Portraits of the Pandemic: Perth gallery chronicles COVID-19 on canvas

CBC Ottawa reached out to local artists and photographers who are capturing this unusual time visually, for a series we're calling Portraits of the Pandemic. This week, we're showcasing a Perth gallery's project to 'capture this moment like war artists do.'

Studio 87 owner asked local creatives to 'capture this moment like war artists do'

Sandy Armstrong's Covid Cupid. (Sandy Armstrong)

CBC Ottawa reached out to local artists and photographers who are capturing this unusual time visually, for a series we're calling Portraits of the Pandemic.

When the lockdowns began, Aili Kurtis was lucky to catch one of the last flights home to Canada from Costa Rica.

For the Westport, Ont., artist, the virus didn't seem to have a significant personal impact at first — after all, she already spent long hours alone in her rural studio, long before social isolation was a thing everyone had to do.

But then a longtime artist friend, Otto Graser, fell ill with COVID-19 and died a few days later.

"It's only when when somebody close to you dies that this really hits deep. You dread the invisible, and then when somebody you know dies it's not so invisible anymore. It's become real," Kurtis observed.

Portraits of the Pandemic: Perth gallery chronicles COVID-19 through art

3 years ago
Duration 1:11
Martin Hauschild, owner of the Studio 87 gallery in Perth, wrote to over 40 local artists and asked them to create work inspired by the coronavirus pandemic.
Aili Kurtis says she painted Pandemania to reflect the 'mania inside your brain that creates the dread and fear of death.' (Aili Kurtis)

Kurtis channelled those feelings into three works, now part of a new exhibition at Perth's Studio 87 gallery that focuses on artistic interpretations of the virus.

Gallery owner Martin Hauschild, who owns two other businesses with his partner on the town's main street, came up with the idea for the Coronavirus Chronicles in March. 

Jackalin Ferguson's Distancing (Two Meters Apart). (Jackalin Ferguson)

"When we started to shut our stores down it was a traumatic experience. All of a sudden, artists aren't supplying work, and they are already on fairly thin incomes. I wanted to direct some positive energy towards what was happening, and I wanted to somehow chronicle this because it seemed to be a significant event," Hauschild said.

Christina del Sol's Dumpster Diving LXII: Isolation Stash. (Christina del Sol)
Martin Hauschild and Randa Khoury own Perth's Studio 87 gallery, home of the Coronavirus Chronicles art project. (Submitted by Martin Hauschild)

He wrote to the over 40 local artists he represents, asking them to create works inspired by this unusual time.

"Let's capture this moment like war artists do. Let's capture your feelings and let's let these events be reflected in art," Hauschild suggested.

Three months in, nearly all the artists have contributed works to the exhibition.

"What's really fascinating is the the wide range," Hauschild said. "I thought I would get a fairly narrow interpretation of the events, but it runs the emotional gamut from artists who have been deeply affected and traumatized to very light and humorous work."

Violeta Borisonik's Isolation. (Violeta Borisonik)
Miriam Mas's I lost a patient today. (Miriam Mas)
Sheila Ballantyne's Never Alone. (Sheila Ballantyne)

Though some artists said they struggled at first to focus on their art during the upheaval, others were grateful for this outlet for their emotions.

Many changed their artistic approaches to depict these darker days. That included Kurtis, who notes she used a darker palette than her usual bright bursts of colour.

Aili Kurtis usually paints with bright bursts of colour, as shown in these works sold through Perth's Studio 87 gallery. But her most recent COVID-inspired works are darker in colour and tone. (Submitted by Aili Kurtis)

Studio 87 has since reopened with social distancing measures in place, and 45 pieces from the Coronavirus Chronicles collection are on display. 

Hauschild also plans to collect the works in a coffee table book, to be published this fall.

"If this whole thing blows over then it'll be a real memento of the time we went through. It'll be an artist's reflection on that horrible time, and I think that's going to be a very valuable thing," Kurtis said.

Aili Kurtis's Tree of Life was inspired by the death of her friend and fellow artist Otto Graser. She wanted to inspire hope while also depicting the lungs that fall victim to this virus. (Aili Kurtis)

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