During these troubled times, I feel more and more lucky to be an artist. Art has nourished me, kept me focused, productive and creative.
Toni Morrison said it best: "This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak."
The COVID-19 Lockdown has been a creative period for me. As a figurative artist, suddenly in quarantine and no longer able to work with live models, my creative voice shifted and expanded. Now responding to our world’s health crisis, and to our nation’s racial and political crises, my work explores our connectedness, for better or for worse, as we collectively confront our new world.
Using ink, chalk and graphite, the Lockdown Series drawings reinterpret Greek and Roman mythology. Referencing the drawings of a dozen or so old masters, I rearranged the figures to tell present-day mythology on subjects ranging from bullying to following the crowd. Working on this series helped me make sense of our rapidly changing world. Ancient mythology felt strangely soothing during the uncertainty, drama and tragedy of our pandemic.
Reinterpreting the drawings of masters with exactness is meticulous and time- consuming work, which loaned itself beautifully to early lockdown as our world was put on pause, with no end in sight.
Simultaneously, I worked on, and continue to work on, US History (forgotten), a mixed media art piece with accompanying US History forgotten educational website, TikTok, YouTube and Instagram.
In January 2020, just before we learned of Covid, I had begun work on the 4 x 4-foot oil painting collage entitled, US History (forgotten). The word forgotten appears in lower case and in parenthesis to express my disaffection at schools not having taught basic US history pertaining to Native Americans, Columbus, founding fathers, slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction and more. Knowing the limits of artwork in telling the story I needed to share, I built an accompanying website and started making social media videos.
To balance the seriousness of this work, during the months of September and October 2020 and January 2021 I diligently posted new paintings or ink drawings daily on social media.
To maintain morale in our local art community during lockdown, each week I email a new art challenge to artists. Ranging from creative assignments, to technical issues like shading and reflections, to improving composition, March 8, 2021 marked our one-year anniversary of these weekly challenges.
Sheep is the title of this work in progress triptych. Ink and chalk on cotton paper with deckle edges, 30" H x 126" W. [Three sheets of 30" x 42" (762 × 1067 mm.)]
Some of my favorite old masters inspired the parade which appears in Sheep: Tiepolo, Durer, Goya, Michelangelo, Daumier, Pontormo, Degas, Ingres, Poussin and Toulouse-Lautrec,
The title, Sheep, is a metaphor for thoughtlessly following the leader, and succumbing to peer pressure, as opposed to thinking for yourself. Our nation's current discussion of complicity and failure to do the right thing, is the inspiration for Sheep. The three central characters in Sheep (in the center panel foreground; L to R:) represents leaders: media, government and religion. The horsemen in the left and center panel represent police and military. Sheep speaks of the ability of leaders to lead us to be either our best or worst selves.
Saturn Speaks [After Degas, Holbein, Goya, Kollwitz, Daumier and Sargent.], talks about our interconnectedness, even during quarantine. People may feel isolated and alone, but our actions inescapably continue to be felt by others, with consequences, for better or worse.
Like all of the artwork in my lockdown series, Saturn Speaks is not a collage and does not use photography. All of the painting and drawing has been done by hand directly on one sheet of 30 x 42 inch paper (2 1/2 x 3 1/2 feet).
While washing my hair I created this in 3 - 5 minutes. I called it, We Will Survive. The surreal lockdown rollercoaster had begun.
I had much fun and learned a lot doing this master copy of Venus Lamenting Adonis. It also helped me formulate my plan for lockdown. I often prefer an old master's drawings to their paintings. And I love learning about an artist by doing a copy of their work.
But rather than tell someone else's story, I wanted to somehow customize the work to tell my own story. (Like I had done in week two and three.)
The prior week (week 2 of lockdown) I used Michelangelo's figure drawings to tell current day mythology. What luck that it set me on a wonderful creative course for the quarantine. For week three I used Daumier's figures to illustrate more childhood mythology. This drawing shows a student being scolded just before their best friend rescued them.
For the second week of lockdown I created Dodgeball, a triptych (3 panels), using red chalk, black chalk and brown ink on paper that I stained with tea.
The figures are master copies of Michelangelo's drawings for the Sistine Chapel.
The inspiration for this challenge came when an old friend jokingly asked me to make a painting commemorating her childhood victory of catching a killer dodgeball hurled at her by the school bully. I liked the challenge, but not being a narrative artist, I initially drew a blank.
While at the Getty's Michelangelo exhibit - the day before it shuttered - this concept occurred to me.:
Michelangelo's burly muscle bound figures would tell our schoolgirl mythology perfectly.
The red (headless) figure on the center panel is catching the dodgeball. The figure just to its right is throwing the ball.
The side panels show the spectators.
On the last night of normal restaurant business before the lockdown, I took this lobster home in a doggy bag to paint. The chef had sawed it in half. I texted a friend, "My poor model! Its head had to be tied together with a blue rubber band." She replied, "He is lucky - he's still got a job!".
Remember when we used to get together with friends? A friend gave me some beautiful oranges from his tree.
It's always a treat painting fruit with leaves still on them.
Copyright © 2021 M Susan Broussard - All Rights Reserved.