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 13 artists. In this edition, we spoke with Android Oi, Paolo Tolentino, QueenDom, RAW and BellaPhame to discuss how they are faring during these tough times.
- How have you been spending your time in isolation? Has it made you more or less creative?
Android Oi: With isolation in effect, I've been taking this opportunity to spend more time with my son. Before Covid-19 I worked a lot of long hours, so this has been an unexpected pleasure to be with him more during the day. That being said, with my job, there is still some work that needs to be done. I work from home now and stay in touch with clients and bid future jobs in hopes that they can be executed when this pandemic is over. Every once in a while, I will go to the office, alone with the door locked so no one can come in, to get fabrications finished for jobs that have been postponed.
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.
Paolo Tolentino: I’ve been working from home, but mostly painting and working on paintings that I didn’t have time for when everything was still “normal.” I think the quarantine made me a little more creative because a lot of ideas come to me when I’m on my own. Plus, I usually get inspiration from watching shows, so this gave me time to re-watch films I used to love.
QueenDom: I think most artists already live a quarantined life. Many just stick themselves within their studios to be alone with their thoughts and concentrate on their creative process. For me, I would go out and hit the streets at least once a week but I haven’yt done that since the beginning of March. I am still creating art, but I am a “street” artist if I’m not able to actually put it on the street? Right now, I’m making art, but I’m unable to share it the way I want to. I also feel conflicted with street artists that are putting new work up on the streets at the moment because you are giving fans and photographers a reason to leave their homes and I don’t think we should. I think it’s too risky. The sooner we comply, the sooner we can all get back to “normal.”
RAW: I’ve been doings lots of painting and collaborations with fellow artists. Working on making my balcony nice. Building out RabidArtWork.com. Participating in charity art auctions and collaborating with local business. Trading options and equities. Online poker and risk game with the homies. Creativity level is the same, but there is now more time to work on my ideas. In fact, there is still not enough time.
BellaPhame: We’ve been in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for two months now. Most of our art supplies are at our studio in Oporto, Portugal so this has encouraged us to use what we brought, mostly screen prints and various papers and explore more digital work. We’ve been spending our days creating, studying and reading books/articles, not much different from what we’re used to. This time in isolation has inspired us to address the current crisis and to think about how our work can be used for the greater good.
Paolo Tolentino - Freddie
Has quarantine affected your mental health? If so, in what ways?
Android Oi: It's not so much the quarantine that has affected me, but the pandemic itself that has. Before this started, I was already a bit of a germaphobe. Disease, viruses, bacteria, you name it, has always been a fear of mine. In public bathrooms I would flush the toilet with my foot. To give you an idea of my paranoia with pandemics, two months before Covid-19 hit the states I bought special masks for my son and I and stocked up with my tattoo gloves. Now with all of this going on, I go out for store runs for my parents so they don't have to go out and risk anything. I secure my car keys in a special pocket in my jacket, clean my hands with sanitizer, put my mask on and then my gloves. After leaving the store I place my groceries on the ground next to my car.
I then take one glove off, grabbing it from the bottom, and turning it inside out and balling it up in my other hand and then turning that glove inside out so that the contaminated are is no longer exposed. I then throw away the gloves in the parking lot garbage pail. After that I open my car, get my disinfectant spray and spray my groceries before I touch them or put them in my car. Once that's done I get in my car, re-sanitize my hands and proceed to take off my mask from the ear straps. During times like these it is important to keep anti-contamination rituals but at the same time it becomes mentally draining.
Paolo Tolentino: I would like to say no, but I’m no expert in mental health, so I can’t really say. I like to think of myself as a lone wolf, so I’m really used to being alone.
QueenDom: I’ve had my moments, waves of different emotions. In the beginning it was tough to get used to this new reality, but I have gotten into a new schedule and for the most part have been pretty busy and productive. This month has gone by pretty fast!
RAW: I am doing pretty well with my mental health. I meditate, there is a routine, plenty of hobbies and art supplies. I am not alone. I smoke pot which feels nice, and I am pretty happy in general. I have no reason to be unwell, yet every now and then there is a day, a feeling of being overwhelmed and a sobering realization of the wild reality in which we currently live. There is usually nothing I can do about that feeling except wait it out until the next day.
BellaPhame: Since we’re used to spending so much time in isolation working in the studio, the quarantine time hasn’t been a problem. On the other hand, following what’s been happening around the world has been mentally draining. Having experienced the rise of Covid-19 cases and casualties in Portugal right before our trip, packing up our studio not knowing how long this would last and not sure when we would be able to return while following the news brought us a lot of stress. At this moment in Brazil we’re experiencing the rise in cases and deaths. Staying home, taking care of family and creating has been our way to handle this situation.
What projects are you working on? Have you had to adapt/shift things around due to the shut down?
Android Oi: At the moment I am working on artworks that were for two shows that I've been invited to but have been postponed. In a way this pandemic was a blessing in disguise for my art because I was behind on my deadlines. Now I have the time to complete them and execute the work the way I want them to come out. That being said, I did have to shift things around due to the shutdown. My son and I have been staying at my parents during this so that I can help them out. Knowing that I'll be inside an awful lot, I had to transfer many supplies from my studio to my parents in order to keep painting and working.
Paolo Tolentino: With this shutdown I had to shift a lot of things. I had three shows postponed because of the shutdown. I also had a few clients that had to postpone/cancel their commissions because they didn’t want to spend money while their businesses/work were closed and had no source of income. But luckily, I’ve had a few new clients ask for commissions, so I’ve been working on those. If anything, I think this shut down helped me catch up on work I was behind with. Also, learning more new things to improve my craft.
