Artists on Coping: John Descarfino

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

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Current drawings in progress.

John Descarfino is a Brooklyn based artist whose painting and drawings are informed by places in ways both literal and metaphorical, while exploring the complexities of perception and image structure. He has exhibited at the McNay Art Museum; Galeria Espacio 48, Spain; Centotto, Brooklyn; Lucas Schoormans Gallery; Blum and Poe; The Berkshire Museum; and The Edward Hopper House among other venues, His paintings are included in several collections including the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark; JP Morgan Chase; and Capital Group Companies. Descarfino received grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and recently, from the Café Royal Cultural Foundation.

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Untitled (27). 2019, Watercolor on paper. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

AS: How are you coping?

JD: I have some good days and others when I’m feeling anxious. I recognize how fortunate I am that my wife and I have work in this current situation, as I see how the shutdown has left many people in a financial quandary. I teach within the CUNY system and my wife is a hospital RN. I’ve been anxious about her safety due to the lack of PPE at her hospital in the early weeks of the outbreak. It was extremely unsettling when she was scheduled to work, but fortunately the hospital is now suppling the correct protective gear which has eased the tension a bit.

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“Interlayer” (5). 2020, Oil on linen. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

AS: Has your routine changed?

JD: I went from having a routine to not having one. Initially I was scrambling to get things set up – our son’s schooling, migrating all of my classes to online and reformatting lessons conducive for distance learning, helping my students get set up, checking in on elderly parents, and so on. It’s only recent that something of a routine is beginning to happen. I’m still spending a significant amount of time teaching online and balancing that with family matters, checking in with friends and neighbors, and driving my wife to and from work at the hospital. Slowly, I’m beginning to work on drawings again and hope to get to my studio soon.

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

JD: Like many, I find these circumstances troubling to say the least. I try to counter any anxiety with an optimistic attitude or a sense of gratitude, even in small ways. Sometimes a daily task like preparing a meal can help calm the mind.

Prior to picking up drawing materials again, I took the opportunity to update my site with a project completed in 2019 that’s loosely based on the smaller islands of NY. I intermittently work on drawing projects that revolve around islands, and coincidently this latest one focused on islands that speak, in part, about isolation.

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From Nonations series, left: ”Ø”. 2018, collage, watercolor, mixed media on paper. Right: “Onder”. 2019, collage, watercolor, mixed media. Photos: courtesy of the artist.

AS: What matters most right now?

JD: Life in New York City is at a furious pace and I believe people are forced to be more reflective whenever a crisis sets a pause on normal routine. I see how much minutia can get in the way and cloud what’s really important. That said, of course I would rather this change come about without such a terrible crisis. What matters most to me right now are the things that should always be of high importance – family, friends, neighbors, community, students, being supportive, listening, and studio work.

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“Interlayer”. 2017-19, Oil on canvas. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

JD: I don’t have any set plan mainly because I’m so occupied at the moment with balancing all that’s on my plate, which includes teaching. As universities are having to resort to distance learning, I am curious how it will transform education in ways yet to be seen.

I think it’s important to remain hopeful in distressing times and be present to those around who may need help or simply someone to speak with. On a personal note, my father is ninety years old, living alone and with macular degeneration, so I’m certainly looking forward to seeing him when the threat of this virus subsides.

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Untitled. 2019, Oil on linen. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

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: