Many artists have turned their practice inward and focused on expressing and processing the experiences of life during quarantine, a global pandemic, and the many other challenges people have faced in the last year.
“When we engage ourselves in creative activity, we don’t feel alone. Instead, we become engrossed in the act of making, which engages the senses and focuses our attention, creating calm,” said LSU art therapy instructor Tiffanie Brumfield.
LSU art students, faculty and alumni have created pieces across a range of mediums documenting this existential experience. As with previous times of significant change, the events of 2020 have prompted many creative responses.
Over a year into a global pandemic, Kristine Thompson, associate professor of photography, is examining death and mourning, at a time of collective universal grief. Her exhibition A Matter of Time is on display at the Baton Rouge Gallery for Contemporary Art through May 27, 2021.
Thompson’s work explores both emotional and social responses to death and mourning, including how we grieve and the memorial properties we attach to significant objects and spaces. Her work has also increasingly considered how photographs of violence and mourning circulate publicly and what power such images have to elicit empathy on the part of the viewer. While earlier work focused on the legacies and mythologies surrounding notable deceased artists, her work more recently has shifted towards more broad cultural responses to death.
“This exhibition is a selection of photographs that I’ve made over the past year. These still lifes are inspired by current events and utilize sculptural props, elements from daily newspapers, and art historical imagery, ” she said. “The resulting compositions are my attempts to reflect upon the contemporary political and cultural landscape—one overwhelmed by unfathomable loss, a heightened awareness of our physical bodies, and a hunger for civility and equality.”
Stephanie Cobb, MFA 2021, focuses her art practice on connection, her paintings illustrating snapshots of human interaction and isolation. She selects subjects that are closely tied to personal experiences to create a visual language of both vulnerability and intimacy.
“My work is a private moment made public,” she stated. “My interest in image making has always been predominately figurative, selecting subjects that are closely tied to personal experiences. Only closeness between artist and sitter will allow for intimacy in a portrait. My hope is to evoke with clarity our closeness, or our distance.”
“My hope is to evoke with clarity our closeness, or our distance.” – MFA Stephanie Cobb
Cobb’s series Closeness / Distance explores the concepts of distance, connection, and emotional space with exquisite lucidity. Her painting “The Garden” depicts people seated apart in a lush tropical garden, socially distanced and eyes averted. The scene captures the physical distances between individuals, the beautifully haunting spaces between us. The piece is in the Spring 2021 issue of New American Paintings.
Her painting “At Rest” was included in the virtual exhibition Art in the Time of Corona, a title evoking the Gabriel García Márquez epic novel Love in the Time of Cholera. The exhibition includes works from painters across the globe, expressing in different styles the singular experiences that all people face. Featured on Artsy, “The goal of this innovative project is to record and exhibit (in real time) defining artwork created during civil uncertainty. The hope is to unite viewers and help them find the sanctity, comfort and inspiration needed to heal a world in turmoil.”
MFA candidate of photography Diana Patin focused her 2020 spring virtual exhibition on the quarantine experience, stating: “These images document my exploration of the home as an extension of self. Home to me, in addition to shelter, is comfort. It is non-judgement. It is acceptance. It is letting my guard down.”
Her photography documents seemingly mundane details of everyday life at home, which have become crucial parts of her emotional experience during the pandemic. “By engaging with familiar objects and activities such as journaling and reading, I was able to maintain a sense of calm,” she stated.
Art can serve as a means of connection, both for viewers and fellow art-makers.
Art history alum Blaire Brown Stroemple launched Box of Art, a virtual painting party business that brings people together to make art while socially distancing – in the time of COVID-19 and beyond.
“I pushed myself to make this happen when coronavirus started,” she explained. “Since my ‘bread and butter’ is my live event painting business, I felt the financial burden of wedding cancellations. Instead of panicking I tried to learn from it and evolve.”
Box of Art offers group and private classes for adults and kids, with themes including abstract painting, sweet tea, or unicorns. The slogan is “Paint together, miles apart.” Brown takes pride in having evolving her businesses to meet the demands of the current world, while offering people a way to connect and find solace in making art.
She hopes that others will find joy in art-making, as she does. “When I finish a painting, there’s a feeling that’s hard to describe and it cannot be replaced by anything else.”