QueenDom: Yes, I was about to work on a canvas with @urbanrussiandollnyc We met once, right before the quarantine started. I love her energy, she is a super talented painter and artist. She thought of this amazing wheat paste/paint collaboration to incorporate some of my queens with her art. That is "on hold” at the moment. But, she also came up with a collaborative, digital canvas that is floating around. Also, being a part of SacSix’s Art Clinic with the free coloring pages was awesome! And Midoma NYC a Hair Salon and Gallery moved their Love, Peace, Empowerment wall online and it’s been nice to watch it grow virtually every day!
RAW: Well I am also an actor and that part of my life has pretty much completely shut down. However the artistic community has been busier than ever. I have participated in the Art Clinic NYC project created by @SacSix. Other projects include the Art for Food Auction, the East Village Vintage Auction, and the digital wall with @midomanyc.
BellaPhame: We recently collaborated with ThirdRail and Akumal Arts Festival to raise funds for the Pueblo in Akumal, Mexico. We’re currently creating artwork for a project that partners with organizations to help lower income communities in Rio. Due to the shutdown, we’ve been working on smaller pieces and more digital illustrations.
What do you think is the best way to stay connected to each other and the art community during self-isolation?
Android Oi: The best way is still through social media. We still get to see the great things other artists are doing during these unfortunate times. I've also been noticing the amazing things that artists are contributing to the art community. I understand that people out there are out of work, are unable to make a paycheck right now and I pray for them. But the things I've seen from the art community is not about making that buck, it's about connecting.
There is something greater before us now, as artists, where we can help spread the word of peace, tolerance, and come together as one throughout the world within the human race. I consider myself a realist and right now the world is in turmoil, the world needs healing, but the artistic dreamer in myself has hopes that this may be the start to world peace because for the first time everyone across the globe is feeling and going through the same thing.
Paolo Tolentino: Texting, talking to your friends and colleagues through social media and video chat. I actually think that with today’s technology, being under lockdown isn’t so bad. We have so many means of connecting with other people. Can you imagine if this happened 10-20 years ago?!
QueenDom: Instagram! Instagram Live specifically has been great! Just seeing so many different artists using it has been really entertaining. Artists jumping on together, painting together, showing techniques and tutorials and just getting a closer look, it makes them more relatable. It’s all about engagement and feeling connected and a sense of community and making people feel like they’re not alone. I will continue to just be a spectator and not do a Live video, I am too shy, but who knows, maybe one day! Also, everyone is using Zoom to stay in touch with family and friends.
RAW: Instagram has been my connection to the artist community. FaceTime, Zoom, and phone games keep me connected to family and friends.
BellaPhame: Social media and video calls are great for connecting. We’ve noticed an increase in live Instagram videos which is great to hear from artists and friends that normally wouldn’t do this. It’s inspiring and much needed at this moment.
BellaPhame - Quarantine
Where have you been finding inspiration in a quarantined environment?
Android Oi: My new inspiration has been found in the kitchen. But that is in terms of the physical. My real inspiration has been the spiritual and the inner self. I’m inspired watching the outside world come together in all this. It has made me more kind, patient, and awoken the inner things I can change within myself. Life is precious and I think I can speak for many when I say, we miss it and want it back.
Paolo Tolentino: Films, documentaries, music, and the art that surrounds me in my small room in Queens. The quarantine really helped me reconnect with the old me. Prior to the quarantine, I felt I was losing myself and I wasn’t painting for myself, but for the people that were buying my art. So being able to hear the songs I used to listen to, see the films and shows I used to watch before I started painting really helped refresh my mind and gave me new ideas for paintings and projects that I want to do in the future.
QueenDom: From other artist-friends I find the most inspiration. Just seeing their work or bouncing ideas off of each other. I can get a little political sometimes, so I guess the news and current state of affairs influences my work, too.
RAW: My inspiration has not been lacking. The concern is not inspiration, but which project to start next and how to find the time to do it all and still relax.
BellaPhame: The current events around the world, how people and governments are dealing with it, the impact of Covid-19 on everybody’s lives have inspired us to create, learn and connect with others who also believe that we can make the necessary changes to build a brighter future for all. We’ve been discussing a lot about how we can use art and creativity as a tool for positive transformation.
Paolo Tolentino - The Child
What are you looking forward to the most, after all of this is over?
Android Oi: I look forward to seeing everyone and to see my son play and run around with his friends outside. Even though he is ok and handling this well, I hate seeing him confined inside. But that being said I look forward to it all - the next gallery show, the next pop up show, a new movie, a mosh pit at a concert. I look forward to seeing my friends and their beautiful smiles. I look forward to hugging them and knowing they are well. I look forward to physical romance. I look forward to the new life and the new outlook on it.
Paolo Tolentino: Seeing my friends from the art community again. Also, for the postponed shows to happen! I’m really looking forward for the Star Wars show I’m in. I’m excited for art shows so I can just see everyone again and show people what I was working on during lockdown.
QueenDom: I’d rather be out exploring and putting up work on the streets. I’m looking forward to that the most! Especially since I am fairly new. I only started around October 2019 and I still have to prove myself on the streets! But, until then, I will continue to live my best quarantine art life and make the most of it!
RAW: I am looking forward to being with my friends in person, traveling and dining out, being on the beach, going to the sauna, being able to audition and get back to acting.
BellaPhame: We’re interested to see how society will change after this, hopefully for the best. We also really miss painting outdoors and connecting with people through our work in the streets.