Strolling through “Artists in Quarantine,” the eclectic new exhibition in Arts Garage’s Grassroots Gallery, I thought of the old adage, “if you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” With few exceptions, the artists all completed these works under the coronavirus lockdown that defined spring in South Florida and across the world. When you’re living in quarantine, it seems, everything seems to be fundamentally about quarantine—a reflection of it, a reaction to it, an escape from it.
Even pieces of abstraction that might have a more universal resonance in those bygone normal times, now seem to confront our shared isolation. Take Jean Wemyss’s painting that’s called, in fact, “Isolate,” in which geometric shapes, otherwise open to interpretation, struck me as embodying the restrictive frames of windows, the connection to an outside world that is largely out of reach. The spherical shape in the upper-left quadrant could be the artist, moving in circles, each endless day bleeding into the next.
Painter Tracy Danet, whose work captures Mother Nature in elusive brush strokes, also brings a sort of specificity, intended or not, to images of a more general appeal. Titled “Dawn” and “Dusk,” they suggest, rather than outright depict, shapes including coffee stains and birds and flowers, rendered in muted pastels. I couldn’t look at them without thinking of my own communing with nature on an almost daily basis these past three months, the noticing of flora and fauna I never took the time to appreciate in the Before Time.
I likewise related to Sarah E. Huang’s “In Pieces,” a three-dimensional abstract piece with about a dozen points of entry all coalescing into a frenzied tangle just off-center. I noticed a mermaid tail, a human leg and a pair of buried eyes, all swept into a kind of societal turbulence big enough to encompass not just the pandemic but the more recent Black Lives Matter protests. It’s a remarkably keen work that grows in estimation the more you linger over it.
Then there are the artists whose work feels like a colorful sojourn from our sheltered months of daily death counts and an economy in free-fall—like Steven Perez’s vibrant and sometimes-amusing small-scale collages composed from found photographs overlaid with cut-up magazine clippings. In one, a boy looks askance at his mixed-up ice-cream cone; in another, balls of color, like wondrous space junk, rain down upon a monochromatic Marilyn Monroe. Rick Namors’ kaleidoscopic, mad-scientific abstracts, meticulously created with felt-tip marker, feel like a shiny, psychedelic escape from the humdrum of quarantine.
It’s worth noting that some of the artists “cheated” in the sense that they completed their submissions prior to quarantine. The curator allowed them anyway, and they do contribute to the overall theme, revealing at times a prophetic sensibility. Mitchell Jacobson’s street-captured photos of urban graffiti, for instance, now seem inextricable from the news cycles we’ve experienced, from “Why is Peace So Violent?” to “New Heroes, New Masks,” a work that seems to retroactively liken frontline health-care workers to masked superheroes like Batman.
What Arts Garage did not receive from almost all of the artists were unmistakably realistic representations of quarantine life. That’s why Natalie Veyvoda’s “American Gothic 2020: Palm Beach County Edition” (pictured at top) is such a standout. Instead of Grant Wood’s iconic image of farm spouses, Veyvoda’s watercolor captures an older couple in folding chairs, each of them gloved and masked, self-medicating with a bottle of Chardonnay on their tile floor. Yes, it’s a Palm Beach County couple, but it’s also an everycouple, isolating in an abundance of caution, waiting it out.
In her bio on Arts Garage’s website, Veyvoda added this: “How do we deal with [social distancing and isolation]? Like the couple in the painting, she hopes that this may soon pass, but will it? And, if so, when? And in what form?”
Great questions. We all want the answers. Until we get them, at least we have perceptive works of art like this to help ease the uncertainty.
“Artists in Quarantine” runs in Arts Garage’s Grassroots Gallery through July 31. Admission is free. The gallery is open Tuesday through Friday from noon to 6 p.m. For information, call 561/450-6457 or visit artsgarage.org.