As in Florence, so in Torrance
An ongoing visual journal of the plague year
by Bondo Wyszpolski
When the plague ravaged Florence in 1348, three men and seven women retired to the hills above the city to wait out the pestilence, and to pass the time they told one another stories. That’s the premise of Boccacio’s “Decameron,” a book with its 100 tales that still make for entertaining reading… and which can take one’s mind off the daily statistics of our current health crisis. Some may think it’s irresponsible to indulge in fairy tales; others may want nothing but another grim account of lost employment and ill health.Listening in on what artists are making and thinking during this surreal moment in our lives is a kind of middle ground. Art is both of and apart from the mundane world that holds us in its grasp. At its best it feeds the soul and gives us hope for a better tomorrow… a tomorrow that may not arrive for a few more months, but which is a tomorrow-in-waiting nonetheless.
In the meantime, some more thoughts and reflections, and some fine examples of art which we are unable to view in person right now, but (knock on wood pulp) one day will.
Steve Fujimoto: “As with so many others, this period of self-isolation feels as though my time has slowed down. The calendar markings that previously filled my agenda are no longer there–replaced by daily checks of the pantry and freezer, calls to family. Even making art feels less immediate and perhaps more unfettered in a way. I am currently working on a mixed media sculpture piece that incorporates found objects, cast paper, plywood, hardwood, epoxy, analog TV, etc. This work, which was started before the pandemic, has come to reflect my sense of loneliness and isolation.”Astrid Francis, who lives in Hermosa Beach with her husband, Bob, has received many accolades for her singular work that seems to coalesce primitive and modern styles in the very same canvas. A few years ago, one of her art pieces graced the cover of Easy Reader.
“Having recently barely escaped Thailand after attending a 3-week international artist exchange from the end of January to the middle of February, I am, like so many, under house arrest now. Which comes in handy. Besides giving new and exotic recipes a shot, I am back to brushing away. Because I paint outside typically, cold and/or inclement weather has forced me to commandeer the dining room for the next few days.”
The painting shown here, “Around the World,” was created while Astrid was in Thailand, and it’s now hanging at the Cultural Center in Nakhon Sawan, in the central part of the country.
“I was one of ten artists invited by the Thai Ministry of Culture, through a program with LA Art Core, to participate in several workshops with many other artists from Thailand and across Asia. An incredible experience which resulted in making new friends from all over the world and studying valuable new techniques…. and doing Karaoke after dinner.
“Painting is a great and very rewarding endeavor to pass the time. Which at the moment I have a lot of and am presently working on another large piece, which keeps me occupied until I’m ready for the next piece and then another and another.”Charity Malin lives in Palos Verdes and is a member of SoLA Contemporary. An exhibit of her work is scheduled to open there in June, but of course its fate is, at the moment, uncertain.
“This situation is difficult and unprecedented,” she says. “Although there are many hardships to bear, I think this forced slowing down is a good time to consider the things that really matter in life. Creativity is definitely one of those essential pieces of humanity. My children have spent a lot of time just doing crafts or inventing new games to play. My husband has been putting his creativity to work in the kitchen, and we all appreciate it. Thankfully my studio is at home, and I have been able to spend a lot more time there.“My art is austere and minimal, but I typically use ordinary objects and textiles found in daily life. In some ways this crisis has a lot in common with my journey as an artist. I am always seeking to communicate something simple and essential from home. I hope that as a community we are able to overcome this challenge and take the positive aspects with us. We have been given time to think, time to look at things, and time to consider our lives. I wonder what we will do next?
Cie Gumucio was a vital part of the South Bay art scene for many years, but has relocated to Santa Barbara. This is what she’s up to, teaching poetry and finding the means to help children and teens take creative risks, thus giving expression to their inner worlds. She’s also continuing to delve deeper into the inter-relatedness of art and writing, a life-long love of hers. At the same time, she’s adding to a wire/wood series about human relationships to nature, time, and stillness based on prepositional phrases, and creating a new performance installation piece, which some of us are hoping she’ll bring to a gallery near us.Vanesa Andrade runs Artlife Gallery at Plaza El Segundo. It’s been showcasing many local artists with events and art openings every month. We look forward to again seeing it crowded with artists and art enthusiasts:
“At this time,” Vanesa says, “it’s so important to create, to visualize the future, to stay focused, to step back to get a new perspective. All these are common exercises for the artists, and the creative mind. And breath; looking for the rhythm, and then listening.
“I choose to keep it positive, like in front of a white canvas, unknown moment. I will take a deep breath and keep creating. I talk a lot on the phone with friends and sing old songs. I create new art every day, I look at new art, talk about art: whether to buy it or sell it or trade it or gift it. I know for a fact that all these things will keep me on the sunny side of the street.”Peggy Sivert Zask is well known locally, both as a teacher at Mira Costa High School and as the proprietor of many art galleries in the South Bay and now SoLA Contemporary on Slauson in Los Angeles. Her recent work is highly impressive, but let’s end this week with one that’s especially relevant to these uncertain times:
Referring to “321” (completed March 21, 2020), Peggy explains its genesis: “This piece was created during the first week of the L.A. lockdown. I think everyone was in various states of shock during this week, attempting to process the rapidly changing incoming news of the coronavirus pandemic. As an artist, I initially felt dramatically relieved of all other business matters and went straight to my studio. Needing to sink into something that would keep me engaged, I began work on a piece that was carefully measured, accurately painted and then slowly embroidered.
“The shape of the square and ellipse that float in the deep black are comforting for me. The red and green embroidery represent humanity + nature as well as the obvious economy. The ellipse at the top represents the current global situation – and the hidden ellipse at the bottom, the underground movement or the unknown future.”
Known or unknown, more on our future in the weeks ahead. And if the Florentines could ride it out in the 14th century, I suspect that we can do the same in the 21st. ER