Article by Cathy Breslaw
April 8, 2020
Most artists work in relative isolation. Our collective art practices and the creative process demand it. It goes against the human urge to congregate and socialize. Still, we persevere as the “call to create” stubbornly nudges us. We then deliberately make space – intellectually, emotionally and physically – we move forward quietly, with intention and faith in the process.
Never have we been more aware of isolation than time spent in this Coronavirus pandemic environment. It is not our choice, but as artists we are familiar and in some ways ahead of the game over our fellow citizens by our familiarity with the loneliness of self -containment.
In early March, I received an email from Kristine Schomaker, fellow artist and writer/blogger announcing that she was organizing a collaboration offering artists to participate in a project Call and Response, with a group of artists’ “pairs”. Ninety-five artists responded and I was paired with Susan Osborn, a San Diego artist. This project was to be a way for artists to mitigate our feelings of isolation and to more importantly visually express what we are experiencing during this highly distressing time.
The task began with me creating an artwork and for Susan to respond to. This “back and forth” was to continue with a time limit of April 1st. Limited to 24 hours, we were to create an artwork and email it back to our partner. During the process we each made 7 artworks for a total of 14 total pieces.
Susan and I had never met and had not been familiar with each other’s work. In a way we were thrown together in friendship and faith, to trust in the process and to see what happened. In conversing about it after the fact, neither one of us knew what to expect and both of us were happy to be in contact with another artist during this difficult and scary time. We both also noted the comfort of the structure of “having to respond” in a visual way to one another on a daily basis. In a way it was like watching a silent film, ‘watching’ with only part of our senses in attempts to converse about what we were feeling and then ‘answer’ each other.
With only visual responses to depend on, we were forced to rely upon observing and studying very closely the language of the other – the emotion and energy, materials and compositions of each of our art pieces. Titling each art work gave each of us clues.
As an artist who makes work that is mostly abstract, it was challenging for me to create because I was conscious of whether the work could be relatively easily understood by Susan so that she could respond during our short 24 hour turn around time.
We were getting to know one another solely through our skills of observation and ability to communicate visually. For me, behind the idea of (#1 above, left) was the idea of intuiting energy waves in my space while Susan(#2 above, right) responded with color and words creating emphatic movement and dimension – our conversation had begun.
During our email “conversation” in delivering our artworks we said very little to one another. Due to my very curious nature, I felt compelled to go online to view Susan’s works in other contexts. I tried to confine my views to a short time, as I didn’t want this viewing to get in the way of specifically responding to Susan’s project paintings.
In #3 (above, left) I used watercolors as I was mainly depicting movements and transparencies of thoughts, feelings and ideas fleeting and in motion – feelings connected to the confined situation I was in. I was responding to Susan’s (#2 ) thick layering of words, and the movement of paint and brushwork which I found to be emotionally charged. As I analyze this, I realize I needed to feel calm, and therefore #3 (above, left) is my attempt at re-visioning the painting by Susan(#2). Susan’s #4 (above right) involved superimposing pieces of maps over my painting (above, left). My impression was that Susan was applying “context” and “place” to my painting – adding meaning.
After viewing Susan’s artwork #4, a focused awareness was brought to bare on my neighborhood and to the greater Los Angeles area and how “broken” it felt, disconnected from folks living in my building, the neighborhood, family and friends living nearby. As I began to use pieces of local maps and placing them within the picture plane (#5 above, left), I began thinking about how we are also connected while apart. I used graphite lines to draw and physically connect these “broken” maps to make some sense out of my emotions about the psychological distance among people. The words “Where is your home?” from Susan’s painting (#6 above, right) stood out for me – I was captured by these words and that all of “earth” is home to everyone on the planet. Susan commented on her materials: In the case of the black silhouette used on the maps, I walked into the studio and the image was just lying there on the floor. I grabbed it and went to work. It was like an inspirational gift.
My collage (#7 above, left) embodies the thoughts I was having about the contrast between what has distanced us and what has brought us together (as citizens of the world) during this time. It is a period of darkness and disease we have no control over but it is also a time we recognize that we are intimately connected. Susan’s painting (#8 above, right) portrays the 4 elements of earth, wind, fire and water and the forces that move us in ways we don’t comprehend.
I found Susan’s painting #8 to be disturbing and ominous – it felt like a world on fire. I felt the need to communicate back that there is also beauty and light where there is darkness. The resulting (#9, above left) felt hopeful for me to create. And, as Susan’s (#10 above right) depicts, her imagery also brings hope to the “fire”. At this point in our collaboration, it appears we visually communicated our “shared” feelings more clearly.
Evolving from the theme of light and beauty in the darkness, my artwork #11 (above, left) took more of a spiritual turn in line with my belief that there is a greater power that will prevail and that this “power” is also connected to the earth. I felt this image/painting was the one that best expressed what I have been feeling during this pandemic. Susan’s (#12 above, right) feels like a forest of green with the light shining through – a definite turn toward hope and possibility.
Using similar imagery to #11, I felt (#13, above, left) as an “opening”, a rebirth of hope, active energy and grounding to the earth. This mixed media work felt like a conclusion to our collaboration. Susan’s (#14, above, right), also a mixed media piece, appears closely responding to my work- “petals” rising up and away from a flower connected to earth. Susan commented: I feel most connected to “Explosion” the last piece #14. It is near Easter and Spring. All my garden is exploding with new blooms and color. The words “exploding” or coming out of the plant-like form send positive thoughts for our future.
In our project collaboration, Susan and I used a combination of mixed media –watercolors, pastels, collage, paint, and drawing materials to express our visual ideas. There was comfort in the familiarity of the studio, materials and the act of creativity – all of which lending a sense of calm during this time of fear of so many things – illness, death, potential economic challenges, and frankly an unending array of unintended consequences of the Coronavirus. Yet, both Susan’s and my last two works (#13 and #14) support the feelings that some good will rise from our earth’s collective experiences.
To view all 95 artist responses from this collaborative project please visit: https://shoeboxpr.com/2020/04/10/call-and-response-collaboration-at-a-distance/