The spring semester of 2020 may likely be remembered as the most difficult and stressful semester for some students here at Marywood, and indeed students from all universities around the world. This is of course because of our current public health crisis caused by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. As the nation shut down and all classes moved to online forums, there seemed to be a collective sense of confusion and uncertainty for everyone in the arts. Our department relies almost exclusively on physical work space with face to face interaction between student and teacher so one could understand our concerns about continuing our studies from home and on the computer. However, we understood the seriousness of the situation and the importance of protecting our community so we persevered and developed a system of learning from home that was suitable enough to finish out the rest of the semester painting from home.
Editor’s note: During the spring and summer of 2020, Marywood developed a plan for a successful and safe 20-21 academic year called HyBridge, while also training faculty in online teaching pedagogy to prepare for course delivery. Visit Ready. Set. Forward! for details
To begin, us painting students were instructed to retrieve all our supplies from the studio within a certain time frame and set up an area in our homes that would serve out the rest of the semester as our working space. For me, it was my basement. Yes, the cellar. The damp and unfinished basement, packed with all the amenities a young painter could ever hope for, such as the noisy pipes above my head and stomping footsteps of my family from the world above, christening my morning coffee with dust and other basement debris from the floorboards overhead. Features like the omnipresent and oh-so comfortable gaze of plastic Saint Nicks and motion tracking Halloween witches supervising and commenting on every stroke of the brush. And how I’ll ever be able to paint again without the THUNDEROUS ROAR of the dehumidifier I’ll never know. However, despite my mother turning out the basement light 4 times a day because she “forgot I was down there” and the the occasional creepy crawler, I didn’t much mind the cellar aesthetic. It sorta resembled a kind of dungeon which seemed appropriate to work out of during the end of the world and indeed the right place to complete the series of paintings I intended on creating even before the pandemic began.
The Pandemic Series
For the most part my artwork is generally very colorful and inviting, if not a bit whimsical. I try not to be too dark in my subject matter, however earlier this year and about a month before the pandemic started, I decided that I’d delve into the darker side of my personality and explore the more negative emotions, quite explicitly, through painting with a slightly darker color palette. This series would consist of three 24×30 canvases each depicting one of the three big emotions I struggle the most with in my life; anxiety, anger, and depression. I figured that starting the new year off by confronting and working through these emotions with art it would allow me to better understand them and ultimately control going forward into the new decade. Sounds cute enough, right? but oh boy I had NO idea what 2020 had in store for us and just how important and prevalent this series would turn out to be.
Anyone who may know me could probably tell that I’m a nervous wreck 90% of the time. From the way I speak to the way I scurry around campus like a kitchen mouse, its probably not a leap to guess that anxiety is a back seat driver on this ride. Anxiety has been a part of my life from the time I was a little kid and is the meaning behind this painting titled, “Don’t Go Outside Now”. The title alone is meant to instill a sense of anxiety when read; ‘What’s outside, Nate?’, ‘Is something bad about to happen, Nate?’, ‘Listen, I don’t know what’s out there but I think Nate’s right! No way I’m going outside now!’ This is sorta how my Anxiety sounds in my ear, constantly worried about a threat that probably doesn’t exist, or I just straight up made up in my head in order to keep me inside where its safe. The figure depicted (which I assume goes without saying, but is meant to be me in all three paintings) stands half in shadow looking over his shoulders out to the world that appears ambiguous, confusing, and strange beneath a sky that is sick. I remember ‘the sky is sick’ being all I could say in my head while painting this. Even in the early sketching phases, the idea of the sky being sick was so important to what I was trying to convey. So much of my life has been plagued with constant and unrelenting anxiety that stands in the way of me living my life like a normal person. Perhaps its a bit obnoxious to compare my anxiety to a sickness but for me it very much is. Besides, the sky being sick is a hell of a reason to NOT go outside, and a hell of a prediction for the world’s future in the weeks that followed this painting’s completion.
Anger is also something I struggle with which comes as a surprise to a lot of people because I’m usually very easy going and I hate hate hate conflict. But like most of us, my blood could boil from time to time. This painting was created in the second month of quarantine so I’m sure tensions were running a bit high in everyone’s home at this point. Instead of fighting with my family and making an already bad situation worse, I opted instead to spend most of my time in my dungeon and really submerge myself in to “Ozymandias”. Since anger is such a pure and primal emotion it’s hard to speak of in the abstract so this painting is usually the hardest to write/talk about so instead I quiet literally paint a picture of what anger feels like for me. He’s an evil king, a mean old man who hates everything; from the state of the world to the way people chew their food. He wants nothing to do with the world that he hates yet wishes to rule it with an iron fist, as if he has the first clue of what the world is. Its silly. Anger is a silly silly thing that solves absolutely nothing. I know that is a tough one to understand but that’s the simplest I can try to explain it! As for the title, that may serve as a better insight to the meaning of this piece. “Ozymandias” is a poem by Percy Shelly that speaks on the Tyrant’s legacy, what all that anger and power amounts to in the end.
I do not speak openly about my depression. I don’t know if it’s out of embarrassment or because it’s a demon that needs to stay in the shadows in order to survive, but it’s there in the back of my mind and always waiting for me when I come home like some kind of horrible house pet. Depression is a gaping pit that exists only to consume all that is happy and all that is good in your life until there is nothing left but a barren wasteland with you as it’s sole inhabitant. With this painting I try to convey this feeling. The figure depicted is based on my own likeness as well as relics of Byzantine Iconography. Mainly, although not identically, on a Christ Pantocrator found in the ruins of a 5th century church that I was particularly fond of. I find something so tragic in forgotten sacristy and found it appropriate to incorporate into this piece. The very idea of something that was once loved and cared for now broken and deserted plays a big part in the figure’s design. Based also on a self portrait I created back in my senior year of high school, a time that holds a special place in my memory. A time full of happiness, now so far away.
We are living a very difficult time, perhaps the most difficult in living memory. Everyday is marked with at least one these three emotions for the vast majority of us so it is important to not be consumed by these things. Easier said than done, I know, but if we are then we lose everything. This pandemic is not going to last forever. We will come out on the other side of this. We have to remember that, and we have to be patient with others and especially with ourselves until that sunny day!