Artists on Coping: Yolande Heijnen

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


Father Watching Coronavirus News

Yolande Heijnen was born and raised in Luxembourg, and has lived in New York since 1998. She has an MFA in painting from the New York Studio School, has won the Edward G. McDowell Travel Grant of the Art Students League, and is a three-time recipient of the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant.

AS: How are you coping?

YH: My number one focus has been my parents, who I’ve been staying with in North Carolina. It’s comforting to focus on them and not get too hung up about dire prospect and predictions. I’ve done little creative work except sketches, mostly of my parents and trees and leaves and stuff around. Nothing mindboggling, just to keep my mind and hands active and not give in to despair, if I may use that word. I find that a useless focus, as there’s always something you can do to improve your own or another’s situation. I’m privileged to believe I’m making my parents lives better (even if that is not the case). I’m also privileged to have parents with healthy mindsets, so in spite of the gloom, we do our share of laughing.


Mother Watching Coronavirus News

AS: Has your routine changed?

YH: I’m more distracted. I don’t have access to my studio where I can shut out everyday life! And I don’t have my usual tools, so make do with others. I’ve created a little studio space at my parents’ home. Hilarious, because they are so not set up for this, but little by little, with some imagination, I think something might come of it. My mom is horrified I’ll stain her walls or doors, which undoubtedly I will. I still don’t have paints, but have ordered a small amount that should arrive soon.

I’ve sketched birds in response to a poem by my uncle. He writes poems every day to his partner who died five years ago. As the years passed, they’re less about grief and more about joy and gratitude and his experiences, which undoubtedly now are about the corona virus in the Netherlands. I did the black bird first, but he thought it was too dark for these times, even though a black bird is a bird that is very intelligent and signifies potential. So I made the owl: an owl of light in the dark, a bird that can see far but not near, and also in the dark–a symbol of wisdom and also fertility in some corners of the world, though also a symbol of death and loss in others. It’s extraordinary how we create different realities from similar circumstances.


Pages of Heijnen’s sketchbook

Pages of Heijnen’s sketchbook

AS: What matters most to you right now?

YH: Kindness, alertness, and vigilance to keeping my own mindset healthy and constructive (it can leap out in anger against certain political figures and their indifference to others).


Parents Watching Coronavirus News

AS: Have you had a show or opportunities canceled?

YH: I currently have two multi-artist shows going on, so I got lucky, although I have no idea when I can retrieve the work. I have a group show coming up on April 7th, but I’m sure that will be cancelled. The person organizing it is thinking of doing this online, so we are looking into possibilities.

I’d also organized a charity fundraiser–found an exhibition site in the Village, was going to invite artists–but everything is on hold now. I have a small hope we can do it in July, or hold it online, though I’m not sure yet how to organize it or build excitement.


Father Watching Coronavirus News

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

YH: We’re all in this together. I get gripping fears about not being able to afford my apartment and studio and making ends meet, having to move out of NYC, etc., etc.–fears that many others share. At the moment, I am teaching two art courses online. The income is not enough to make ends meet, but it’s good to work with students. And if I remember that I am perfectly okay at the moment, healthy and able to act in a positive ways, I’m really fine. But it takes energy, and I have to keep reminding myself to keep my focus in the right place.


Mother Watching Coronavirus News

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

YH: I think people pulling together is a great thing, and I love to have been included in this project. I believe we can do a lot of things to add positive value to every day life, and I hope that I am able to be part of that in the road ahead.


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.