Artists on Coping: Rodney Dickson

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



Born in 1956 in Northern Ireland, Rodney Dickson grew up during the troubled years of civil disorder that engulfed that country. Having drawn and painted since childhood, he reacted to his early experience by considering the futility and hypocrisy of war through art. As time went by, he developed an interest in Vietnam and Cambodia where he researched and completed a number of art projects since 1992. There he witnessed the aftermath of conflict in its indiscriminately brutal form and it is from that point that his work proceeds.

AS: How are you coping? 

RD: It’s been a very hard time for me as my brother died about two weeks ago in Northern Ireland, and in the midst of all of this Corona thing, I had to go there for the funeral. I would have stayed longer to support his wife, but had to cut it short to get one of the last planes back to the United States before I got stuck there for God knows how long. So here I am now, back in Brooklyn and in the middle of what’s happening. As the days pass by I am beginning to be more accepting of both my brother’s death and the crisis here in New York. Same as most people, I am worried, but staying inside and hoping things will somehow be okay.



AS: Are you continuing your creative work?

RD: Well, yes and no. I know that these times when all else fails, creativity is the most important thing. So the spirit is there but unfortunately the paint is not. I am out of supplies at this time, but have ordered online, and hopefully those will arrive and I will continue with my current work.


Sickness (photo credit: Atkinson Art Gallery Collection)

AS: What matters most to you right now?

RD: Painting is the most important activity, but the lives of people are always more important. The most important thing is to not infect other people, and needless to say, that depends on not getting infected oneself. If one can achieve that, painting would be the thing that matters most.


Feedel, Child Prostitute, Amsterdam (Photo credit: Walker Art Gallery)

AS: Have you had a show or other creative opportunities canceled?

RD: Not exactly, but I do have a painting in a group show we were excited about, but no one can see now because the day it opened was the day the shit hit the fan. This is an insignificant thing though at this time.



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

RD: Hard to do that right now as no one knows what we are dealing with. I just spoke with my dear friend in Montreal who told me New York is going to explode and I must get out of here ASAP. He pleaded with me, but I think I will stay here because there is nowhere else to go and nothing to do. So I hope my paint comes soon and I will stay in my studio and paint and do my best to ride the storm.



AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

RD: Who can say, because no one has been here before. My parents told me stories of growing up in the Second World War and going to air raid shelters at night, doing their home work there as bombs dropped around them, not knowing if their house would be there when they returned. As a child I paid little attention to what they said, and certainly never paused to consider how they coped with it. Maybe this is a bit like that and now, for the first time, I am thoughtful of their time.

This may change things in the future–social interaction, that kind of thing. I remember New York in the weeks after 9/11 and it was different, somber. It feels like that again, but after some time New York returned to what it was before, and I guess it will do so after this too, but no one knows.

I have a hope this will bring us all together in the world, and a hope this will bring more respect for the people who are keeping this country going now: delivery guys, garbage collectors, check-out girls in the supermarket and, of course, the medical people who are most at risk.


Catherine Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer based in New York. She wrote the introductions to Meryl Meisler’s two books, and is currently working on an oral history about recent changes in photography.