Western artists from around the country respond to the pandemic and their changing routines

By Michael Clawson

Read more Essential West here

 

Aside from the tremendous loss of life and the slowed economy, the pandemic is also changing the way people live and work. While many people have to adjust to this new normal, many artists are responding with the same answer: “Not much has changed.” Artists are often isolated creatures, working in relative solitude within their studios. It’s quite normal for them to disappear in the morning and return in the late evening largely unfazed by the outside world. We reached out to some artists and asked them how things are different, and how they are the same.

 

Stephen C. Datz with his Painting "Convergence"

Stephen C. Datz standing next to his painting Convergence

 

Stephen C. Datz
Has the pandemic changed how you have worked or what you’re painting?

No, not at all. My studio is next to my house, so I don’t need to commute, and I tend to favor remote or isolated areas for field work, so I seldom see anyone else when I am out in the field. Working with landscapes as a subject is a solitary pursuit, at least for me.

What have you missed the most during these last five months?

Not much, really. I’m a bit of a hermit.

What has helped pass the time during this time of isolation?

I haven’t really needed help passing time. In fact, I have been busier than ever. I presented a special show of 20 small paintings (Desert Notes) at Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery back in May, and I had to get spring consignments of new work to my galleries and a couple of other shows I participate in. Right now I am working on paintings for my next solo show at Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, which will open next January. So I haven’t really slowed down at all.

What is your outlook for the future?

I don’t think it’s possible to sustain a career as a fine artist without an optimistic outlook on life and an inherent belief that the future is what you make it. The ups and downs in this business can give you whiplash, but that teaches you to be resilient. It also teaches you that the future is very fluid, and that worrying about every little thing that might happen is a waste of energy. Greg McHuron, a friend of mine and fellow painter who passed away in 2012, used to say, “A day you don’t paint is a day you never get back,” and I’ve always felt that meant that we should never take life for granted. For me, life, like painting, is in the process. If you pay attention to the process the product takes care of itself. So I focus on each day, and I try to make the most of it. If I’m getting some paint on canvas, for better or worse, it’s a good day. I count my blessings every day. I’m a firm believer in the idea that a life lived in fear is a life only half lived. So I have faith that I can meet whatever challenges may arise, make the most of new opportunities, and that things will, on the whole, work out just fine.

 

Glenn Dean

Has the pandemic changed how you have worked or what you’re painting?

I would say it has not. My work has always been done in isolation and my painting subject matter has not been altered due to the pandemic, at least not that I can see.

What have you missed the most during these last five months?

Doing normal things with friends and family.

What has helped pass the time during this time of isolation?

Working. I surely don’t think of my work as a means of passing time, but time seems to move along pretty fast when I’m at the easel, regardless of having anything to show for it at the end of the day. 

What is your outlook for the future?

Hopeful. This is certainly a strange thing for us all and even devastating for some, but I believe we will get through it and perhaps with a gained perspective of what matters most to people.

 

Eric Bowman

Has the pandemic changed how you have worked or what you’re painting?

The “pandemic” has been detrimental to my travel plans for reference gathering outside of my state and also eliminated school attendance for our daughter.

What have you missed the most during these last five months?

The opportunities to travel attend several important museum shows, including my first time in the Prix de West.

What has helped pass the time during this time of isolation?

Time hasn’t changed, I work daily in my studio located on our property and travel locally to sketch out-of-doors as usual.

What is your outlook for the future?

My outlook for my work is very optimistic; I am pushing, exploring and developing, but from what I’ve seen how this “pandemic” has been played, I am not very confident things will get better for society anytime soon.

 

Dean Mitchell

Has the pandemic changed how you have worked or what you’re painting?

The pandemic hasn’t changed my working habits or patterns but it has forced me to look deeper at the meaning of community. I’ve always painted people and places. The spaces we share as human beings has taken on more clarity. I’m painting more family members. The unrest in the country and throughout the world has made me look at wanting to communicate a more modern-day concern in my work. Creating works that stimulate deeper conversations about our role in the larger, ever-growing, complex world.

What have you missed the most during these last five months?

