Interview by T.K. Mills - All images copyright of the artists (Interviews have been edited for concision and clarity)
With the global Covid-19 pandemic forcing national lock-downs, the artistic community has been adapting to quarantine in creative ways. Despite postponed art shows, lost commissions, and drastic lifestyle shifts, artists are coping and learning to find the silver-linings, even under the extreme circumstances. We spoke with 12 artists, (here are the first 4) Paulie Nassar,Marzipan Physics, Ramiro, and SoulThundre to discuss how they are faring during these tough times.
Copyright: Paulie Nassar 2020
How have you been spending your time in isolation? Has it made you more or less creative?
Paulie Nassar: It has given me more time to think and plan for the next few months/years of where I want to be. It is harder to stay creative because I love people and collaborating - a lot of my work comes from the jobs/walls I’m working on. Since there are none right now, it’s surreal. It’s kinda nice in a weird way, to be in the same boat as everyone on the planet though.
As far as visual creativity and my personal work, the flow hasn't stopped. I still continue my late-night witching hours, but lately its sketching, drawing, along with my poetry, and jotting down future ideas for when I can really get back in the studio. On another note I've been getting creative in culinary arts. I've been experimenting with recipes and new food combinations. So far, with feedback from my family, it has been quite successful. To sum it up, I've been more creative due to Covid-19, though in a different art form.
Marzipan Physics: I’m very lucky that my freelance design work has not been affected, so that still takes up a lot of my time during the work week. Plus, I have a kid who is home since schools are closed, so there’s the usual time spent on childcare and housekeeping. But thankfully I have been pretty productive creatively, both working on projects I started pre-Covid, and new projects that are either a response to what we’ve been going through, or collaborations that were born out of the crisis.
Ramiro: I have been reading a lot, hiking, skateboarding and drawing. I run 2-3 miles every day. I just try to stay healthy. Basically, what I have been doing since living upstate. I live here with my partner Grace Lang, who is an amazing artist as well, and we just do what we normally do. If I didn’t have Grace by my side, things would be different. I am so grateful to her for this house that we live in, and the life that we share. She is my best friend and we just have a great time together….so things haven’t been so hard for me (knock on wood). I don’t think this “quarantine” has made me more creative. It has certainly given me much more time to think and appreciate what I have, and to read books and study math.
I moved out of the city on the 1st of February to upstate New York and I’m very happy about that decision right now. I hope all my friends and all Newyorkers can stay safe in the city!
Soul Thundre: Being in isolation has definitely made me more creative, now. I had an adjustment period where all I could really bring myself to do was eat and sleep all the time. I can only let myself do that for a few days’ tops, and then I have to force myself up and out.
Copyright: Marzipan Physics 2020
Has quarantine affected your mental health? If so, in what ways?
Paulie Nassar: I have always had issues with depression, so I must be aware of the dark clouds before they start looming. This was especially hard when I basically lost three months of work in a weekend. I definitely curled into a ball for a day or two, but you can’t let things get you down. That being said, I’m focusing on positive planning for the future and focusing on making sure my parents and family are okay. I miss hugging my friends. Weed helps.
Marzipan Physics: I’m prone to anxiety even in the best of times, so since the outbreak started my anxiety has been pretty intense, to say the least! I have a bunch of different coping mechanisms, but I’ve found that by far the best thing to alleviate my anxiety is to get into a creative flow. Many days I just want to curl up in bed in the fetal position but if I force myself to just start working on a creative project, focusing on whatever I’m making, it takes my mind off the horrors of the pandemic, and is just generally calming and uplifting.
Ramiro: Not really. In the beginning, I was very anxious about what was going on. My father is an infectious disease specialist, so he is treating people with Covid-19. I worry about him, but he is also in good health and runs every day. For my mental health, I run and exercise every day. I haven’t run since like 2006. But in the past year I have been working on myself to be “the best Ramiro” I can be. I have been studying to take the GMAT because I want to go back to school and get an MBA with a focus on sustainability.
Soul Thundre: Quarantine has evened out my ups and downs a bit. I typically have a heavy swing between happiness and sadness throughout a month, week, and sometimes days. In this, there is no time or purpose beyond just living through it. So lately, I haven’t had mood swings. However, I live alone, and I put a lot of myself into everything I touch. Some days I feel like I’m disappearing into the walls or the floor, my rugs, my artworks. This is going to last a long time and it’ll be very clear when everyone opens their doors; who was an artist? Who lived alone? Who had a dog?
Copyright: Soul Thundre 2020
What projects are you working on? Have you had to adapt/shift things around due to the shut down?
Paulie Nassar: Having every event I had for the next three months cancel in a weekend was a hard hit. Thankfully I have a commission I have been working on and working toward getting more commissions than usual. I am going to start focusing on online sales more as well. There are also plenty of administrative advancements my business needs and I never keep myself in one place long enough to do things like write a contract for example. So, it’s been nice to tighten up my business practices.
Marzipan Physics: I had a few projects that have been postponed indefinitely…I was supposed to do a Shooter’s Street Art Scavenger Hunt, paint a mural at the Brooklyn Beer Garden, and be in a Star Wars group show at the Buren….which will all happen eventually! But that has freed up time for me to work on my backlog of ideas for new pieces. I’ve also been wanting to learn 3D sculpting software, so I’ve been spending some time doing Mudbox tutorials. The Fl00d and East Village Vintage Collective started the Art Through Vintage project, where artists pick a piece from their shop and customize it, with the results being auctioned off on eBay. So I’m customizing a vintage bag, which has been really fun, and another thing I’ve been wanting to do for a while but never got around to.
