The reality of COVID19 started to appear more on my radar towards the beginning of March. By the time the Armory Show happened with galleries flying in from different parts of the world to showcase artist’s work, the overall atmosphere at the fair felt clearly different from years past.
My life as an artist living in New York City March 15th 2020 – Present
This is always an important week in my Calendar. Since moving to New York, I’ve always looked forward to the times when the major fairs come to town.
This year people were exercising more caution by not shaking hands or double kissing in the same way that they have at other fairs. Until a few months ago people weren’t thinking twice about this sort of contact.
A new custom was just starting, with what is now known as an elbow bump. This is where two elbows come together to greet each other, similar to a handshake, however using a different part of your body.
Fast forward, another two weeks; the atmosphere shifted again in New York. Social distancing started, which has become the new norm. This was the week I was rushing around the city, preparing myself to self-isolate and try as much as possible to have everything I needed at home for a more extended period of time.
My brother, who had recently moved back to New York a few days before COVID hit was warned that I was going to start self-isolating and wasn’t going to see him properly for a while.
During that week, I had to think hard about what I needed for the coming weeks before staying at home for a prolonged period of time. I made a couple of trips to the art supply stores to buy a roll of Fabriano paper, three large circular canvases, a red gouache, blue gouache and a few colouring pencils – some printing cartridges, a bag of Epsom salts which has sadly run out now and some excellent food and drink.
I also, just in the nick of time, posted an application to do a solo show in Bangkok, Thailand next summer, which a very close friend recommended. Hopefully, I’ll be hearing back in June as to whether I’ve been accepted for the show.
Five days after social distancing began, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York announced that ‘shelter in place’ would start in two days, which was where people were advised to stay home and leave their apartments for essential trips to the grocery store, pharmacy or bank only. It was up to New Yorkers to regulate how seriously or relaxed we wanted to follow the guidelines. Although guidelines were strict, in some ways, I feel as if they could have been a lot more stringent in terms of the advisory amount of time someone could go out and how far away from their home they were allowed to go.
At one point I found myself looking at the guidelines of how far kids in Spain were able to stray from their house as a reference point to what was considered to be a safe distance for someone to be from their home.
I do feel as if the approach I took to self-isolating was tougher, i.e. not going out in public for over a month. I haven’t even been into a shop for nearly two months.
What has kept me in more positive spirits during this time, is having the time and space to continue developing my art practice, thinking about the works I created pre COVID, alongside making new work. As of right now, I am working towards a show in New York later this year.
This past year, I have become interested in working with bright colours and playing with shapes too. This can sometimes happen where I’m drawing shapes on rectangular sheets of paper. In the past year, I have been working on different shaped canvas too, towards the end of 2020 – I was drawing on triangle canvas and I’m now starting a series of paintings where I will be working on large scale circular canvases.
During this time, I have also continued to apply for shows which have kept me hopeful for my future.
I feel incredibly grateful to be surrounded by such a good group of friends in New York. If it weren’t for my friends, there is no way I could have self-isolated in the way I have been doing. There’s a real sense of solidarity between us in terms of how we have all approached self-isolating.
One of the biggest challenges for me, alongside the enormous amount of lives lost and sickness, is seeing people disregard the guidelines. It’s incredibly painful when so much suffering has occurred that people continue not to practice social distancing or are not wearing masks, even though this is now the new guideline in New York City.
My legs definitely suffered as a result of my decision not to go out in public for a month, though I think my mind has grown as a result knowing that I can be self-sufficient, content in my own company and have the things I need around me to keep me happy.
I am very much looking forward to seeing people again, but who knows what the parameters will be, six feet apart? Three? One day I hope people will feel confidant again to shake a person’s hand when they meet for the first time and feel safety and comfort or to hold someone’s hand without this underlying fear of human touch being associated with the danger of COVID.
Though I still limit my public outdoor activity, I feel as if New York is entering a rebirth, I am always so grateful to be part of this city and call myself a New Yorker and I am looking forward to seeing how the city will continue to evolve and show its creative spirit.
As we have all seen, there has been more of a move towards remote learning, remote meetings, video chats. However, these are an excellent form of communication which have been a way to keep us connected and safe during this time. I don’t think this type of communication will ever replace the connection that takes place when friends are walking down the street together, having someone over to your apartment for a chat, speaking to someone in a bar or restaurant and seeing an exhibition in real life.
I think when these moments come back again in a good safe way, we are going to all have a newfound appreciation for the beauty of being able to meet up in person. Yet, while at the same time missing the moments of having a prolonged period of solitude, being able to reflect without having to be out yourself with a set time to get to school or an appointment.
I have already decided that I will take some further time out this summer to reflect on this tragedy, as I find myself thinking if the UK and US had started social distancing from mid-February, we might have been in a different place to the one we are in now.
I hope that some Governments will take responsibility for their lack of preparedness too. As time goes on, I realise that during the peak of the virus, there was also a threat to our health and a threat to democracy as we once knew it. (I am pleased to now say that at least for now, the New York primaries will be going ahead in June; however, there was a brief moment when this was unlikely to happen with the concern that the election could put people’s health under threat.)
I would like to finish off my writing, reflecting on what I believe is likely to come next when countries and cities slowly start to loosen their restrictions from extended periods of shelter.
A recent article written in the New York Times by Frank Bruni makes reference to Laurie Garrett (A American Scientist) who predicted COVID – 19.
Part of the article talks about the importance of mass testing, while also highlighting that mass testing may not be as sustainable as we hope particularly in a city like New York with a population of just over 18.8 million. Yes, I can imagine everyone would like to be tested and maybe one day we will know the answer as to whether we were one of the people who had the virus? And if you weren’t one of the people that had the virus, you likely knew someone who suffered from the infection.
How widely available will testing ultimately be? What is more widely available at least for now is more data about the types of people who are most at risk of getting the virus, alongside what countries and cities have been hardest hit.
Along with continuing to practice social distancing while taking care of ourselves and community, analysing the data which the public does have access to and practising suitable hygiene measures may be our most potent force of combatting COVID-19. Until a vaccine becomes available, we should be looking into volunteering to be part of the contact-tracing team, amongst other ways to support your wider community.
I think everyone would be in denial if we weren’t aware of the economic hardship COVID- 19 has caused so many people, with countries going into recession and people losing their jobs.
I feel it’s so important to stay positive while this is taking place and yes, there is still going to be room for the artists and musicians to continue to pursue their creative dreams.
After the hardships suffered by COVID -19, my hope is that people will look out for each other more than in the past.
Laurie Garett also talks about a shift in the job market, which I feel will continue to be talked about and explored. COVID-19 can be tackled with more jobs in environmental sustainability, making sure our air doesn’t return to polluted level pre-COVID and making sure more people have access to clean, fresh water while contributing towards effective, sustainable models of detecting future virus outbreaks and containing them before they spread.
And yes, I predict the Queen’s Birthday Honours list 2020-2021, will see not only arts, sport and business awarded for their contribution to British society but also people on the front line who day in, day out are risking their lives to ensure we don’t lose our lives.
(For those who have died during COVID 19)
More of Scarlett’s work can be found Here
Scarlett can also be reached on Scarlett’s Instagram: @scarlett.l.nyc