Artists on Coping: Katrina Bello

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

In the studio, with large drawing titled Terra Magnoliaceae, April 2020

Born in the Philippines, Katrina Bello is an artist who lives and works in New Jersey. Her work is devoted to drawing, and her subjects are migration, ecology and our complex relationship with the natural world. She has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States and the Philippines, and has been awarded residencies in the United States. She recently received a studio fellowship from the Sustainable Arts Foundation though Gallery Aferro in Newark, New Jersey. Katrina is the founder of North Willow, an informal artist-run attic exhibition space in northern New Jersey.

AS: How are you coping?

KB: My coping has been an ongoing and volatile process. In the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when things and events were so new, shocking, happening so fast, I felt that there wasn’t any time nor opportunity to cope. But now that things seem to be more at a stand still, things have slowed down a little that my family and I are getting a slightly better picture of the situation, and see how grave it is. Most of my family members and friends are living in spread out places around the globe, some living alone and immunocompromised, so my concern for their welfare and inability to visit them has overwhelmed me. Now we’re worried about how we can weather this economically. My coping began when I started considering that in the midst of this crisis there are many things to be grateful for. Focusing on these positive things led me to see even more positive and unintended outcomes of the pandemic: such as one’s priorities becoming more clear, attaining mindfulness, doing things slowly, increased care and empathy for one another, and realizing we do not need a lot to live meaningful and fulfilling lives.

I’m very grateful that I am able to use as a studio an attic of a multi-family house, an informal art gallery that I had previously founded and now, because of the lockdown, there are no visitors. I am grateful to our current exhibiting artist for permitting me to de-install some of her works so that I can utilize some of the space to work on my drawings. Social media and video conferencing platforms are also helpful; they allowed for the virtual contacts with my family members and friends to stay connected.

Hawak Hold 48º26’41”S73º46’07W, 2019, graphite on paper, 5.5 x 8.5 inches

AS: Has your routine changed?

KB: Around this time of the year, I usually attend artist residencies and visit my mother who lives in Nevada. A trip home to the Philippines to visit my family and older daughter, and a trip to California to see my younger daughter were also some of my spring travel plans. I just received a six-month studio fellowship from The Sustainable Arts Foundation through Gallery Aferro in Newark, New Jersey where I was scheduled to start my fellowship in late March, just after the start of the nationwide lockdowns. But having a spouse that is immunocompromised necessitated that currently it’s best to set aside tasks and activities that may endanger his health. And so creating a studio in our attic art space was my way of keeping my art practice active while we’re sheltering-in-place during this lockdown. The newest part of my daily routine is yoga and meditation, both of which I’m doing for the first time. These practices did wonders to my mental and emotional well-being; they helped me feel physically and mentally balanced, less anxious and more hopeful about the present and the future, so they’re very welcome new additions to my daily routine.

Terra Puma, 2019, charcoal and pastel on paper, 38 x 60 inches

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

KB:The fear and anxiety that this pandemic has created are a level and intensity that I have never experienced. In the first month of the pandemic, I found it impossible to continue with my current art projects and deadlines. It was as if the uncertainty destroyed my creative spirit. Compounding these feelings were loss of appetite and insomnia. While immersed in fear, and living in a world that has now been touched and transformed by COVID-19, it was difficult to stay committed to the subjects of the drawing series I had been working on. But eventually my coping began, and that’s when I returned to my drawings. I had to make changes and adjustments to what I am working on, especially since the works are about environmental states and concerns.

Interstellar (Water), 2019, graphite on paper, 6.5 x 10 inches

AS: What matters most right now?

KB: I think that what this pandemic has revealed is that nothing matters more than the lives and well being of those who are dear to us. Also of great and urgent importance is the health of our environment. It’s as if this crisis was the natural world’s desperate attempt to reach us, crying for us to change our behavior. As we love and cherish our friends and families, the natural world that provided the means, structure, and life-giving supports that made our human connections possible is also a living entity that deserves our attention and care. There will not be a single person on this planet whose life will not be affected and transformed by this pandemic. This will be an experience shared by everyone and I hope it brings everyone closer to each other, encouraging us to be more kind and empathetic despite the many cultural, ideological, and socio-political boundaries that keep us divided.

Terra Teresa, 2020, digital image, dimensions variable

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

KB: There are some drawings series that I’m currently working on which will take 1-2 years to complete. These drawing projects comprise of very small and very large drawings where I use size and scale to underscore the notions of fragility and complexity in nature and in the human condition which also seem to be in tune with our state during this pandemic. This convinces me that what we artists are doing in our studios are never more integral as it is now in the task of the spiritual healing of societies we are members of. As we artists witness and undergo what’s going on in the world, we will be marked by these experiences. We’ll carry an imprint of it that will put a particular weight on the creative voice that we use to inspire, to beautify, to enlighten, to inform, to expose, to convey, to perform, to reveal, to mark, to heal and to draw.

Working on “Hawak/Hold (8.7832, -124.5085)” at the Bok Studio, during artist residency at Art & History Museum – Maitland, Florida, Spring 2019

*All images 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: