In The Pandemic, Artists Around Kansas City Are Finding Friendships Are As Nourishing As Solitude
Artists deal with isolation during long stretches of time as a part of their regular practice. But for some, the forced isolation brought on by COVID-19 has gotten in the way of creativity.
Jane Booth’s studio sits on a ridge with a commanding view of the natural prairie on a farm in Spring Hill, Kansas. Her wall-sized canvases are flooded with bold strokes of color and line. She spends a lot of time working by herself, and she likes it.
“It’s just rich for me to be alone," says Booth. "And while I do love to go out see friends and family, my resource is the quiet.”
Like many artists, though, Booth has discovered that the forced isolation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic is different from normal creative solitude.
“I opened a major solo museum show one week," she recalls. "The next week we had an out of control prairie fire that burned its way all the way around the studio. The following week, the world shut down and the museum shut down. And then, of course, we're all reading the news where the bodies are piling up outside of New York hospitals.”
She says the events were overwhelming. She found it impossible to focus and not sure where to turn.
“One of the most important things for an artist to do is to be deeply sensitive to the world and to sense and so from that standpoint, I know there's artists who can paint from grief, misery, pain. I am just not that," Booth says. "And so I was frozen without a voice for several months. And in solitude. So it was bizarre because I didn't have my work. And it was just silence for silence’s sake."
Booth says the early lockdown was a dark time for her. She felt stuck. Sometimes she wondered if she even could function as an artist anymore. But her network of friends helped jumpstart her creative process and slowly she began to paint again.
“We were giving each other ideas and little launching pads," says Booth. "My friend Sherry said, 'What if you got a bunch of really fine paper and some Sumi ink and just made some small drawings?'"
"You know, all these different things began to somewhat unlock ideas, give me a little bit more confidence, because I really lost my confidence in my ability to express,” continues Booth.
The Daum Museum re-opened in September and Booth’s show is back on view through the end of the year. Times are still challenging but Booth says she’s feeling hopeful.
“Why not welcome the new?" she asks. "Not everything is tragic. There's also silver linings that are coming forth. And why not look at life with curiosity of what's going to happen now? What do we get to see?”
Jacob Burmood also works alone. He lives and works in a warehouse space near Swope Park in Kansas City, Missouri. His large, silvery sculptures are made of cold cast aluminum and bronze.
“The work I make is inspired by fluid movement and that can come from a lot of sources: rivers, dance, flocks of birds, schools of fish, the way they flow together,” says Burmood.
Before the pandemic, working in solitude came naturally to Burmood.
“I'm used to waking up in the morning and I say hello to my animals and then I get to work, you know, and that's work that I do by myself for the most part,” he says.
With COVID-19, though, things changed a bit. Burmood says he’s been fortunate. He has commissions for sculptures that will take him through the next two years. But he missed connecting with friends who both encourage and inspire him. So he started reaching out by phone.
“I know it's been hard on a lot of people, even on me, and I enjoy being isolated for the most part," Burmood says.
"Reaching out to old friends, checking in on people, seeing how they're doing," he continues. "I've been trying to do that. And people are bored right now, so they’re willing to talk.”
Heather Beffa, grants manager at the advocacy group ArtsKC, says artists are finding ways to process this difficult year.
“Artists are incubating complicated ideas right now and thinking about the best way to express them and it’s really valuable that they do that,” Beffa says.
She says artists are resilient even in the face of uncertainty.
"People who strive to be full time artists are hustlers," Beffa explains. "They try to garner every opportunity that comes their way and look ahead for more and try to create opportunities for others. And a lot of those who had already built those muscles in our community have done whatever they can to not let this pandemic slow them down.”
Back in Spring Hill, Booth says those dark days back in March gave her a chance to reconnect with what is important. Even her doubts about whether she was still an artist turned out to be part of a rejuvenation.
“Actually, that was a beautiful thing, because then if you decide that you're going to unfurl a roll of canvas and set to work again, it’s with absolute freedom," says Booth. "It’s not because it’s expected. It’s not because this is what I always do. It was an absolute clean break, terrifying and ultimately nourishing.”