Isolation Row: Artists alone

Foxen Canyon Oak,” by David Wolfram

For each artist, new challenges and opportunities

At home alone: another sequel

Times like these are good for storytellers. In the old days we’d gather around campfires; today we gather around the big screen TV. Last week I referenced Boccaccio’s “Decameron,” that classic compendium of tales, 10 of them each by 10 men and women, and so 100 in total, as they waited out the plague in the hills above Florence. Some years ago, Jane Smiley took Boccaccio for her inspiration when she wrote “Ten Days in the Hills,” her cast of characters quarantined in the Hollywood Hills while the U.S. was invading Iraq. That’s another of the books with more relevance today than it’s had in quite some time.

In that spirit, although not quite so fanciful, here are some additional accounts of what artists are doing as we self-isolate and shelter in place. Unlike bears, we don’t hibernate, so we do the best next thing: find new ways to make art.

Photo by Bob Francis taken during his trip to Kenya last fall

Bob Francis: The Hermosa Beach resident, has earned a reputation for himself with his flower portraits made with his scanner. He’s been in local art shows and Easy Reader has featured his work several times over the years. Here’s what he’s up to:

“Being cooped up for over a month now, has yet to feel oppressive. My wife Astrid and I are both retired and heretofore are not exactly the social butterflies of yore that we once were, so staying at home is no big deal. We do miss our friends and family but at least you can get to them on Skype or just a phone call. That said, I do still find myself trying to be productive, and since I don’t really feel like cleaning out the garage I am reviewing photography from our two most recent trips (won’t be doing any more of that for a while) to Kenya last fall and Thailand more recently… having returned home just weeks before Asia and the world blew up and shut down. That was close.

“So, for the time being, I am forgoing the pursuit of my scanned beauties for more conventional camera work. Much of that work includes typical travel snaps, but since I’m always looking at my photography with an eye (my one good one) towards making a great print out of a shot, there’s definitely some candidates there. And I’ve got weeks (and weeks) to find them.”

“Frozen Dream,” by Beth Shibata

Beth Shibata: The Redondo Beach resident is quietly experimental; that is, she’s always pushing gently at the boundaries of what, in lesser hands, might remain a fairly ordinary photograph. She’s done fine work over the years, but what about now?

“Is there good news in bad news? Usually. But it can be very uneven,” she says. “In some ways we’ve been forced to come to a screeching halt, while in others things are still swirling around us, and a few things are disturbingly normal. It’s a wild roller coaster ride with an undetermined path and an uncertain destination. We just need to hang on and keep our eyes and ears open!

“What I’ve been doing to stay creative… taking my camera most places… just in case. I’ve stopped and taken photos, but I’m not sure how they will evolve. There are many times when I literally sit (or stand) with camera at the dining room table, where I have wonderful natural light, and do a study of flowers and plants… or other objects that find their way into my home that tickle something in my brain and make me smile…pink reindeer come to mind…”

“Self-Portrait with Respirator and Bug,” by Heidi Brueckner, is among the work in the group show “Go! Figure” at ShockBoxx Gallery in Hermosa Beach

Mike Collins: The owner of ShockBoxx Projects in Hermosa Beach found a way to keep exhibiting:

“Adapting to quarantine and physical distancing as fast as possible, ShockBoxx opened Go!Figure with a well attended virtual artist reception and 3-dimensional, 360 degree interactive gallery tour that will remain viewable long after the show is scheduled to come down. These new formats are allowing for attendance from all over the country and are being met with great reviews from artists and patrons. It is certain that this technology will become a common part of regular programming long after we are able to move back to live art openings.”

Here’s the link that leads to your online experience:

David Wolfram: The notable South Bay artist is one of the movers and shakers over at Destination: Art in Torrance:

“When this all hit, and we made the decision to close Destination: Art, I grabbed a variety of art materials out of my studio that I thought would be more suited to working at home than my two preferred mediums, oils and pastels, which can get a bit messy. I figured that working small would be the best thing to do, and it would be a departure from what I generally do when I am in the studio.

