During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.
Miles Hall is a painter and draftsman. He has lived in California, Massachusetts, Japan, and New York, but now resides in Richmond, VA. His work explores the mythological relationship between the landscape and human figure. The science and psychology of visual perception is important to his practice. He currently teaches in the Communication Arts Department at Virginia Commonwealth University and maintains a critical visual arts review for the Richmond area called Lucid.
AS: How are you coping?
MH: I’ve had alternating periods in my life that are highly social, and then isolated. That is mostly due to health issues I’ve had to deal with in the past: Duck-out for a year or two until my system heals. So the solitary time has been an adjustment in some ways, but not a new experience. It’s been a good opportunity to dive into the studio. I’ve almost always been the kind of artist who can do that, no matter what kinds of stresses are going on outside of art. But I had a couple of weeks in April where I couldn’t focus on my work because of certain things going on unrelated to the pandemic. Difficult and confusing things. I’m getting back now. Painting is a huge consolation for me. It’s been about an external vision for years, but recently that vision is getting more and more internal. Thematically – back in December or January – I started turning toward my past experiences with disease and the immune system, which all seems timely now.
But I still need the outside world. Light, form, space are like food to me. So I’ve been riding my bike, anywhere from 15 to 70 miles, almost daily. We’re really fortunate here in Richmond. I can get out into nature easily on the backroads and spend hours of exercise far away from lots of people. Social distancing through cycling. Sometimes I take it easy and admire the landscape. Other times I push my body and peddle my legs into oblivion. That can be therapeutic. On top of it all, staying in touch with close friends has been key for me.
AS: How has your routine changed?
MH: Moving to teaching remotely has been big change. It’s very different than teaching in the classroom, where everyone is right there, physically present. It took a good couple of weeks for me to get set up, organized and going, with a lot of tinkering here and there after that. During the couple of difficult weeks I wasn’t working in the studio, I still had to do a number of demo videos and drawings. I must admit that was fun. The whole thing has been a good learning experience for me, and my students have been great at adapting. They are making solid work in a situation no one anticipated at the beginning of the semester.
After the rush of moving classes online, there was a lot more unstructured time. At first that seemed freeing, but after a while it starts to get like a hodgepodge of chaos: staying up till 4AM in the studio, riding a bike late into the night, or even just random time on the internet. After a few mornings of waking up in the mid-afternoon you realize you have to start getting rigorous about structuring this free time, like a metronome, like a baroque concerto. Right now, I’m still closer to the hodgepodge than the metronome, but I’m starting to establish little rituals and consistencies. I’ve always wanted my life to be like a Bach concerto. Same thing every day, or nearly, like the procession of the seasons or the sun rising and setting without fail every day.
That can be a hard thing in our age. But it’s a beautiful thing.
AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?
MH: I suppose I’ve been feeling a lot of emotions that many other people are experiencing right now: Frustration about not knowing what’s going to transpire in the future, concern about those affected by the virus, concern about eventual economic collapse, as well as anger at all the ways a situation like this can be so infected with brazen political ambition from so many different angles.
As for me, I have definitely felt a strong sense of gratitude about the most basic things. That needs to overpower the anger. I feel a real sense of gratitude for the people who provide all the basic services we need. The pandemic has made me more aware of that. I’m trying to be extra polite and thankful toward people I come into contact with, like the person restocking produce at the grocery store or checking you out at the counter. Saying a heartfelt thank you and smiling goes a long way, and you can still do that from six feet away – even if you are wearing a mask. I’ve had a couple of situations where I’ve snapped at people, and I think a lot of folks have been on edge, so I’m trying to overpower that with gratefulness, because that emotion is more in line with actual reality. In reality I’m not entitled to much, if anything, and I’m tangibly and objectively blessed by all the people who work to keep everything going, both “essential” and “non-essential.”
AS: What matters most right now?
MH: For me what matters most is growth, hopefully artistic growth, but more importantly spiritual growth, and that’s related to the sense of gratefulness I was just talking about. It’s not something you can just paste on top of a bitter heart, like a veneer of civility. Instead it comes out of a powerful sense of grace that works from the inside out, the revelation that you are the recipient of so many real blessings you haven’t earned.
AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?
MH: I can’t say I have any proscriptions for civilization moving forward from this pandemic. The experts hardly know what’s going on, and my opinion would just be one more banal voice in a sea of opinions.
In terms of my own path, I’ve got a couple of months where I’ll be scrambling to pay my bills with commissions for portraits and old master copies. I want to learn from that, and maybe establish relationships with collectors who normally wouldn’t be able to afford my larger studio paintings. As for those paintings, I would say they need a deeper, more spiritual edge. I’m seeing that they need to deal more emphatically with life and death.
Speaking of the art community in Richmond, I’m looking forward to a time when we can safely go back to sharing art in real, corporeal space and time – physically looking at work in museums and galleries, talking directly to artists, students and teachers. There is nothing “virtual” that can replace that.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org