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Toronto Artists In Isolation: On Creativity & Resilience

Updated: Jul 15, 2020



Yayoi Kusama once said, “I am afraid of loneliness”, and yet has always preferred to work in solitude. Isolation leaves a different imprint on all of us, changing shape from one day to the next. It can be a delicate dance between creativity and boredom, reflection and loneliness, or healing and madness. Days feels like weeks, weeks feel like months, and months feel like years. Similar to other forms of distress, social isolation presents us with the choice: to thrive or crumble under the pressure. For local Toronto artists Alex Garant, Graham Robinson, Kelly Rose Adams, Cam Champ, Michael Rennick, Florence Solis, Christina Mazzulla, and Ella Mazur, resilience is the only option.

Solitude has been a recurrent theme throughout art history. Agnes Martin, an abstract painter of the late 20th century, was known to live and work alone. During a period of mental anguish and artistic turmoil, the only thing that returned Martin to her practice was solitude. Martin once stated: “The best things in life happen to you when you’re alone”. Louise Bourgeois, known for her large-scale sculpture and installation work, had interwoven solitude into her practice. Louise Bourgeois starkly believed that you are born alone and you die alone, explaining: “Solitude, even prolonged solitude, can only be of very great benefit”.

COVID-19 has presented us all with a set of extraordinary challenges. From being laid off, to cancelling events, and enduring social isolation, there is an underlying uneasiness around solitude. Whether it is the discomfort of boredom, the agitation of being locked indoors, or the never ending time dilation, it is a matter of adapting to a new set of conditions. For artists who drew inspiration from their social interactions and physical environment, COVID-19 has forced them to get creative—even more so than usual. From playing with their work spaces, to leaning into experimentation, ingenuity, and resourcefulness, these Toronto artists are getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.


ALEX GARANT


"April 2020, a different life rhythm than expected. For the past 4 years, I have been very lucky to work from home, I am able to remain self-motivated with painting hours and implement some administrative discipline. Aside from the obvious adjustments such as not allowing studio visits from collectors, what changed the most for me is the overall lifestyle that supports my mental health. Every day, I used to start my day by going to the gym for an hour as soon as I woke up, and by stopping by the grocery store next door to pick up whatever I felt like eating that day. Two little things, but once removed from my daily schedule, totally troubled my mood. For the past 3 weeks, it has been more difficult to stay focused and energized.

One of the biggest elements I recently changed is to move my painting station from the studio to my dining room. By doing so, I have access to way more light and view of my backyard from the patio door.


Once every couple of hours, I try to go outside for a few minutes, take a breath and repeat to myself that I need to focus on today. Today is today and it is all it needs to be.


CONNECT WITH ALEX // Website + alexgarant.com // Instagram + @alexgarantart


GRAHAM ROBINSON


"Making art can be a lonely vocation. It is a difficult balance to strike when deciding to work from home. Since my studio is also my living room, I end up spending most of my days in a single room. My wife Niky and I live and work in our two bedroom basement apartment in a heritage house in Parkdale. I have two work stations set up between my kitchen and the only window in the front of my apartment. Additionally, I also share this space with my wife, who now also works from home. She has an office in our second bedroom at the other end of the apartment. We have had to make adjustments and compromises to make things work. I have to be able to feel free and open when I'm working on art and then quickly pack up and put away my workspace so my wife and I can cook and relax and use our living room. This is a learning experience for us both and one that requires constant revision and improvement. That's our work/home situation normally.


Now, because of the quarantine we are required to both be at home for basically 23 hours a day, but things have only changed slightly. We have already worked out enough of the kinks, so this is much easier than it would have been even a year ago. I am able to work at the same capacity as before quarantine. My wife is able to share the space and live here life out around the studio/living room, although it's not ideal. This is just the least-bad option for us. We would love more space. I would love a proper studio separate from my home. For now that is what we can afford and we make it work for us.


Life, work and my marriage to Niky is not changed too much by the quarantine. We love each other very much and we are happy to be accommodating for each other's needs. This is how our lives were going before quarantine. Niky started working from home a few days a week about 2 months before the quarantine, so we were already adjusting to this lifestyle. The military term SNAFU is quite fitting: "Situation Normal, All Fucked Up." Is pretty much business as usual for us here."


CONNECT WITH GRAHAM // Instagram + @grahamrobinson.art


KELLY ROSE ADAMS