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Capital Region artists find refuge in their work, paint positive, stay social

Capital Region artists find refuge in their work, paint positive, stay social

Art in the time of COVID-19
Capital Region artists find refuge in their work, paint positive, stay social
Portrait by Takeyce Walter, left, and "Hope After the Storm" by Maureen Sausa.
Photographer: photos provided

In the last few weeks, local visual artists have found that the deluge of news about the virus has caused both mental blocks and creative challenges. It’s also become a sort of refuge. 

“I can’t get my mind off the workers in the medical field. I worry about my family and friends,” said Duanesburg artist Karen Cooper.

“Then I go back to painting and realize I can’t control everything going [on] around me. Once I start painting I have control of that. My painting has lifted me through my darkest days; I’m grateful that it’s a part of me.” 

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The Oakroom Artist mostly works in watercolor and lately, she’s been going to places like the Landis Arboretum to get inspiration and a bit of peace. 

At times, she’s found it challenging to battle feelings of helplessness and uncertainty, which is why she finds herself coming back to art time and time again. 

“I’m doing smaller pieces, not putting a lot of pressure on myself for larger pieces or any particular thing. I’m intentionally trying to paint positive,” Cooper said. 

For artist Takeyce Walter, the virus has pushed her to explore new subject matter. 

“Typically I work with landscapes and the other day I took a stab at doing a portrait just because why not? That’s something I wouldn’t have thought about doing prior to this,” Walter said. 

However, after news started to break about the virus spreading in New York, it took some time for Walter to start even thinking about making art. 

“I was having a hard time creating art for the first week I want to say. It was like [a] shock to the system. . . . I was so obsessed with keeping track of the news,” Walter said. 

Life for the Round Lake artist, who recently completed a series of Adirondack landscape paintings for Creative February, has changed quite a bit in the last few weeks, as it has for many. Her kids are home from school and doing distance learning and she’s been working from home full time. After the first week of these changes, she knew she needed to limit her news intake and get back into painting. 

She was inspired by Saratoga Springs artist Eden Compton, who regularly holds open studio sessions for artists and instead posted a photo on social media of a model for artists to paint or draw in the comfort of their homes. 

“I think trying a different subject matter was a good way to get my brain to focus on something else. [My attention] was completely undivided and I had to really problem solve on how to do this thing that I don’t really do very often,” Walter said. 

The small-scale portrait she created from that exercise features a woman with a vibrant emerald green dress and red hair, with carefully detailed facial features. 

Other artists, like Maureen Sausa, are also using social media as a way to connect with others and to learn something new during this time of isolation. Sausa, who runs the Niskayuna Train Station exhibition space, was inspired to get back into painting last week because of the 518 Rainbow Hunt, the Facebook group that encourages people to craft rainbows and display them in their homes. 

She finished a painting of a rainbow sweeping the skies over a local lock and posted a photo of the completed work on Facebook.  

“I asked people if they had a suggestion for a title and I got like 60 different comments. The titles were really inspiring. The one that I ended up with was a combination of two titles: ‘Hope After the Storm,’” Sausa said. 

She has also made a habit of watching daily live stream workshops that some national artists are hosting, during which they take viewers through their painting or drawing process.
“It’s free and it’s a nice thing to get motivated. I started a little sketchbook just with these,” Sausa said. 

Walter has started to use social media to continue some of the workshops that she was supposed to host at local arts organizations and businesses in the next few weeks. She recently tried out the first virtual workshop using Google Hangouts with a small group of artists.

“It was great to connect to my students. The three that were in the class are three of my long-time students, I’ve been teaching them since 2016. It was nice to see them and I think everybody appreciated the couple of hours of focusing on art and catching up,” Walter said. 

For artist Michelle Bowen, social media has provided a sense of artistic community that might otherwise be missing. 

“I’m not on Instagram as much as I probably should be because I only post maybe once a week, but I would suggest that people stay active online with a community,” Bowen said. 

Bowen strives to stay connected with the local arts community as much as possible and admires groups like the Creative Impact: Capital Region Artist Support Group that have used Facebook to bring artists together. 

“I love that everybody’s coming together for those artists that it’s really financially impacting their life. Unlike me, because I have a full-time job that isn’t in the arts. I just want to make sure that I’m there for anybody if they need me and just support their efforts as much as I can,” Bowen said. 

In her work, which was recently on exhibit at The Arts Center of the Capital Region, she uses colors to stand for letters, referring to it as the Huelitic Code. Colorful geometric shapes signify certain words like “love” or “democracy.” 

While her day job has kept her busier than usual — she works at UAlbany as the senior director of marketing and communications — she hasn’t stopped creating art during the evenings, whether that means creating new works, or writing proposals for various projects. Because language is so closely tied with her subject matter, Bowen has tried to think using mostly positive words and phrases.

“I’m just trying to stay really positive, make sure I’m always thinking of positive words,” Bowen said. 

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