During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.
Seren Morey makes fantastical, nature inspired sculptural painting abstractions that reference the energy force of the particles that connect all matter together. She was born in Massachusetts to a family of artists and went on to complete a BA at Bard College and an MFA at Pratt Institute. Upon graduating from Bard she became an assistant to Kiki Smith and later a professor in fine arts at Pratt Institute. Morey’s work has been exhibited in numerous shows and reviewed by Robin Pogrebin, Barry Schwabsky and Helen A. Harrison of The New York Times. She currently lives and works in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and is a partner in Guerra Paint & Pigment Corp., a specialty resource store for artists.
AS: How are you coping?
SM: Well, I tend to get overwhelmed on a good day, so this has definitely been challenging. When we first started hearing about the virus I was trying to take it in stride and be careful, but when the order came down on March 20th that all non-essential businesses had to close I went into full panic, fight or flight mode. Our income depends on our small artist’s paint business that I run with my husband who is the paint manufacturer. We learned the next day that there was an exemption for businesses to stay open for shipping if they kept only one person on the premises, It took a while to come down from the high adrenaline panic place and navigating the chaotic emergency business loan process was its own nightmare, but I have used all my tools- painting, baking, meditation (Zoom group), Tai Chi, rowing on the home rower and occasionally running. Quality time with family and pets and keeping in touch with friends has also been invaluable.
My process of extruding paint through a pastry bag is incredibly messy and I’m not always in the mood lately. I find my energy level is extremely up and down right now. My latest painting Ingress has taken me longer than I would like because it’s been hard to muster the energy and desire to paint. I had decided back in March that I wanted to do a large emanating energy field that might resemble a soul. While in process, an essay called “The Pandemic is a Portal” by Arundhati Roy came out and that thinking, of the pandemic being a doorway to a teaching experience that we can learn and grow from, became part of the painting.
AS: Have you had a show or other creative opportunities canceled?
SM: Yes, I was scheduled to have a solo show at St. Peter’s Church, home of the Louise Nevelson Chapel, in June but that is on hold for now. On the bright side, this will give me time to make more new works which are becoming ever more fantastical new worlds, a kind of escapism. Influences from fairy tales creep in playing with themes of battles between dark and light.
AS: Has your routine changed?
SM: Radically changed. Online school and the loss of two employees (we’re paying them to stay home safe) means we have even more responsibility and less time than before. My painting schedule is the same, some hours later in the evenings and all day Friday. The one difficulty is that I don’t get the privacy I am used to with my daughter home from school.
AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?
SM: I think for the most part I feel disoriented. I feel like I’m in some weird upside down netherworld. It’s like the movie Groundhog Day. I just keep waking up and I’m stuck in a bad dream. 9/11 had that effect for a while but this is worse because we can’t come out on the other side yet, there is no sense of when that is. I’m sad for my daughter who is in her last year of middle school. There will be no senior trip or dance, no class play, no more recess and no graduation. Big tears on all these points. We talk about how lucky we are to be healthy and together (we all made it through the virus) with food to eat and a roof over our heads and she has adjusted.
I think that creative people have overdeveloped senses of empathy so that is difficult on all of us. The next image is of a series of paintings I recently did that are loosely based on the idea of how fascinating, scary and beautiful viruses look in a microscopic image, all those weird little alien-like outcroppings. Phage is short for bacteriophage. Bacteriophages are prevalent in the virus world and sometimes used as an alternative to antibiotics. The images are speaking to my constant underlying theme that nature is beautiful yet terrifying and utterly in charge. I’m morphing the virus idea into something floral using my usual balance of growth and decay.
AS: What matters most right now?
SM: Keeping family safe and sane, practicing gratitude and compassion every day in any way we can. Doing what we can to give to those less fortunate, whether it’s financial and/or emotional support. Giving thanks to all folks who are sacrificing to keep the boat afloat. Truckers keeping distribution chains flowing. Supermarket employees, all the teachers. I have a nurse friend on the front lines and it’s been remarkable to hear her story. So many everyday heroes. Discovering a vaccine because more iterations of the virus are most likely coming. It’s crazy how the whole world can be upended in an instant. The earth will shake us off like an irritating insect if we can’t learn a lesson and get less greedy and more green. I went to a Zoom talk with David Ross, multiple art museum professional and current MFA chair at SVA hosted by Brainard Carey. The topic was what will the art world look like after the virus. The gist of it was that we do not know the answer to that question. What we do know is that artists need to create and will continue to do so. “Artists have to bear witness and create art out of this moment. Even if you impact only one person that is enough”
AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?
SM: I hope the pandemic really will be a portal that we will go through and be transformed, more kind and more appreciative. I believe that this world event is only going to increase the trajectory that is building for widespread social change. I think most people are tired of the malice and demand a return to common sense. We have to realize that nature is in charge and it’s talking to us. The one silver lining has been that the world has had a chance to catch its breath. The air is briefly cleaner, the animals are rewilding and the zoo pandas are finally mating! My last image is of a painting I abandoned 5 years ago because I was overwhelmed with the project. It’s 66×60 inches and involves a lot of cutting and sewing of the canvas before the painting even begins. I shot it in progress hanging on the wall but I have to work on it leaning against a table so I can reach the needle and thread behind and through. No time like a pandemic to finish a piece like this. I hope it will symbolize this time and the human ability to rise above adversity.
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: email@example.com