WILLIAMSBURG – Williamsburg area artist Jan Mills laughed a little ironically at the start of our interview. “I had actually just decided to exhibit my work more, and had made a number of gallery connections. Then COVID hit, and everything literally dried up.”
The lockdowns and disconnects that have come with over a year of COVID restrictions have had an impact on Jan’s artistic life.
“I create art to connect with the soul of something. I’m not just making an object. Really, I would have to say, until now, that most of my work has always been a kind of escape from the technological world.”
However the reality of the mandated shutdown of galleries everywhere, of studio tours and of other traditional venues for the fine arts, ultimately took him in some surprising new directions.
“I eventually began to see opportunities in websites, and particularly Instagram,” he explained. “COVID made it necessary to adapt to new challenges: otherwise life is just frustrating. I hadn’t thought much about on line arts connections. Yet I decided to reach out and connect to the greater arts community in ways that I just never had before.”
He began to forge links to other artists (all of whom were in essentially the same situation he was).
“Many of us are rural artists, many of us live far from the ‘core’ arts communities found in bigger cities. On line I could begin to see their work, and they could see mine. We started developing new dialogues, providing each other with feedback. Going on line even created a kind of levelling, a change in status quo for many artists. I find that we all ‘get together’ more often now: I’ve met a lot of artists in a way that I couldn’t physically have done before.”
Jan is very clear that the current world of on-line exhibitions “can’t replace actually seeing an artist’s real work, not by a long shot. But we have had to find a compromise, to reach out to each other and to other people too.”
Among his adaptations to the new reality, Jan entered a non-juried virtual show, open to all artists, with the mandate that the artistic submissions be small, low tech (“stamp on paper”), and reflective of how COVID had affected the exhibitors. “Myself,” Jan laughed, “well, I created a sketch of a carton for eggs, with one solitary egg lying in it, and the caption “Cooped Up.” I wanted to reveal the isolation I was experiencing. All the submissions to this show went on line so that people could see many works. And if an artist sold something from the show, he got all the asking price: the gallery waived its fees, something that is never done in traditional shows.”
This COVID driven online exhibition gave artists of all backgrounds an opportunity to keep working, to share their thoughts and feelings on line, to experience artistic exposure.
Perhaps the irony of this entire venture, as Jan pointed out, is that such an exhibition would never have taken place without COVID.
Jan said that he has made some changes, due to COVID, that he thinks he may hold on to after the crisis passes.
“I think I will aim for a simpler life. An appreciation of things has always driven me, an appreciation of a special ‘found’ object, its history. I had some fragments of fibre glass picked up from a beach in the Bay of Fundy, and I had expected to go back there for more objects. But of course, once COVID came, I couldn’t. Instead, I found myself wandering out and finding other objects along the banks of the St. Lawrence: I combined them with the objects from Fundy. It was as if the pieces suddenly created a dialogue for me, and a new work was created. I “find” things on the internet now, objects that I can incorporate into my art.”
COVID has changed the artistic world, without doubt.
“Art makes us see what is really needed. It feeds our souls,” artist Jan Mills said.
“And I believe COVID has demanded a new appreciation of art following its restriction. Art has become special now that we know it may not always be there. We sometimes forget to slow down and really appreciate things around us. And I think COVID has taught us all to be more flexible, more patient and more understanding.”