Artists on Coping: Jennifer Coates

During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.

Tabletop studio, Poyntelle, PA

Jennifer Coates is a painter living and working in New York City and Poyntelle, PA. She is a recent recipient of the Sharpe Walentas Studio (2018-2019) and was a fellow at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Italy (Fall 2019). Recent solo exhibitions include Toxic Halo (High Noon Gallery) and Correspondences and All U Can Eat (Freight & Volume Gallery). Her work has been written about in the Brooklyn Rail, Bomb Magazine, Art Critical, Hyperallergic, the Huffington Post, Smithsonian Journeys and Art News.

AS: How are you coping?

JC: Well I have been sick with what has been assumed to be Covid-19 for almost 4 weeks. I’m now starting to feel much better! I have been coping by drawing and making photoshop collages, when I’ve had the energy. In the early weeks of the illness I was drawing in bed, with colored pencils. I’ve never transferred my studio to the bed before. But it was a comfort to be able to draw my way through it.

Recent quarantine drawings, colored pencil on paper, 9 x 12 inches, 2020

AS: Has your routine changed?

JC: Usually this time of year we are in the city and I would be in my studio in Greenpoint. As it became clearer that the routine of going to the studio was not feasible, I stayed home, switching from large canvases to small works on paper, a transition that is fine with me, because I love any excuse to make drawings as they feed my large paintings so directly. My husband and I ended up moving out to our house in rural Pennsylvania, where it is still winter. Not a leaf on the trees yet! My routine now that I am recovering is to wake up, make a list of things to do and do as many as I can. The list includes drawing always, but also, planting seedlings, feeding my sourdough culture, baking and/or cooking, and playing music. As artists we are always self-directed, so in some ways it’s easier for us to get through a quarantine. Although I deeply miss my friends, eating with them and cooking for them, playing music and performing, seeing art and doing all of the NYC things, there is a hermit in me that also can easily hide from the world and have no shortage of things to do. I know I am not alone in this!

Spring Dancers, colored pencil on paper, 9 x 12 inches, 2020

AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?

JC: My feelings run the gamut from gratitude to be able to shelter in place in the woods where I can go outside to the daily waves of disgust and outrage at our government, especially as the idiot in charge encourages people to congregate and put each other and healthcare workers in danger of getting ill. My best friend is a nurse and I am horrified at the thought that she would be putting her health and the health of her family at risk for people who willfully ignore the science on this. I am worried about all the people who continue to work in essential businesses who are underpaid and at risk. I am also anxious as I am sure most of us are about what will be left when we emerge from our shells… All the restaurants and small businesses that will close, all the people who will be unemployed and suffering. I wonder if I appreciated the world as it was enough. Did I do enough to be present for that? Because it seems like so much will change. What can I do to make things better going forward? I hope we can all learn to appreciate everything more. I think we will.

Bacchanal, colored pencil and gouache on paper, 9 x 12 inches, 2020 

AS: What matters most right now?

JC: Being kind to the person/people you are quarantined with. Reaching out to family and friends who may be feeling isolated. Reminding my parents that I love them and am grateful that they have good politics and are taking the threat seriously, so I know that they are safe. Facetiming with my niece and nephew and making silly projects with them long distance. Cooking in tandem with my brother and my dad. Connecting with friends every day, letting them know I love and miss them and am thinking of them.

What also matters most to me now is to keep making art. At a time like this I am reminded of one of the original reasons I started to draw and paint as a kid – which was because I didn’t understand the world around me and I knew I couldn’t control it – so I felt more comfortable on a two dimensional surface and I was soothed by the action of my hand moving across it. I can’t control much in my life right now but perhaps I can, if not control what happens on the page, at least make a vivid alternative world that speaks to this one.

View from our house in Poyntelle, PA, Spring 2020

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

JC: This Walt Whitman’s preface to Leaves of Grass was recently shared with me and I think it speaks to the road ahead better than anything I could say. It’s something to aspire to:

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

All Photos courtesy of the artist.

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: