I always felt that the Raleigh downtown view from my apartment window was a beautiful architectural landscape of varied red brick hues interspersed with the verdant oak trees that give the city its moniker. Yet I never expected it to become the subject for a painting about the experience of a pandemic.
Rather than paint from a memory as I usually do, I had the urgency to capture my lived experience of the COVID-19 pandemic in real time. Had I known the threat of the pandemic would have lasted longer than I anticipated, perhaps I would have chosen a different subject. I thought it was important to capture this moment as it felt in real time, before the memories crept into the void to be forgotten. The tyranny of the day to day in that existence muddling the minutiae of experience and feelings into one long memory of nothingness, a blank period of time where everything and nothing become one, and we struggle for meaning.
Looking out my apartment’s windows and seeing the same singular view day after day only to study its intricacies on canvas became a meditation on the repetition and monotony of living a life in social isolation itself. Finding new meanings in the way light danced across the city’s architectural landscape, the hidden patterns of the street lamps, the quiet simplicity and beauty in a brick motif was underscored by the social distance markers at the bus station, masked pedestrians, and the once bustling parking garage now barren without the workday traffic. Looking outside and back at it again on canvas reflected that while the same familiar structures and patterns still existed inside and outside at large and offered a glimpse of normalcy, the world had shifted. And by the time I finished the painting, it had become a brutal reminder that conditions had still not improved.
I started the painting in April and finished in July, yet by the time it was completed, I was able to reflect on the changes (and sometimes the lack thereof) that had occurred over those 4 months. Such naivety and seeming transience of the situation in those first few months in comparison to the staunch and unwavering reality of the present. The anxiety and stress that threatened to overwhelm in the beginning now shrouds less as a threat and more as constant, a state of being that now makes the rising cases, deaths, and day to day monotony and uncertainty common place. The heightened state of awareness moving through the street, opening a door, walking down a shared hallway, or waiting for an elevator has dulled into something that comes naturally. The reverie of thinking ‘What was life like before?’ has changed to ‘What will life like be after?’
In creating this artwork, I recognize the privilege that comes from being able to work safely from home. My fear and anxiety is lesser than those who have lost their livelihood, felt the the immediate loss of a loved one, and the communities of people of color who have been impacted by the pandemic in greater severity. So much happened from April to July: the initial support for frontline workers, statewide lockdowns, misinformation and politicization of a health crisis, deployment of the National Guard on innocent civilians, and, most importantly, the resolute cry and affirmative truth that Black Lives Matter.
I doubt that one work of art can sum up a moment in time. I know that this painting falls flat in that respect. Yet I hope that in the holistic presence of other works of art by fellow artists documenting this moment in history now or in the future, it will aid in providing a substantive view of the COVID-19 pandemic.