Categories: Cathy Breslaw, SD Press Club Award winner, THE BUZZ, Working in Isolation

THE BUZZ: Working in Isolation – Ellen Deiter

By Cathy Breslaw

August 28, 2020

Most artists work in relative isolation.  Our collective art practices and the creative process demands it. It goes against the human urge to congregate and socialize.  Still, we persevere as the ‘call to create’ nudges us.  We then deliberately make space – intellectually, emotionally and physically for the act of creation. We move forward quietly, with intention and faith in the process. Never have artists been more aware of isolation than time now spent alone in this Corona Virus pandemic environment. It is not our choice, but as artists we are familiar and in some ways ahead of the game in our familiarity and relative comfort with loneliness of self -containment. This “Working In Isolation” series aims to highlight how artists are adapting and how their work has evolved as a result of the pandemic. Read more articles in this series HERE.

Artist Ellen Deiter shares how the challenges of COVID forced her to alter her home life and art practice to accommodate the needs of her family while continuing to make space for art-making.

1)     How has your work shifted during the pandemic? Has it been a change in the process of you creating art? The mediums you use? The themes or concepts you are thinking about?

When we were ordered to shelter-in-place, my practice changed drastically. With my daughter and grandsons living with me at the time, all of a sudden we were on top of each other.  I normally worked during the day while they were at school and work. Now, I was helping them during the day, get on their zooms, make food, clean, etc….So, I had to adjust my practice to work at night when the house was quiet. At first, my work continued as always, but of course the ideas of what is happening get into ones head and out onto the canvases. I did a series on feeling lost at sea, my horse and rider series took on a new look with the rider wearing masks, and some small works dealt with social distancing.  The ‘before’ painting I show here with the three women expresses friendship and standing together, the shelter in place painting, with the singular person reflects on the actual times, with Black Lives Matter included, which I have always supported.

2) What have you discovered about yourself as an artist during this pandemic? 

I am so amazed at how adaptive the human being is. How we can continue to put one foot in front of the other in the face of adversity. When we got the orders to shelter in place, when the schools closed, I thought, there is no way we will get through this. How will we get through this? But I soon realized that every day, I got up, got dressed, made my bed and did the next designated thing that needed to be done.  I did what I needed to do to stay healthy and sane. We are not “through” this yet, so, I am continuing to do just that, one day at a time. I also realized that helping my daughter and grandsons is what kept me going.

As for as what I learned about myself as an artist, I realized, well, actually already knew, I could just stay in my studio and paint. Before COVID-19, I would feel guilty if I didn’t go out in the day, and just stayed in my studio. So COVID-19 gave me permission to do just that.

 3) What have been your biggest challenges working in isolation? Surprises?

I don’t have many challenges working in isolation. Maybe the biggest surprise is how much I do enjoy working in isolation. That said, I do miss having coffee with other artists and talking in person. I miss my group yoga and dance. I belong to a women’s’ artist group, TWA, and I miss our in person gatherings. The lack of physical meeting is a big challenge and plays with my mental state. I am grateful for the different zoom meetings, grateful for zoom, it is an imperfect solution for now.

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