By Cathy Breslaw
September 8, 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.
Los Angeles artist Ryan Henisey creates sculpture, installation and performance art. Having lost his father and step-father during the pandemic, he has turned his grief into inspiration and curated an exhibition called Queer Isolation at the TAG Gallery that runs through the end of October, 2020.
During the pandemic:
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?
The pandemic has slowed me down. And that’s a great thing.
In “regular” life, I‘d be operating at a mile a minute, balancing a career, the needs of an artist cooperative, my own practice, and life. All while zipping around in my little orange car. But with global shut downs, Stay At Home orders in California, and increasing needs at the gallery, I’ve slowed my creative and exhibition goals to better fit the shifting world.
Creatively, I’d planned on debuting in China with a cohort of Los Angeles Art Association artists, exhibiting a solo show at TAG Gallery, and more. As those plans delayed, I decided to take time explore new ideas and focus on elevating the cooperatives gallery experience for both our artists and patrons. This space has allowed me to focus on artwork outside of my normal practice. I’ve experimented with new materials—such as papier mache, plaster, and concrete.
And rather than focusing on my own exhibition, I was inspired to make space for queer artists. QUEER isolation, was a small celebration of pride that displayed through August, 2020. The show is in my studio at TAG Gallery and features 20 different artists, from as far west as Honolulu, Hawaii to as far east as South Bend, Indiana. The display is extended through the end of October 2020. It’s been a joy to see and experience the art of others, especially in this time where we are isolating and keeping distance.
2) What have you discovered about yourself as an artist during this pandemic?
Oh my! So much, but everything that feels new is also an old friend.
I’ve spent a lot of time on self reflecting, taking more than a handful of personality tests. Going into the pandemic, was a period of loss for me—both my father and step-father passed within a month of each other, leaving the hollow places we all experience with grief. The personality tests were a way to ground myself (and look out for those parts of myself then can be read negatively by others).
In the refreshers, I was struck by how often my ruthless drive towards accomplishment was discussed. Across all of the tests, that thread of zeal was identified as important and set part of my personality. The amplification of our emotional states in isolation has certainly shown that ruthlessness to be true. I tend to be unrelenting when pursuing a worthy goal. While that part of myself is not new—nor even new to me—the hyper awareness of it through grief and isolation is something that has changed. I’m not likely to apologize for my zeal, but I will forewarn you of it.
3) What have been your biggest challenges working in isolation? Surprises?
My biggest challenge in isolation was being “trapped” in the same room. Until July, I was on special assignment for work, responding specifically to Covid-19. The hours were long and the impact was quite stressful (both are atmospheres where I thrive). But the small spare room at home (half artist studio, half partner’s office) was much too small and confining for me.
I really missed the studio most. Though only slightly larger of a room, my work/show space in the Loft at TAG Gallery is one of my favorite things. Having it closed from March to June was a loss. Conversely, I was able to put more hours in fine art creation and experimentation. So while it was a challenge to keep myself in a smaller space than I’d grown accustomed, it was nice to spend more time making.