This column generally covers upcoming arts events, especially music. Occasionally I write mini-reviews of plays, shows or festivals.
With the sudden changes to public life, editor Zach Dennis and I agreed to steer this column, at least for now, to deeper looks into creativity.
How are creative people responding to COVID-19? Is there any wisdom – or just any practical lesson – that the rest of us can glean from their experiences?
On Monday, I caught up with artist Betsy Cain via FaceTime at her Bonaventure Road studio.
“People are going to exercise their creativity in all kinds of ways that aren’t even manifest yet,” Cain said of the current crisis.
Cain said that the spread of COVID-19 might even force people into new creative directions. We all need outlets for expression.View this post on Instagram
more pseudo-calligraphy...I could fill the room. displaced anxiety?
“For me, my routine is not that different,” Cain said. “I have my animal pathways.”
Cain has her quiet home on the marsh. She goes to the studio for long stretches each day – about 9 hours on the day that we talked. She walks her dog Jasper. She goes to the grocery.
Or, she did go to the grocery. That’s a piece of this new puzzle that she hasn’t put in place yet.
“My coming to the studio and working feels insulated,” Cain said, but she works when possible with the windows open and is aware of the lower level of activity – that traffic has slowed, that people have retreated.
“I listen to the day,” she said. “I hear the sounds of the day”
“It feels the same, though it feels more urgent.”
“I feel an urgency to create,” Cain said. “That may just be a salve to the anxiety we all have.”
“It’s not that I think I’m going to die tomorrow – but then I might.”
Rather depressingly, I brought up a litany of public and personal crises that Cain has faced in her long career. I was curious to know if any of those experiences seemed analogous in any way to today.
“We were all so affected by [the AIDS epidemic],” Cain responded. “We lost so many friends. And that is what I think about.”
“The cavalier way that it was treated and the devastation that it wrought.”View this post on Instagram
As the COVID-19 crisis was building, Cain began work on a series that she refers to as “moody blues” – somber abstract oil paintings that I suggested seemed haunted by figures.
“I think the figure is always ghostly haunting my work,” Cain said. “The figure is always there – always realized in a gestural sense.”
But in recent days, Cain’s work has taken a sharp turn toward fast, simplified “pseudo-calligraphy.”
Using India ink on 20-inch by 60-inch yupo paper, she works quickly on multiple images at a time.
“The mark-making registers in the body and nervous system,” Cain said. “You can miss a beat, but not two.”
“I really don’t want it to stop. I’ve filled two walls up with calligraphy.”
With a caution that we need to be wary of cultural appropriation, she said that she was thinking about the new work in terms of totems and songlines.
“They are a gestural line to some note of being,” she said.
“I guess I’m ping-ponging between different states,” Cain said of the marked differences between these two recent series.
Most of us know the feeling of ping-ponging, but the creative process can keep part of our minds at bay.
“When you make things, you forget about yourself,” Cain said. “Your ego is tamped down.”
“The act of coming and staying and being in relation to everything in the studio – it opens up the world.”
Bill Dawers writes City Talk in Savannah Morning News and blogs at hissing lawns (www.hissinglawns.com). Email firstname.lastname@example.org.View this post on Instagram
pseudo calligraphy columns: ink on yupo paper: different feel