Two Louisville-based artists, Rebecca Norton and Letitia Quesenberry, share their experiences during quarantine.
What projects are you currently working on and how is social distancing affecting your art practice?
Rebecca Norton (RN): Like everyone else, social distancing has forced me to work from home. I’ve transitioned to teaching online, and I think I am adjusting quite well to working remotely. As I tell my students, I am an (apologetic) homebody. In the first week of social distancing, I built a couple of raised gardens and we (my husband and I) invested in local CSAs. The family is enjoying more time together. The kids are at such endearing stages of development (2 and 4 years old). I generally watch them in the mornings while my husband works. Then I work for a few hours, before dinner. My studio is located here, so on the upside, I’ve had more time to focus on several works-in-progress for an upcoming solo show (scheduled for early 2021 at Susan Moreman Gallery, Louisville, KY). Additionally, I’ve returned to a writing project that’s been in the works since 2018. It’s more comprehensive than anything I’ve done before, and I’m considering illustrations to support the texts. It will be nice to start pitching it, maybe I’ll get a few copies to independent publishers by the end of the year.
Letitia Quesenberry (LQ): I am continuing to work on several bodies of work concurrently. Since the shows I had lined up are indefinitely postponed, my pace has slowed. Having more time to ponder decisions is sometimes good and sometimes bad. (Won’t know until later.) I am used to spending long stretches of time alone working so that part is the same. I also am accustomed to financial precariousness and making calculated decisions regarding what seems doable. I am not used to the extreme levels of worry, uncertainty, and anxiety so I am having trouble staying focused. I miss my studio mates and being able to confer with them over things, which is adding to the loneliness of this time.
What advice and tips can you give to artists during this time?
RN: The advice I have for artists is the same I gave to my students: If you cannot be at your studio, use this time to experiment and research. Make paper studies, small works, collages. Make sculpture with homemade play-dough. Keep some non-drying clay or play dough in front of your computer to mess with while reading, or while in meetings. Write, about everything and anything. But don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t use this time to be ultra-productive. My main advice: take this as an opportunity to sit quietly with yourself. Learn to be solitary. Meditate twenty minutes a day. Watch clouds as they pass overhead. Spend more time with loved ones if you can. If you are creative and feel the need to make something, make something. And if there is something you’ve always wanted to work on, perhaps in secret, why not do that now?
LQ: I don’t give advice usually but these are the things I am telling myself: Focus on the things you can control and which give you the most feelings of art-joy. Take deep breaths. Be easy on yourself. Try to follow your process and get done what you can. I used to say “heads down, no talking” but I’ve switched to “chin up, keep talking.” In terms of the bigger picture and since everything will be so radically altered, I am taking this time as an opportunity to figure out which parts of the past should not come forward.
How are you cultivating community for yourself and what can the community be doing to support artists?
RN: At the moment, I am working to keep a sense of community for my students. We meet online several times weekly for a few hours a day. Students are welcome to join a chat, discuss their works, or gripes, ideas, etc. I enjoy this the most. Outside this, I am busy juggling time between my immediate family, other teaching requirements, and studio hours. My studio practice includes collaborative projects (the writing included), so in that way, I’ve maintained a sense of connection. Recently, I’ve thought about submitting work for online crits with other artists. I believe Ruckus has organized an event. I guess there may be a need for informal open crits/ group calls for artists in the community. As I write this, I think I may try to initiate something with the neighborhood artists I had been doing studio meets with.
LQ: I have been reaching out in small ways: more via social media and phone/video calls and been trying to write more letters. As for community support, I have been super-buoyed and pleasantly surprised by the emergency funds made recently available. Seeing the community pull together is very heartening.