I’ve missed traveling and seeing friends and family. Also, the feeling of moving freely in a space without an invisible predator. Missing going to two of my solo museum exhibitions. Really miss talking to people about art in person. 

What has helped pass the time during this time of isolation?

Well I have two 10-year-old kids that have certainly kept me busy. I’m enjoying my time along with my family going on bike rides and watching family moves. Also, my kids love drawing and painting so that been a big winner on both fronts for me. 

What is your outlook for the future?

To look at each day with wonder and to be a kinder person. To cherish my family and friends even more. To share beauty in its fragile state. Has not nature shown us yet how easy it can be unraveled? I hope to be taking more risk in subjects that make people think outside the comfort zone. It’s my hope that [publications] will step forward in publishing works that present different points of view’s about America’s controversial history. 

 

Dustin Van Wechel

Has the pandemic changed how you have worked or what you’re painting?
Generally speaking, it hasn’t. My work focuses on Western wildlife and landscapes. And while I wasn’t able to travel as much or as far this year, living in Colorado with easy access to the wilderness—as well as having a large library of reference material that I’ve collected over decades—kept me working as I always have.
What have you missed the most during these last five months?
I’ve definitely missed traveling and doing shows which are generally the only time I get the opportunity to connect with other artists and art lovers in person.
What has helped pass the time during this time of isolation?
Fortunately for me, from the time the lockdowns began, I was working on pieces for several upcoming group shows, as well as paintings for a gallery solo show. The demands of producing all of that work has kept me tremendously busy over the last six months with very little down time to try and fill.
What is your outlook for the future?
I truly wish I had that crystal ball—the one that could provide reliable intel on what the outlook is for my career, as well as the art world as a whole. I’m generally an optimistic person and so my nature is to believe that while this year may be a difficult one, things will find their way back to some kind of normalcy. I’ve heard of a few bright spots regarding art-purchasing behavior during the pandemic, which is encouraging and gives me hope that the outlook is good. But I suspect the longer the pandemic continues to disrupt peoples’ lives and the economy, the more difficult it will become to financially survive as an artist.

 

Brett Allen Johnson

Has the pandemic changed how you have worked or what you’re painting?
Mainly it has changed our day-to-day routine. With schools and daycares closing, we are shifting schedules so we can work on schoolwork and take care of the baby. I don’t think it has changed how or what I’m painting.
What have you missed the most during these last five months?
Going out with friends and traveling.
What has helped pass the time during this time of isolation?
See above, hahah! We’re swamped. That’s more of a problem with those who don’t have kids at home. :)
What is your outlook for the future?
I believe in the American spirit. This is a temporary setback, and that’s all.

 

Josh Elliott

Has the pandemic changed how you have worked or what you’re painting?
My working habits have not changed much at all. I have commitments and deadlines that were decided on a year ago or more, and more keep coming! It’s been good. For one show I painted a few smaller-than-usual pieces, other than that I haven’t changed what I am painting because of Covid. It has caused me to reflect on what I am painting and why, that isn’t unusual though. I want to make sure I am painting what is true to me, and I still enjoy the subjects I paint, the landscape resonates with me.

What have you missed the most during these last five months?
I have missed the shows. I miss seeing my art hung at the galleries, visiting with collectors, friends and fellow artists. We had to cancel an in-person opening for my solo show at Medicine Man Gallery in Tucson last March. It was hard, a lot of work went into the show, but that has been happening to all the artists out there, not unique to me, but still a bummer. I always enjoy going to the Prix de West and Quest for the West, so I will miss attending those shows this year.

What has helped pass the time during this time of isolation?
I am still painting as usual, and taking some summertime trips as usual. When things seemed to slow down this spring I did some work on our house and my studio. I enjoy home improvement and landscaping.

What is your outlook for the future?
I imagine things will get back to normal eventually. We Western artists are fortunate, we have a great collector base, great shows, galleries and magazines that support, promote and share our love of the West. I imagine the market will stay strong. There are so many great artists out there, so it is a great time to be working in this field. It is exciting and inspirational to be around in this era of excellence. As far as my work, I hope to keep improving technically and growing artistically—virus or not!

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