in contact with our clients. I would ask everyone how they were doing, and I found it so interesting. We represent around 15 artists, and everyone had this totally different approach on how to continue to create art during the quarantine.”
In those conversations, Geer learned that some of the artists found it difficult to create at all, some were dealing well with isolation and some didn’t have access to the materials they typically worked with.
“Some artists were feeling really inspired,” she said, “Some of them were feeling more uninspired than others, and some artists couldn’t get into their studios, so they were trying to make do with the materials they had at home. And some artists were starting to take an entirely new direction. I just found it really fascinating.”
As Geer began working on the Shelter exhibition, she was careful not to make any of the artists feel like they had to participate.
“I didn’t want anyone to feel pressured,” she said. “It was totally up to the artists if they wanted to be a part of it or not, and out of our 15 artists, 9 are going to be in it. I didn’t do it to intentionally encourage them, but I’ve heard from some of the artists that it actually had that effect, and they were grateful to have something to stir their creativity.”
Geer said that one of the artists involved, Melanie Parke, has gone in an entirely new direction during lockdown, working with gouache on paper rather than in oils.
“Melanie has started a whole new series called ‘DOMUS,'” she said. “It’s women who are in these serene scenes with trees and birds. She was kind of imagining a safe world for women, because she started becoming concerned with the thought of women who lived in unsafe domestic situations being home all of the time. The series is an imagining of a world that’s completely safe for women, it’s amazing, and it was absolutely spurred by her thinking about the virus and the effects it has.”
“Due to missing bodies, skin and touch, I am exploring ideas of longing and desire,” Parke wrote in her artist’s statement about the series. “Also weighing heavily on my mind is thinking about the continued dire hazards women face in this predicament of staying home, which is often not safe. A re-imagining of safe space feels necessary. Populated with female bodies, wild animals, birds and flowers, I am imagining protected places for women and for pleasure.”
Another of the artists involved, Susan Altman, contributed a mix of collages and paintings to the exhibition. One of the collages, called “The Ordinary is Never Ordinary,” comes from Altman taking in the objects around her while isolated in her home and seeing them with a new perspective.
“I was standing at my kitchen counter, doing something that I didn’t want to be doing,” Altman said. “I don’t remember what it was, paying bills maybe, and all of a sudden I looked up and said, this is all so cool! Why am I paying bills? I’m going to sketch all of this stuff on my kitchen counter. So I put the bills away and just sketched.”
Altman also contributed a striking painting called “What’s Happening?” that actually proved therapeutic for her while she was creating it. In the painting, a group of dark, vaguely human figures seem to be moving away from the viewer, gradually disappearing into a distant, sun-like light.
“I started the day they announced that the (federal COVID-19) task force was being disbanded,” Altman said, “and that really put me into a state of despair and hopelessness. So I was doing a dark painting because that’s how I felt. The big dark blob was the darkness that was coming over me; it was the virus, it was the hopelessness, it was the reality.”
But the longer that Altman worked on the painting, the more her feelings changed. “As I started working at it, something came over me that was almost euphoric,” she said. “I loved what I was doing so much that it lifted my spirits. And I found that without being conscious about it that I started lightening it up. I didn’t want it to be dark.”
While talking about her painting, Altman finishes her story with a sentiment that might just sum up what the Shelter exhibition is about, at least in part.
“I realized how important the process of creating is to me,” she said, “and how it changes my mood. Just expressing what I’m feeling, getting it out, elevates me.”