Shelter-in-Place, Social Distancing, Fear, Hope and Easter in full color.
Dua Lipa, Mario Vargas Llosa, and the Recorder of Time.
Hope in the Time of Covid-19
Mixed media collage
I have been having nightmares in vivid color, nightly, about the Coronavirus.
I was tested twice for Covid-19 as I lay in isolation with an unknown illness, worsening still at day 11. Awaiting the results day after day, I had no physical strength left to hold on to hope; hope that my health would somehow resolve, hope that the Covid-19 test result would come back and I could get medical help, hope that I could have my life back, that I could go back to my studio and make art. Art-hope-hope-art. The art of hoping- the hope of making art. The color of no hope is a combination of Carbon and Mars Black, matte.
The tests eventually came back negative. Still, I had endured 14 days of illness, isolation, and the draconic measures that had been instituted in the world outside my darkened Neutral Gray bedroom. It took many kind angels to help me through those days.
After coming out of isolation I protected myself from the devolving world by going to my art studio, throwing myself into a new project -hatched sometime during those dark days- as I listened endlessly to Dua Lipa “Don’t Start Now” on a loop. Nonetheless, the nightmare du jour reappeared. Until today.
I was awakened from my dream by my gasping for air. The sun was painting the crevices of my curtains with a CP Cadmium Yellow Primrose, the feeling...a combination of elation, peace, and walking on air. Breathless.
In my dream I was painting on a Titanium White large square canvas. I was not alone- and no it wasn’t Dua Lipa keeping me company. I was painting a portrait. The model and I were in the deepest, most connected rapport while I was painting. I couldn’t see him, even though he wasn’t hiding, I could only see me walking towards the canvas, making a mark, and stepping back to review it. I could see clearly the abstract non-figurative likeness taking shape in vivid color.
Hope and fear live in a flamenco dance routine inside my brain- If I allow fear to dominate, like the strong thumping of flamenco feet, Hope- like the lyrical wrist motion of the dancer- can’t complete me. My favorite emoji is the dancing señorita in Pyrrole Red Light, the red of intense love of life. 💃🏻💃🏻💃🏻💃🏻💃🏻
How do we measure time inside a dream? It's not to be measured in human time. How long was I painting his portrait? How many minutes, seconds was I in that state of total rapport and bliss, while I painted? Vat Orange coral dots over the rose petal Light Magenta marks floated- vibrated- playfully, diagonally on the white canvas, from upper left to lower right-hand corner. All the while looking intently at the subject and making more marks. Now a Quinacridone Magenta, then a Light Orange peach, in a Seurat meets Twombly style, the painting took shape.
I don’t paint portraits, with few exceptions.
My favorite author is Mario Vargas Llosa. Since my high school days in El Salvador I have admired the complex architecture of his novels, unique and interconnected characters, and the pertinence of his writing to the times. He is a master of adding color to word art.
My opportunity to meet Mario -as he asked me to call him when we met again years later- came true at an all-school lecture at Princeton, invitation courtesy of my son. I came equipped with materials to draw, to record this dream of mine. In the lecture, Mario said that artists- no matter their medium-are recorders of time. I recorded this time, the moment I knew we were both artists, with his portrait.
Though I don’t paint portraits, there I was, in my abstract expressionism style edging into playfulness, observing his light, so blissfully painting this portrait of him, with him.
Until I stopped.
How long had I been painting?
Not long enough. It’s never long enough for me. It and reading are my two obsessions. Once I start, I have to finish. I read The War of the End of the World, by Mario, in one 28 hour sitting. Then I cried for 72. Why does anybody break down? Hopelessness. No flamenco wrists in the dance.
So why couldn’t I finish the portrait? With an area the shape of a scalene triangle on the bottom left still blank, and knowing I can paint day into night, why did I put my brushes down?
I cried because I had no hope that there would ever be a better novel written in my lifetime: I had finished the best book I would ever read. A different kind of hopelessness, perhaps felt by artists.
I put my large brushes covered in Yellow Ochre down. I was acknowledging that I didn’t know him well enough to finish his portrait. I believe that more than painting I was recording time- or maybe timelessness- in that blissful state.
We were quite close to each other, certainly less than the 6ft directive for social distancing. I felt no distance separating us. What a novel concept in the age of the not-so-novel-anymore Coronavirus. This moment absent of fear is worthy of capturing. Art-Hope-Hope-Art, all wrapped up in a mere dream. I believe the closeness I experienced is that of love. The love that unites us in this forced separation.
I’ve painted since I was 8, on the San Salvador volcano. Violeta Bonilla had returned from Mexico, having spent time as a protege of Diego Rivera. Most times I counted every minute until my class was over. But as I matured, I began experiencing the moments when an artist is in the zone of timelessness. She taught me to look at objects intently, beyond the obvious, beyond time.
I was looking at him that way, yet I put the brushes down because I didn’t know him well enough. That would take more time.
I painted my first Easter portrait in 2012. I named it Trinity- a composition of three.
It has layer upon layer of Titan Mars Pale peach, Raw Umber darks, and Cobalt Turquoise. I was a recent empty nester, and needed to record my hope that physical separation wouldn’t weaken the grip of love; I'd later learn that coronavirus can't weaken the grip either. After the 14-day isolation-quarantine-shelter-in-place illness that-would-not-be-covid-19, I was well enough to paint my yearly Easter portrait. I was anxious to be the recorder of this time.
What would it take to get to know him better, to finish his portrait?
Begin with a broken canvas- torn in half- hopeless pieces, vestige of what it was. Build it, span it, glue, sew, paste. Attach crushed aluminum, cut out a painting done to music, sew on the aluminum screen, glue Maya loom fabric. Spray, brush, stretch, stamp. An angled composition- from upper left to lower right-hand corner. Treat it like an archeological dig, layer it with objects and materials that have meaning. Create ins and outs, highs and lows, feel the composition tipping, off balance. Experience the double axis, the color weight of the blue fabric dyed with Indigo, the perceived floating lightness of the crushed aluminum that is at the intersection of the double axis.
I named it Hope.
Hope to get to know HIM.
He then declares- in the kindest and most earnest of tones- “I would like to paint YOU one day”. The sound of infinite love, humbling me to the point of having to gasp for air. He would start and finish my portrait, as I am made in His image.
Hope in time of Covid-19, the recorder of time, and dreaming in vivid color that God is an artist too.
What is the color of hope?
About the artist
I’m a Latinx artist and an accidental immigrant. I’ve been making art all my life, from the art tutoring classes plain air in the ravine of the San Salvador Volcano, to the art and architecture studios at Rice University, and sessions with the masters at Glassell School of Art. I grew up in a country where scarce resources were a given, immersion in nature the norm, and sustainability a way of life. I look for the honesty of materials and their history, such as recycled canvases and scrap metal, and incorporate building materials into my art including house paint and aluminum screen. My painting, sculpture and printmaking express the interconnectedness of all that coexists in the planet. My vocabulary is abstract, my mark-making gestural, my compositions dynamic. Scale, a device integral to architecture, is essential to how I plan a project, and how the viewer navigates the piece. I sculpt the canvas and layer it with meaning, in the manner of a vertical archeological dig. I’m a recorder of time. I chose hope.