What is a painter who draws endless inspiration from Hamptons shores to do when told to shelter in place? That is a question that Sag Harborite and Dan’s Papers cover artist Casey Chalem Anderson has had to ask herself since the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. She reflects on the challenging transition to quarantine life, her slow return to the canvas and the ways she’s learned to cope.
How have the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing changed your art-creation process?
The sensation of space is what I’m usually conjuring up in my paintings, but everything is the opposite right now—I’m feeling restricted and closed in. While I used to get down to the ocean and fill myself with sea air and enthusiasm, I’m tentative now. The rhythm of my day is off. Meeting friends after the workday isn’t what we do now. We try for the socially distanced walk. As for planning for the weekend, how do you even know it is the weekend?
I crave the way the water always drew me in like a magnet and offered me the feeling of expansiveness. It never mattered if the water is choppy or glassy, the water usually reminds me to connect to something larger than myself. A big expanse of water gives me the time and space to figure things out. I can still look out and see the water, but I need to digest it in a new way. I need to get my bearings again to paint it truthfully.
How have your inspiration sources shifted since social distancing began, and why? Where do you continue to draw inspiration from?
Watching how the colors of the day change is my comfort and my inspiration. Paying close attention to the changes in the weather, the time of day and the season has always been my way so that remains a constant.
At the beginning of this COVID-19 era, I couldn’t paint at all—I was in shock. When I got back to the easel, I felt more like myself. Even now that we are two months in, it is hard to concentrate on painting when disinfecting the groceries calls and the reality of danger lurking everywhere sets in.
While I need solitude to paint, right now I have an insatiable need to connect with the people I’m close to. I’m on the phone a lot, so it’s back and forth all day long. I’m in flux like the changing tides but I am painting.
The “home office” has become an essential new space for many workers, but many artists always had something of a “home office.” How, if at all, has your studio or workspace evolved?
One of the main differences is that I can’t have visitors to my studio. I love engaging with people who feel similarly about the beauty of the water. I’m energized hearing about why the beach is important to them, especially when they go back to a childhood memory. Studio visits and shows are the ways that I meet people who are interested in seeing my work. I have work in four different shows right now, shows that are shuttered up indefinitely. The closed doors feel like an end, and I want a beginning. My studio is busy with food and water deliveries now. The mail gets thrown on the floor to air so I have to step carefully. Painting isn’t always the most important thing going on here anymore, and that makes me sad. I’m in a survival mode and while underneath that I know I must paint to feel good, getting food and sanitizing keeps me busy and on high alert.
When I’m really into painting, I don’t care about anything but what is on the canvas. If it’s coming out well, I’m satisfied in a way that cannot be compared. I have a genuine relationship with each painting I make, it is just like a relationship with a person.
Lately, I’ve loved listening to John Coltrane and Ben Webster playing instrumental melodic Blues. Listening gives me comfort and reminds me of my dad, who was always cool under pressure.
I have at least three different painting projects going—a brand-new, custom-built canvas that will be a horizontal wave and two paintings that I’m almost finished with, just adjusting the color on. The wonder of oil paint is that it is easy to make adjustments. I have to remind myself that the challenging act of painting satisfies like nothing else. So, if at all possible, I must put the blinders on to everything else and just paint.
Have you noticed a change in your art’s subject matter or genre/style from pre-social distancing to now? Have you created any works that stand out as uniquely inspired by these times, and if so, can you discuss the process behind the creation?
The beauty of the salty water there is waiting for me. We all have been told to stay in and to avoid contact with others, and I’ve been extra cautious because I look after my mom, who is especially vulnerable. But nothing, nothing can keep me away from the beach—I need it. More than ever, I need the escape of the sea. I need the stability of standing on the shore and looking out. I want to smell the ocean. Who knew what a luxury the outdoors is?
Would you say your color palette and themes have gotten darker or brighter overall since social distancing began, and why?
Brightness is more important than ever—I pursue it with even more vigor in the face of this pandemic. It is the antidote to falling into deep despair. I search for color, and I squeeze it out. Exploring color works as a balm that calms me and lifts my spirits.
I see the aqua blue of the water and the cerulean skies sparkling. Even on a foggy day, the misty lavenders and pale sage greens are present. Every shade of mossy green and lime is growing. The clouds are as glorious as ever with tints of pinks and lavender. All these colors are like vitamins that fortify.
What words of insight, inspiration or encouragement would you like to offer to your fellow artists, and to all those who enjoy your work?
You are going to have moments where it is all too much. I know, I have them multiple times a day. I try to take a break, breathe some air (preferably salty) and wait a beat or two. Talking to a friend helps enormously—I get to air my complaints, my fears and grievances. Things that help me are eucalyptus soap hand washing (my aroma therapy break), shower meditation (just let it all wash away), some Latin music and a Zumba session on Zoom, a joke and a smile whenever possible. And then, a few brushstrokes loaded with color.
Find more of Casey Chalem Anderson’s work at caseyart.com.