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Quarantined Artists Bring Their Studios Home


Published June 16, 2020 at 6:00 a.m.
Updated June 16, 2020 at 5:43 p.m.

Wylie Garcia's studio - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Wylie Garcia's studio

Over the past few months, so many statements and stories have been prefaced with "during the pandemic." This is one of them. After March 24, when Gov. Phil Scott issued a stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, artists — like most of us — suddenly found themselves, well, at home. Endlessly.

We wondered what the quarantine period has been like for artists who had to abandon studios and find a way to make art in, typically, much smaller quarters at home. What did those work spaces look like? Given that artists normally spend a lot of time alone, has the enforced home stay felt different? Has it influenced their work or their ability to make it? Has caring for or homeschooling children compromised the focus of studio time?

In May, after two months of quarantine, we queried Wylie Garcia and asked for a photo of her home work space, then asked her to recommend another artist and continued until we had seven. Here are their responses.

Wylie Garcia

Painter, Charlotte

Due to the pandemic, I am working out of my mom's apartment, which is attached to our home. Although work spaces tend to pop up anywhere in our house. I use her breakfast nook as my primary studio space.

Working from home feels normal to me, but I am getting better at working in small bursts, knowing I might get interrupted and redirected elsewhere at any given moment.

I like to work on multiple projects at the same time — formerly large paintings in my studio and smaller paintings at home. My flower paintings (now on view at Soapbox Arts in Burlington) sort of became an active resistance to the pandemic. I'm trying to just think about shape and color and form — just trying to become a better painter. I also have a new pandemic-inspired performance-sculpture-interactive project percolating.

My home studio is limiting in size, but it's intimate and it's perfect for right now.

Sage Tucker-Ketcham

Painter, Shelburne
Sage Tucker-Ketcham's studio - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Sage Tucker-Ketcham's studio

I shared a big garage bay behind Feldman's Bagels ... with artist Wylie Garcia. I loved it! But when the stay-at-home order went in place, and all of a sudden I was homeschooling a 7-year-old and covering the cost of a studio I couldn't use, I felt it was the best choice to move back home.

My studio is in a finished basement, 10 by 12 feet. I have a biggish egress window and clamp lights hung on a shower rod. I use old kitchen cabinets to store stuff. It reminds me of my apartment when I was 23, in Portland, Maine, when I was in art school. It even has the same furniture. It's not fancy — it's sorta small and dark — but it's mine; it's where I get to be alone with my paint and make a mess. I only wish it had giant windows, a view and lots more light.

I have been making paintings about houses for almost four years. Now, I am working on a series that takes place in the house ... I realized I have a nice, safe, warm home, and I am very grateful for it. My paintings can now be about that.

Neil Berger

Painter, Shelburne
Neil Berger's studio - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Neil Berger's studio

My work space, before and during the pandemic, is a small former horse barn with the hayloft removed and windows added.

My life has continued somewhat as before. I am a stay-at-home dad. My day is centered on taking my son on walks in the LaPlatte Nature Park, doing housework and painting.

I feel like this time has been clarifying — a continuation of a clarifying process of the last few decades. The silent power of art is endless. My works for big stretches were inadequate, but not in a self-pitying way. It's actually kinda funny, almost uplifting. (See "Four Quartets," T.S. Eliot.)

My studio makes me feel very good. I don't really notice anything when I walk in, which is a good thing. I just walk up to the table and work. If I could do it over, I would have made the window high on the west wall (formerly the hayloft door) and three times bigger — a real rose window statement.

Arista Alanis

Community arts program coordinator, Vermont Studio Center, and painter, Johnson
Arista Alanis' studio - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Arista Alanis' studio

I started working at my small kitchen table due to the pandemic. The kitchen is in the center of a bungalow second-floor apartment and has the most natural light.

I am comfortable being alone, but this much time alone is pushing it. Hours in the studio are heaven; hours at the kitchen table have been challenging. I'm also teaching art remotely from the same table. Not having the stimulating community distractions to balance my daily responsibilities is difficult. I'm thankful to be able to take lots of walks in nature.

In my studio, I generally have my routine. I fill up my water bottle, change my shoes and put on my music. I pace around looking at the various large, unfinished painted canvases. Then I pick up an oil brush and begin.

With the studio practice in the house, I don't have an easel, only a small surface area on the 39-by-27-inch kitchen table. I'm also working from this same location, so it also holds work papers, books, two computers used for remote teaching, and water-soluble painting supplies.

Working at the kitchen table ... I'm lucky to have a moment of delight where I'm calm and have forgotten everything that is happening in the world.

Kristen Mills

Visual arts program manager, Vermont Studio Center, and video artist, Johnson
Kristen Mills with her green screen - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Kristen Mills with her green screen

When Vermont Studio Center shut down due to the pandemic, I had to move both my office and studio home. I live in a small apartment, approximately 300 square feet. My office is now in my very tiny eating area, and the living room became my studio.

My work at VSC also shifted to virtual programming, so my job now overlaps with the way I work in my studio. Working at an artist residency, I am around many people all day, so the quarantine has taken quite a bit of adjusting. However, when I work in my studio, I do work alone. It's just the blurring of the lines — home, work, studio, repeat — that gets complicated and can feel exhausting.

This time of quarantine, and the pandemic itself, has helped me to care about my work more. In general, this unsettling moment has been a bit of a wake-up call — to think more, to pay attention more, to not take life for granted.

I have grown used to working and living in my small home. But I often have to move things around in order to do another task. At VSC, I literally have things on wheels so that I can move staging and objects around easily.

Kate Donnelly

Multimedia and performance artist, Burlington
Kate Donnelly's studio Courtesy photo - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Kate Donnelly's studio Courtesy photo

My temporary studio is in the bay window of my mother's farmhouse in the Northeast Kingdom, 75 (million?) miles from my studio in Burlington. At the same time that the pandemic shut everything down, my mother was diagnosed with end-stage lung cancer. My sister (from New Jersey) and I have been caring for her full time since mid-March, while we work remotely.

In recent years, my practice has become increasingly collaborative. While in isolation with my sister and mother during her illness, I have been working solo, building objects for a performance. The performance, choreographed for three women, disrupts sentimental notions of the labor of love and interrogates the effects and costs of this labor on the body and the body politic.

My practice centers on issues of care and the broad disparities of how (Western) society values caregiving. Although my current project began before the pandemic, local and global issues posed by COVID-19 add even more urgency and complexity to my subject.

The present moment reveals a geography of care, and it's labor that is otherwise largely invisible and undervalued. The pandemic and the now-elongated experiences with isolation, illness and the rural environment and economy are influencing the shape of this work profoundly.

Ross Sheehan

Painter and sculptor, Vergennes
Ross Sheehan's garage studio - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Ross Sheehan's garage studio

My home studio consists of a 10-by-12-foot corner in my garage. It's basically an unfinished Sheetrock wall for painting, a small table for a palette, and a chair. Normally it's littered with found materials.

Usually, I find it more productive to get out of the house and to work in my Vergennes studio. With homeschooling, and other obligations in and around home, I am currently dedicated to working on art here, too. Whenever possible, getting out "into the field" to take a walk alone, to take some photos or notes, helps alleviate the stresses of cabin fever and promotes concepts to bring back into the garage studio.

I have been practicing photography, poetry and video, and I have most recently revisited painting as the functional space in my garage has slowly evolved. It's a constant reminder to think like a bricoleur — I've become even more dedicated and open to using the materials and tools already existing at hand.

I look forward to being in the garage studio. It's a bit dark and quiet, and it encourages me to reflect on the surreal days passing by. It can feel a bit absurd in there, but it gives me solace and sanity at the same time.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Home Is Where the Art Is | How quarantined artists make it work"

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