Long Island artist Yvonne Dagger is known around the world not only for painting stunning works that have been featured on The Ellen Show and the cover of Dan’s Papers, but also for mentoring the beloved four-legged painter Dagger DogVinci. She reflects on her and Dagger’s time creating art under quarantine.
How have the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing changed your art-creation process?
This has been a very challenging time for everyone. As an artist, I’ve used my creative ability by connecting with many people through social media. I find that technology has helped me be creative during this virtual time. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have not abandoned my ability to use my paintbrush and various media whenever I can and feel the urge to. It’s just that I feel the great need right now to do both.
What makes my day-to-day unique is that I live with another artist, and, surprisingly, this is a non-human, canine artist. His name is Dagger DogVinci. Dagger is so famous that collectors of his artworks live all over the world. He has even shown his artworks in places as far away as Paris, France! He has won the prestigious Best of Long Island Painter/Artist three years in a row now. Dagger and I, as a team, go to libraries and schools all over the island giving DogVinci Workshops teaching about art and painting and demonstrating Dagger’s painting skills with the message of education and community service.
Of course, since the “Stay Home and Stop the Spread to Save Lives” guidelines were put into place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, life as we knew it has changed so much for Dagger DogVinci and I as artists. As a result, we have opted to work full-time in our home studio. We bring Dagger to his fans and followers through social media now. In many ways, we are tremendously blessed to have the ability to stay working and connected to our creative community.
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What is so interesting about this time is that I have always worked in a bit of isolation. But, like so many, working in isolation now just feels a bit different. Despite this unique phenomenon, like so many of us whose professions live and thrive based on how we feel and how those feelings translate to our work, I am trying to redirect what could be negative to transform it into something positive. That has been the root of Dagger and my story from the start. So, it is funny how our process has stayed the same and adapted all at once. Our goal is to take what could be a negative and turn it into beauty for the world and hopefully inspire people along the way. I can’t think of a better time to do that than now. So, in a lot of ways, we feel we have our work cut out for us—bringing joy at a time when it is most needed.
How have your inspiration sources shifted since social distancing began, and why? Where do you continue to draw inspiration from?
With my artwork, I have always been in-tune with nature. Everyday objects have always been inspirational to me. Finding things around my home, setting up still-lifes and working from the ordinary things that surround me has always been interesting subject matter for me. My pet portraits have also always been a huge part of my painting career. However, now more than ever, I’m looking for a narrative, a story to tell that I can convey on a two-dimensional surface—something that I can document from this time of enormous unprecedented happenings. Therefore, drawing my inspiration from the things happening outside of my home environment is what I have been centering on currently. As for Dagger, we still go into his studio space in our home and create his true pure abstract art paintings. Sometimes I’ll video our session and post it on his social media channels
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?
My studio has become, for me, a think tank—a place that I can think about what is happening outside of my studio. I don’t get lost in my own painting world anymore as I once did. I find myself thinking of how life as we knew it has changed. I enjoy my studio space, albeit quite differently now. I find myself thinking a lot more about my work and what I’m about to create and documenting my thoughts on paper or canvas. I find I’m also thinking about how I can reinvent Dagger’s workshops to connect with others by utilizing our home studio. That, I find, has been a quite exciting adventure.
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?
Not really. I have always felt the need to tell a story in my paintings. I get an idea and convey it on canvas. I like to hear what my audience has to say about my work as they are viewing it. I [recently finished] a painting of a woman wearing a face mask kissing her dog. The viewer can create his or her own narrative as they view the painting. I feel that documenting how we feel and keeping a journal through drawing, painting, prose or poetry will help us on our journey through this pandemic.
Would you say your color palette and themes have gotten darker or brighter overall since social distancing began, and why?
The colors I choose to use have not affected my work, as well as the colors I choose for Dagger.
What words of insight, inspiration or encouragement would you like to offer to your fellow artists, and to all those who enjoy your work?
Never stop creating, learning and inspiring others to do whatever it is that makes one happy and grow in a positive way. Allow your creative juices to continue by finding ways to make the world a better place. And don’t get hung up on making things perfect—just create from your heart. Use this time to grow and refresh, regroup and reinvent yourself. Try new things. When this is all over and we look back on this challenging time in all of our lives, we will see just how we’ve grown. In retrospect, we will see that through the darkness of the pandemic there is a light of a better tomorrow.