Art in the Time of Covid: Cecelia Kane
For all the negatives brought by Covid shutdowns—feelings of isolation, lack of communication, searching for ways to keep busy—there were also many opportunities for newfound inspiration. Artist Cecelia Kane, based in Peacham, discovered glimmers of silver lining through her lockdown experience. Her work aims to answer questions of identity, and pre-Covid projects of hers such as “How Am I Feeling Today?” and “A Year of Forgetting” reveal Cecelia’s deep dive into her own sense of being.
The pursuit has continued in her latest, post-Covid work as she examines Covid’s effects on various walks of life and their own senses of identity. Cecelia’s work also reflects her close connection with Vermont’s nature and wildlife, seen in a recent collaborative show she organized at the Peacham Library, “Becoming a Tree.”Further, she has worked in the realm of activism art, most notably through the Hand to Hand Project, an eight-year long project featuring artistic commentaries on the Iraq War from nearly 200 artists.
Cecelia received a Vermont Arts Council Artist Development Grant this past year to help her transition her exhibitions to online venues rather than in-person—another example of her adaptations to the hurdles presented by the pandemic. Cecelia’s main artistic endeavors are as a painter and fabric and installation artist, though she has also been a curator, performance artist, community artistic project director, and graphic producer.
Below, Cecelia discusses how the pandemic has shaped her latest works and how she sees her artistry moving forward.
How has the pandemic challenged your creative practice and/or business?
As a solo artist, the lockdown gave me time and purpose. I was energized to paint, reflect, and attack the virus in a painterly way. I transformed my living room into a studio with spotlights, a floor tarp, and a folding table for art supplies at the ready. I wanted to work big, so I could throw my painter’s arm fully against the threat.
For my first project during the pandemic, I brought a large blank canvas outdoors where breathing was safer. I started my sketch close to the road in view of passersby, which is not my usual method and was sometimes unnerving. Once I was set up, I found an ancient gnarly maple as a model to draw on the canvas and began my “Covid and Chaos” series from the tree’s point of view. I then strapped this large canvas to the roof of my car and brought it back home, inside the studio, to paint. Next, I set up the composition’s battlefield: On top of the tree drawing, I laid down sketches of Descending Roses, representing hope, and Rising Rocks, Aliens, or Fireballs, representing “the bad things.”
While working on this project, I applied for and received a Vermont Arts Council Artist Development Grant for Covid-related income loss. I was supposed to be a part of a big show in Tribeca, NYC, sponsored by LinkedIn, but it was canceled in April 2020. So, I used the Council’s grant to hire a web developer to teach me how to use FaceBook and Instagram to increase my viewership online and promote my artwork—something I may have ignored if not for the pandemic. With that knowledge, I switched to virtual venues to show my new work in various exhibitions. My project “Art Under Lockdown” was shown at the Peacham Library’s Gilmore Gallery, online from October 2020 to July 2021. I also participated in an online show called “Sheltering in Place,” a walk-by sidewalk show at the Sycamore Place Gallery in Decatur, Georgia that featured prints of my paintings from May to June 2020. Prints of my Covid paintings also appeared in the gallery windows of the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson for their exhibition in June 2020 called “While You Were Out,” and in the protected windows of Northern Express Care, a walk-in health clinic in St. Johnsbury as part of Catamount Arts’ show “StJ Art on the Streets.”
How have you found strength or support since the pandemic began?
I’m indebted to my monthly artist “crit” group for support, fun, and gentle but helpful opinions about my Covid and Chaos painting series throughout the stages of the pandemic. We are a three-some on equal footing—Sharon Kenney Biddle, Alice Kitchel and myself—guiding, and encouraging each other despite our very different styles of painting. We continue to keep each other’s work progressing. At first, we met on Zoom, but we could not see the paintings well. Then, weather permitting, we moved outside, masked and distanced. In the winter we met in each other’s studios masked and distanced and finally, when we were all completely vaccinated, we cautiously removed the masks and witnessed our art and our smiles.
What are you plans or hopes for the future?
I have two projects in the wings. The first is called “The Secret Forest.” In this project, I want to create an indoor forest installation with real trees and branches as well as large tree paintings. I want to replicate the emotional punch of a low-lit hidden woodland, with soft floor-lights like stepping stones to accentuate the shadows of branches and limbs up the walls, and soft pink static-cling coverings for any windows and a bench to sit and think. My second project, “Counting the Snow,” expands upon a four-year-continuing project of mine in which I count and photo-document each snowfall in Peacham Village. My goal is to make and publish a book featuring a selection of these photos. The project is a self-portrait of my walks and car routes through Peacham snows that I also post on Peacham’s FaceBook page, “For the Love of Peacham,” in real time. I have many followers from residents and former Peachamites who visit the site to count along with me.
What are some ways people can support your work right now?
My hope is to locate a large, affordable studio in the Peacham area with heat and running water, space to store finished paintings and room to set up test installations. I need people to inform me if they have such a place available. I will also need to crowd source the funds to create and publish my snowfall book.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
It occurred to me during Covid that there are silver linings to troubles in life, as Covid gave me time to paint, and think. I gained the courage to seek help and mine the experience of other painters in my support group—I discovered that I am not an island!
*All photos courtesy of Cecelia Kane.