Creator of Pandemic Self Portraits
Wheat Ridge, Colorado
When we were first quarantined and the state shut down, everything felt so surreal. It’s not that I didn’t see this coming or was surprised when it got here, but the actual experience of it was jarring. Being pulled out of one reality and into another is like nothing I have ever experienced before. With my husband laid off and my jewelry business dwindling down to nothing, I am facing more uncertainty than ever before.
My energy, creativity and inspiration were suddenly gone. My solo art show was canceled. The art I had been making started to feel futile. I found myself spending hours reading grim news stories and spiraling down the endless hole that is social media. I was obsessed with seeing what people were posting, desperate to get any shred of new information. People were expressing deeply dividing views on how the government and individuals should be behaving during the pandemic. I started to desperately wish that there was something I could do to help but was at a loss as to what I could possibly do.
I was feeling like making work about the pandemic was the most relevant artistic expression for the moment. With all of us so isolated, I thought that the most easily accessible subject matter was myself. It is the nature of isolation to be highly introspective. I had the idea to do a self-portrait, something totally outside of the type of work I usually do. It felt good to document myself and what I was going through. I quickly had the idea that others might want to share their images and stories as well.
I asked around in my community of fellow artists to get a sense of if there was any interest in my idea. There definitely was! I started doing some research on Instagram to see if anyone else was doing this type of work. There were so many quarantine self-portraits out there! I started Facebook and Instagram pages with the title Pandemic Self-Portraits. I began reaching out to people and within 2 days, I was getting submissions from all over the world. After 2 weeks, I had incredible images and stories pouring in and over 100 posts on social media. The response and quality of work has been beyond anything I could have imagined.
This project brought me out of a place of fear and worry and back into the present moment. Connecting with people from around the world who are all going through the same things has created a deep sense of unity and hope. I am in awe of people’s willingness to share their stories. Participants are telling their stories with honesty, bravery, vulnerability and humor. This project has taught me to look at the pandemic not as a catastrophe, but rather an opportunity to be better people, to connect on a deeper level and to better take care of ourselves and each other.
Since the pandemic began and I started Pandemic Self Portraits, my art practice has definitely shifted. My work has always been about environmental issues and while this is a topic that is still incredibly important, artwork dealing with the virus felt more pressing. As I shifted gears a bit, a whole new realm of creativity opened up for me. I believe that there are many silver linings happening during this pandemic and this is one of mine.
I am so thankful that I have been able to bring people together through art and experience through this project. So many of you have reached out to tell me that seeing people’s work and stories has helped them to feel less alone. So many if you have expressed that art has saved you during this time of isolation. I feel the same way.
When I was pregnant, and it was cool, it was easier to feel less weight of the pandemic. I busied myself, I nested. I cooked, I immersed myself in tedious baking projects, I prepped my garden beds, I started seeds in the kitchen window. I kept my three-year-old close, and welcomed the opportunity, the privilege, to go inward, to keep my daughter close, and to grow new life. By the time Maddox was born in mid-July, it was oppressively hot, and the novelty had worn off. I was proud of both of us for my labor, I wanted to share him with everyone. I wanted to be held by my best friend, I wanted her to hold my baby. My loneliness was magnified once he arrived. Birthing him during a pandemic was like harboring a secret I didn’t want to keep.
Los Angeles, California
I call this Broken Hearted because all my hopes and dreams for this year were swept out from under me. I had so many expectations for this year and all were lost, my heart was … broken. I could not go on trips this summer, I could not hang out with my friends, I could not go to my local water park, I could not go to any state fairs, I could not go see movies, I could not go to dance class, I could not enjoy a true year, I could not have sleepovers, I could not go to stores, I could not play with the local kids in the neighborhood, and I could not be a normal kid. I feel so bad for all the other kids around the world who are broken hearted just like me.
Self-Portrait of the Artist at 64
I started getting vibes towards the end of February that my husband and I would have to self-quarantine and we needed to stock up on supplies. In early March we finished gathering and started hunkering down before the stay-at-home mandates were placed. At first it felt not much different than our normal lives.
Staying at home was fine. What wasn’t fine was staying at home with my bipolar self, trapped in my head with my racing thoughts. High risk for not living through a Covid-19 infection, I spent the first two months dealing with basic survival. I wasn’t making the best art of my life in wildly euphoric moments. I wasn’t invited to a bunch of zoom socially distant hug fests. I was isolated with my husband (also high-risk) and my bipolar thoughts and moods went quickly into rapid cycling mode. Alternating between extreme anger and depression for hours and weeks on end was just my life for a while.
I take selfies from time to time that I often use in future projects and I like to go back and see my moods. I’ve always wanted to paint a self-portrait and so far, haven’t. My paintings aren’t happy and pretty. This makes me look older than I really am. It shows my wonky eye. It captures my depressive mood and emotions. I actually love it and I often hate most of my stuff.