Artists on Coping: Galen Cheney

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

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Perceiver, installed at University of Dallas, March 2020 (Photo credit: Sven Kahns)

Galen Cheney has been working as an abstract painter for three decades. During that time she has consistently sought to make work that challenges her as an artist and vulnerable human, taking risks and pushing into new personal territory. Her work has been shown and collected throughout the U.S. and in Europe and China. She has a show installed at the University of Dallas that is closed to the public, due to the virus.

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Work in progress in my North Adams studio, March 31, 2020

AS: How are you coping?

GC: Well, I am more grateful than ever for my work. All artists will understand this. If I didn’t have painting I wouldn’t be doing nearly as well as I am. It’s the place where I work through everything, and these days there is a lot to work through. And while I am painting I am not thinking about this nightmare of a virus. It is self-preservation and an opportunity for creative expansion.

AS: Has your routine changed?

GC: I am self-employed and work from home, so my routine hasn’t changed as much as many people’s. Our Airbnb business has dried up, so instead of changing beds and cleaning bathrooms, I am devoting myself more to finishing the renovation of our house. If we survive this thing, maybe we will have an actual bedroom and working shower by the time it’s over. Like everyone, I miss getting together with friends and family, seeing shows, catching a movie: freedom of movement, in other words.

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Emanator (side 2), 2019

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

GC: It’s heavy–a daily mix of sadness, hope, fear, and anxiety, with another dose of hope thrown in. I don’t worry for my own health, but I have people in my life who are particularly vulnerable, so there’s that, not to mention whole populations of people who are in an existential crisis. There is a surreal quality to everyday life now, and every morning when I wake up there is a moment when I think, “Did I just dream that?”, before I remember that it’s just another day in the age of Coronavirus.

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Visitation and Emanator (side one), 2019

AS: What matters most right now?

GC: Coming together, being kind, and taking care of one another. Showing up for people who need help (with precautions, of course.) This is what we should always be doing, but in times of crisis it is laid bare. Also, remembering the beautiful in life has never been more important. Daily hikes in the woods with my dog and no phone help me connect to something deep and eternal.

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Unbidden, acrylic and oil on collaged canvas, 61 x 46”, 2020

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

GC: I’m just hoping we return to a better normal soon. The situation is so dire that there has been a tempering of the divisions in this country, which is a relief. Viruses care not about status or wealth or power. This is a real test for us; I hope we will all be able to honor the humanity in each of us moving forward. Sometimes I think we’ll get there, other times I’m not as confident. I guess it comes down to each of us.

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Fractured Angel, acrylic and oil on canvas, 49 x 64”, 2019

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: