Artists on Coping: JoAnne McFarland

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


Selfie With Swiss Chard, 2020

JoAnne McFarland is an artist, poet, curator, and independent publisher. She is the Artistic Director of Artpoetica Project Space in Gowanus that exhibits work exploring the intersection of visual art and literature. She is the former Exhibitions Director of A.I.R. Gallery in DUMBO. She has exhibited her artwork nationally and internationally for over 30 years, and is the author of ten poetry books, chapbooks, and libretti. Her most recent curatorial project, co-curated with Sasha Chavchavadze, is SALLY, a multi-venue, muti-year exhibition that showcases lost histories of women artists and philosophers, and contemporary artists whose work exemplifies passionate inquiry.


Weight of the World Dress, 2020

AS: How are you coping? Has anything changed in your routine?

JM: I’m someone who loves doing the same thing over and over. I have a particular morning routine—a mile and a half walk, breakfast at the same cafe, the walk back, then the day begins in my studio with its repetitious rhythms and hoots. My entire practice is built around combating fear. I do this by staying in the moment, rather than leaping ahead in my imagination. I spent decades being profoundly afraid while projecting boldness and confidence. It required years and years of introspection and analysis of the nature of violence, and how fear empowers violence, to begin to unspool fear in my own life. In this moment, that practice of release through creativity helps me to be fully alive and alert. I see this as a moment of explosive opportunity. The hardest thing of all has been accepting that loss and grief are often part of tremendous growth. We have lost so much so fast. I don’t know what’s coming, but I do have infinite faith in our ability to adapt and create.


Woof Like You Mean It Dress, 2020

AS: What matters most to you right now?

JM: My mom will turn 90 in two months. Her mobility and general health are compromised. I’ve been staying with her during this period so that we both have company. I cook, fetch supplies, and generally see to things. My primary concern is protecting her health and well being during this vulnerable time. If/when things stabilize, I’ll be able to return to my studio, at least every now and then, I hope. I check in with my adult children daily. Fortunately, they’re able to be together in my son and his S.O.’s apartment, so that is a great relief. Their health is good, so if they should contract the corona virus, they will likely survive it. Just about my favorite thing about living in NY, particularly Brooklyn, are the restaurants. I’m heartbroken that they’ve closed, that so many people are out of work, facing hunger, months of unemployment, and unbelievable uncertainty. I’m alert to whatever I can do to help them short term, and going forward.


Escape Route Dress, 2020

AS: Have you had a show canceled?

JM: Right now, I’m still scheduled to be part of a three person show in June. Hopefully, the show will still happen. In any case, I will continue to paint when I can. My current series of ‘selfies’ with vegetables and other objects, juxtaposed with a black doll (my muse), are intended for that exhibition.


Poetry Scroll of the chapbook Said I Meant, 2019

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

JM: We’re in the midst of a civil war. It doesn’t look like the Civil War, but it is one just the same. Will the meanest forces in our natures win, or will we do at least some of what we need to do in order to protect and share the world’s remaining resources? I’m convinced this global event crystallizes, in the starkest way possible, the choices before us. The current administration represents the culmination of a centuries-long degradation of how to be a citizen of the world. This moment of connectivity may provide ways to counter the damage that has been done.

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.

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