East End Artists Roundtable: Creating Art in the COVID-19 Era

"Heaven Sent" by Joe Chierchio
“Heaven Sent” by Joe Chierchio

Throughout history, art has served as a reflection of the times—sometimes mirroring the spirit of the era and other times rebelling against it. In the age of COVID-19, East End artists have been tasked not only with adjusting to the temporary closure of art galleries and strict social distancing guidelines, but also with deciding what themes, whether pandemic-related or blissful escapism, they want their new works to convey. Our Hamptons and North Fork artists share their thoughts.

RELATED: East End Artists Roundtable: Home Studios & Adjusting to Quarantine Life

"Smiles" by Mike Stanko
“Smiles” by Mike Stanko

Tweaking the Art-Creation Process

I normally paint outside this time of year, but we’ve been asked to work inside if we can. So I’m currently inside, enlarging landscapes from smaller sketches. It’s something I normally do in the winters, so it’s just extended my studio period a bit longer. I remember reading that some of the best French landscape painters came from cities, where they were stuck inside much of the winter and that their inspiration exploded when they were able to see the countryside again. I’ve felt like that the few days we’ve been able to get outside. Incredibly inspired after being confined inside for a couple months. I also finished a large painting of yellow lupine on the edge of a cork forest that I started onsite, but then had to finish inside with the lockdown. I tried to keep the beauty of the spring outside in my mind as I worked. Marc Dalessio

Not much is different in my home studio, but what has changed is not being able to shop at my local art supply store. In the past, I would envision a new painting and head to the shop—now, I have to order online, and that usually takes longer than in-person shopping!Mike Stanko

"Isolation" by Doug Reina
“Isolation” by Doug Reina

Finding New Inspiration

Apart from no longer looking for inspiration in large, crowed areas, things haven’t really changed too much. I tend to draw inspiration from a variety of sources including plein air painting, sketches and photographs, which I use as a launchpads for making paintings. At this stage, I don’t see the pandemic interfering with where and how I find my inspiration. Doug Reina

With more time and lack of “freedom,” I challenge myself to look deeper into my own personal world other than outside influences. My inspiration comes from feelings that arise and, often, I dare question. Joe Chierchio

I’ve had more time to go through the fifty thousand photos yet to be edited and more time to rediscover files of concepts not yet explored. I suppose files is the wrong word—let’s just say more time to go through piles of cocktail napkins covered with “great ideas.” A few gems surface. Beyond exploring those long-lost gems and editing photos, I have continued to find beauty in unexpected places like in reflections of boats. — Kat O’Neill

For the first eight weeks, I found it almost impossible to paint during COVID-19. I felt that I needed to pay attention, stay alert and look for signs in nature for answers. It was a gift of time for sure, but, strangely, I couldn’t take advantage of the time to paint. I tried, but nothing came out, until last week. I suddenly felt very inspired and very productive, painting long hours each day. The new paintings are very different in style compared to my older ones. They are much more abstract and reflect my deep introspection at this time, and perhaps a freedom that we are clearly not experiencing in real life right now. Lynn Mara

The last few years I’ve made numerous small studies in California for a themed exhibition at the Grenning Gallery this August, so that’s my main source of inspiration at the moment. That said, I’ve also been inspired by a number of small corners of our new house, and I’m quite fortunate that my wife is such a great decorator. If we’re required to be inside on and off for a while, as the scientists are predicting, I have lots of subject matter ready. — Marc Dalessio

Since I’m inspired by everyday living and everyday objects—such as my garden, meals and things around the house—not much has changed! However, not being able to travel is the hard part. We just canceled a trip to the English countryside, where I knew I would have found lots of inspiration. — Mike Stanko

My sources of inspiration have always been from “nature” in the unpopulated world, either in landscapes or close-ups of plants in my local environment. Most recently I have focused on small plants in my own back yard! I am seeing colors and textures that inspire me to go to a canvas and create by experimentation, a visual experience to share with anyone who views the resulting “painting.” — Ty Stroudsburg

"Seagull Distancing" by Gia Schifano
“Seagull Distancing” by Gia Schifano

Staying Consistent

During the last few months, my job hasn’t changed too much. Being a full-time artist, I paint in my studio, which is in my home and always by myself. My subjects didn’t alter because I had my itinerary set up already for the spring season. I did notice when I was painting that I was consumed by my creativity and not thinking or watching COVID-19 news. I did manage to get out on my boat and do some clamming, which gave me a sense a normalcy—I guess because being in a vast, wide-open space felt safe away from the mainland with not many people around. For me, there is more work involved in preparing my images and short descriptions for marketing that the galleries need.Daniel Pollera

I have tried to maintain the same energy and same traditions I had before. Clearly, everything is so different in the world today. I have made the effort to stabilize my style and ideas so people can rely on the series that I traditionally often make. Heidi Lechner

My work has always been about giving the viewer a sense of peace. It is so important right now to find some peace and appreciate the beauty around us. Thankfully, we are in spring and can find some magic in the sunshine and the rebirth of nature. I can’t imagine how much more difficult it would be to keep our spirits up if we were fighting this during the middle of winter.Gia Schifano

I always like to keep my work lighthearted, therefore my present work is consistent to my positive outlook. — Joe Chierchio

I use my own photographs as reference for the studio pieces. And now that it’s getting warmer out, I’ll be able to go out and work plein air. So the solitary way I work is not really affected by social distancing. Although, I do miss going to figure drawing classes. I’ve been investigating some online options. There are some really interesting things people are doing these days and posting. I wouldn’t say they’re directly inspirational for me and my work, but I do enjoy seeing what the rest of the world is up to within the visual arts. Inspiration comes from every angle, so I’ll keep my eyes open. I’ll stay my course and see where it takes me. — Keith Mantell

Since late January 2020, I have been on the road traveling in a camper across the Southwest. My studio varies every day. I have painted in a rodeo camp, on campground picnic tables and hiking trails. We will be returning home to the North Fork soon, and I will do what I have always done—paint outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Patricia Feiler

Through these trying times, my art and mindset have not really changed. I still continue to paint either very large or very small landscape paintings—something I guess I have gone back to. The only thing that I find frustrating is getting my new works out to show locally. I have posted some images on social media, and I am planning to put together a compilation of news works virtually.Scott Hewett

The COVID-19 has not changed my process at all. I welcome the solitude and confinement, which enables me to work in my studio without interruption. — Ty Stroudsburg 

"Olena" by Keith Matell; "Self Portrait" by Heidi Lechner
“Olena” by Keith Mantell /  “Self Portrait” by Heidi Lechner

Shifting the Focus

As we all began to “shelter in place” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I started to explore isolation as the subject matter for my paintings. The lone figures that I’ve used in my recent work have a sense of sadness and longing to them which I definitely felt. I think this is a feeling many of us are sharing right now. I’d like to believe that years from now, when this virus is long behind us, people can look at these paintings and get a true sense of what it felt like to live through it. — Doug Reina

[I just finished] a self-portrait reflecting how I feel about today’s world. I’ve often felt like a bird in a cage as I hold a traditional job aside from being an artist, but this piece [I made] while we all work at home reflects the ever so changing world. — Heidi Lechner

Like all of us, I was experiencing the anxiety and fear of this pandemic. In addition to the news pouring in, I was hearing heartbreaking first-hand accounts from family members in health professions and the NYPD. Some of our older extended family members have passed from the virus. In the midst of all this heaviness, the pause was allowing me to experience the beauties of spring in a way I haven’t noticed in years. I chose to focus on these images of new life and color for the smaller canvases I created at home. Isabelle Haran-Leonardi

My work tends to be apolitical and not based on current events, but I think it could always evolve during this period and say something. The piece pictured [“Olena”] is more about empowerment and individualism which I guess could imply subjectivity to the current situation. Or not. — Keith Mantell

I’ve definitely been more focused on sunny, upbeat work. I suppose it might be as an escape, or just a desire to focus on the beauty of the world during these trying times. ­— Marc Dalessio

Since the pandemic hit and turned our world upside down, my mind went into a tailspin. But rather than create something dark or gloomy, I was inspired to create a piece celebrating the eventual end of this crisis and the joy we’ll hopefully feel once again. — Mike Stanko

A piece in Kat O'Neill's "Purple" Series
A piece in Kat O’Neill’s “Purple” Series

Experimenting with Color

I think our present situation has also made me think about isolation when I’m working in a way that the stillness in my paintings can almost be looked at as loneliness depending on the mood of the person looking at it. I find myself reaching toward a grayer palette rather than a bright blue sky on a sunny summer day but more to a muted sky, like a rain has come or gone. Still, I will work towards a calming peace in my work whether stormy or bright. — Gia Schifano

I went black and white prior to the pandemic, so perhaps I’m ready for going back to color. I prefer to not be so dismal in such difficult times. I tend to change my mediums often, for what I enjoy at that time. — Heidi Lechner

Very recently, I have been working at my closed Greenport studio solo. The colors are very strongly saturated and emotional. — Isabelle Haran-Leonardi

Contrast has become an essential part of my palette, as I am conscious of the contrast of “then and now.” — Joe Chierchio

For my own art, I found I was drawn to the color purple, a color I rarely used before. I looked up the significance of the color and was surprised to learn that purple sparks creativity as it’s a mixture of blue (calm) and red (intense), so I guess purple is my COVID-19 series. If purple is any indication, I guess [my palette is] brighter. Artists are lucky—they are inherently self-motivated and are used to spending hours alone creating. That said, if this goes on much longer, I might be embarking on my own blue period. Hopefully, one not lasting three years like Picasso’s. — Kat O’Neill

My palette will always hopefully be a reflection of me, but it won’t change drastically due to this event. It may change or adjust depending on what the painting is and what it needs to be a successful piece. — Keith Mantell

I believe my palette may have gotten brighter than usual! My work with its vivid colors and uplifting imagery can often be an antidote to life’s challenges—especially today’s. — Mike Stanko

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