“Good Things Around the Bend,” by David Wolfram

“When I was an illustration student at Art Center in Pasadena eons ago, I used to do a lot of illustration work using gouache, which is an opaque watercolor, and was a preferred illustration medium for decades because it is matte, making it great for photographing. One of my instructors, Jack Leynwood, had worked for Revell doing amazing work illustrating the box art of battleships, airplanes, etc. all in gouache, but I digress. I had recently played around with it again after all these years, and thought this would be a nice chance to revisit it. So working on my coffee table, while watching Netflix, I banged out a few small pieces.

“Acrylics is another medium that I rarely use. I prefer both the workability and texture of oils, but in the interim at home I thought acrylics may be less messy, and make clean-up much easier. I just laid out a palette full of acrylics, and I am going to work on a few pieces in that medium.

“Since Destination: Art is closed to the public, I feel relatively safe going back there and working in my studio at some point, but for right now I am staying at home with my wife, and we are self isolating. I do miss the camaraderie of working there with the other artists, and look forward to when things are back to normal.

Daniela Saxa-Kaneko. Photo: B. Wyszpolski

“On the Destination: Art website we are featuring the new art from our members on a page entitled “Art in Isolation”. You can check it out at”

Daniela Saxa-Kaneko: The interim executive director of the Palos Verdes Art Center can now drop the word “Interim.” It’s been announced this week that she’s the new head honcho. Peninsula magazine ran an interview with her two months ago, which is also available on the Easy Reader website. She’s the right person for the job, although what that job is at the moment is much different than when she started or will be once the pandemic is neutralized.

Tm Gratkowski: The respected, cutting-edge artist was quite thoughtful about how he approaches each new work or series of works. I’d like to end this week with his words and reflections:

“Most of the Time, I Feel Alone in My Thoughts,” by Tm Gratkowski

“For me personally, this mandatory quarantine is a complicated one, as is probably true for most of us. But as an artist it is one I am most suited for as I am used to spending long periods of time alone in the studio. With plenty of additional time on my hands, I am looking at ways my work can be more personal than political. For now, self-reflection and introspection are at the forefront of what I am taking as an opportunity to think outside of my usual unaffected thoughts and explore some other ideas. As I am thinking about this I’m reminded of two quotes about time. The first by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.” and the other is from David Bowie: “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” Hidden in both are a profound sense of hope for a promising future in spite of the context from which they came. I guess, depending on how you look at this, time is for great reflection and when used to its full potential you can find yourself far exceeding your own expectations or any put on you.

“I never feel more powerful than when I am alone,” by Tm Gratkowski

“Currently, I can be found working on any number of art-related ideas. They can appear scattered or random, but in the end I know it’s a good time to experiment with ideas. Because I have more time now I have found myself drawing more than I have in the past, so I’ve started a series of ‘Random Drawings’ that may become a very large drawing quilt one day, but for now they are just an opportunity to do something a little different. I’ve also taken this drawing experiment to work on a coloring book entitled “Coloring In The Time Of Covid”. In addition to this, I have been spending a lot of time working with Howard Fox (Senior Curator Emeritus of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art) on my forthcoming, first museum solo exhibition.

“As an artist, a lot of people may expect some social change or topically relevant output of subject matter related to this Covid pandemic. I feel it is a better time to look inward and be self-reflective. I wish there were far less egoic social media posts out there and more self-reflective introspection. As an artist I am comfortable with time alone to constantly think about ideas relative to my art practice and what is going on in the world, but even for me to sit here in my studio and only think about making art would be a rather miopic pursuit in a time of much greater importance. If we are ever going to change, now is the time to start thinking about it!”

Those who lived through the early 1940s were in a war movie just as we’re now in a science-fiction epic. History in the making: How will we look back on it in 10, 20, 30 years? We’ll hear from other voices next week. ER


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Written by: Bondo Wyszpolski

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