Ramiro: I’ve been working a lot with Procreate, making new “digital graffiti” with it. Its super fun!! I made some new “F Trump” shirts that are live on my Threadless Store. I also have been drawing and sketching every day, just like I used to do. The only thing I have really had to adapt is to lose so many public art projects (like $10K), as well as postponing the Dripped On The Road residency program. We were going to be bringing 4 artists to Indiana PA in partnership with Spruce Residency, but we chose to postpone it till hopefully the end of the summer/beginning of fall.
Soul Thundre: Thankfully with my type of work, I can do it at home and don’t need much space for. If anything, having this time pushed me to do so very large pieces. So far, the largest piece I’ve done took 50 hours to make, start to finish on a. Since we have so much time and I can’t stay in my head too long, I went and got a few 24x30 panels. I will come out of this absolutely insane, but I will come out with something to explain why.
Copyright: Ramiro Studios
What do you think is the best way to stay connected to each other and the art community during self-isolation?
Paulie Nassar: Online is basically the only way to do so. But I have also been trying to connect to artists that are no longer with us, taking this time to learn more art history and read about as much as possible. I have been texting and video chatting with people. I am pretty much just trying to keep my life as normal as I possibly can, so I don’t lose the momentum I spent years developing.
Marzipan Physics: Since we can’t hang out in person, social media is a great way to stay connected. I always love to see what my friends are working on, and likewise it lifts my spirits to share what I’m working on. Now is a great time for supportive comments and DMs on the IG! And if you’re lucky enough to still have your regular income coming in, support your favorite artists by buying a sticker pack or a shirt, or a painting! It’s also really important to laugh during stressful times, so I definitely appreciate the humor that’s plentiful on social media.
Ramiro: I think social media plays a big role, but it is also inundated with political opinions and news articles. The old phone call is something we can get back to. Zoom meetings have been fun. Since I moved to upstate, I have not really been in touch with the art community in NYC. I’ve chosen to focus more on leadership opportunities and public art sustainability practices. I didn’t think that I was growing anymore in the community I was in, back in the City, so I wanted a change. But I do think that we should continue to connect and come up with new ways to share our work.
Soul Thundre: As much as one would hate to say it, social media. Instagram has been the best way to get shit done or connect to people and this situation, I think may have actually helped bring the ‘gram back to a more personal tool. Not as many people are putting out things just for the sake of likes. Because, who cares? People are getting sick, people are dying, people are out of a job. People aren’t going to be buying, so now is that time to be making art that we feel we need to and say the things we’ve been needing to say.
Copyright: Paulie Nassar 2020 (detail)
Where have you been finding inspiration in a quarantined environment?
Paulie Nassar: Khalil Gibran is a beacon of light for me. Lots of poetry and writing. I’ve never had a problem with “inspiration” in terms of my art though. You can leave me in an all-white room, and I can come up with stuff for days. My brain still works, so I have been doing a lot of what I normally do. I love watching what all my crazy friends are doing in captivity as well. Nothing like watching all these free birds in their cages (myself included).
Marzipan Physics: We’re going through a collective trauma, and I’m inspired by the resilience and adaptability of human beings. A couple weeks ago I was reading about what was going on in Italy, in absolute shock, and ten days later, the exact same things were happening here in NYC. And yet, amazingly, we’re adjusting to the new normal. We are taking care of each other and supporting each other. We’re still creating and working. And that gives me hope. And with hope, I can get through all of the emotions, the sadness, and just being overwhelmed by the uncertainty, and have faith that we will get through this because of our strength and resilience.
Ramiro: Books and nature. I just finished reading one of the best books I have ever read – “Educated.” I don’t even want to get into it, but everyone should read this book. Religious extremism mixed with mental health issues can be a disaster. I’ll leave it at that.
Soul Thundre: A lot of my inspiration has always been biblical so, since we currently have a “plague,” that is where some of my work inspiration is coming from. Outside of that, the inspiration to create is coming from is the desire to be a part of beautiful things. Right now, we are trapped in small spaces in a big small city. I’ve been making romantic mountains, with landscapes and lovers hidden in bushes and skinny dipping. I’m trying to make things we remember and things we can look forward to. I need the same for myself.
Copyright: Marzipan Physics 2020
What are you looking forward to the most, after all of this is over?
Paulie Nassar: Petting other people’s dogs.
Marzipan Physics: I can’t wait until it’s OK to hug people again! I really miss hanging out with friends and seeing people at art shows. And I can’t wait to paint some murals, once it’s OK to go outside for non-essential reasons, (although in my book, art is essential!)
Ramiro: Getting rid of the man in the white house and making sure we organize to pay our “essential” workers at least $15 an hour with paid family leave, sick days, 401K and health insurance. There is important work to be done.
If anything, this pandemic has shown the wide gaps in the infrastructure and ability of this country. It has shown how the leadership in this country (on both sides) has failed again and again. Some of these “leaders” sold stock prior to this pandemic. They knew it was coming and used it to make money. We need to banish them to an island full of snakes. Instead of fighting for toilet paper, we need to fight for the leadership that this country deserves. We need to fight for healthcare for all, affordable higher education, environmental protections for all, not just the privileged. We need change. I want to end this by thanking all of the first responders, paramedics, hospital staff, nurses, essential workers and everyone who continues to put themselves on the front line of this pandemic. They are the true heroes. Ask not what this country can do for you, ask what you can do for this country!
Soul Thundre: Holding Hands. I don’t have anyone specific in mind, I don’t have a craving for a specific palm, but holding hands and going for a walk, turning a head and smiling at somebody. That shits nice.
Stay tuned for Episode 2 of 'Creativity in Quarantine'