Beneath the stillness, life: how lockdown affects Taos artists

By Virginia L. Clark
Posted 3/25/20

How self-imposed quarantine affects artists is something Tempo was wondering last week: how they're dealing with the self-imposed solitude and how different that solitude is from their normal creative space.

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Beneath the stillness, life: how lockdown affects Taos artists


How self-imposed quarantine affects artists is something Tempo was wondering last week: how they're dealing with the self-imposed solitude and how different that solitude is from their normal creative space.

We spoke at length with Norlynne Coar, whose exciting work was to be in a three-woman Easter pop-up exhibit at Stables Gallery, with Gretchen Ewert and Peggy Nes, but was canceled after the state of emergency was declared March 11. Coar is easily transported when talking art, so we pinned her down with some emailed questions. Coar heads up the Taos Fall Arts organization as well.

How has the lockdown affected your creative process?

More than the lockdown creating any feelings of uncertainty, it's the virus itself that has affected my usual sense of optimism and positivity that is always part of my work - that despite the circumstances, "Something new will arise, something better will arise" (to quote one of Sting's songs).

I think the current situation is causing me to "center down" creatively. What I feel is something like what I've felt like in my yoga and meditation practice, particularly with Iyengar in India: moving your attention deeper and deeper where, in that stillness and darkness, there is movement and creativity - where you can actually feel life in the darkness, deep within.

Most of my tree paintings are about that - where, when the life above is dying or fading away, there is something new growing from the roots or reflected in the waters. And new life emerges.

Has your "normal" process changed?

My normal process - LOL. My process depends on what has inspired me, what I am trying to say in the piece or what concept is motivating me. In general, I am always looking for something that I don't see on the surface, which is one reason I paint in layers, so that what is beneath adds texture and depth to what is on the surface. And my process is always evolving.

For the most part, I don't like my paintings to be easy. I like some mystery and I like some deconstruction of the image - drip it, erase it, scrub it or . . .

Right now I think I will revisit working with graphite and India ink, this time on paper rather than canvas. It's an interesting combination of media because the ink and graphite repel each other, so there is a struggle in creating the image. The first time I used these rather than paint, I was in Portugal with only maybe a week before I was set to leave, so the painting had to dry quickly so I could send it with other oil paintings back to the U.S. That's what I had, so that's what I used.

I love the process of working with a concept or a basic image and exploring it in different media, and that takes me on to new creative or process territory. At that time I was focused on trees. Extrapolating on the concept, I started photographing trees surviving or even thriving in hostile environments and environments at risk.

Inspired by one of the photos I took looking out to sea from one of the inlets on the coast of France, I painted a land/seascape with graphite and ink. It's pretty big, but I love paintings that I feel I can walk into, whether they are representational or abstract. (Probably one of the reasons I love Diebenkorn's huge Ocean Park paintings or Richard Serra's sculpture, although I can get that feeling from smaller works as well.)

Are the outdoors beckoning?

My essence is the ocean, waves, sky, clouds - all things that move. While surfing is a perpetual siren, what is calling me creatively in the outdoors is to do more of my Women with Red Umbrella photographic series - or simply with the red umbrella up at Wild Rivers or a few other places I have in mind.

I love having a graceful model involved in creating the images, but that would be difficult given the social distancing and whether or not the places I have in mind are open to the public. In any case, I need to wait for the light, and winter to return to its nest. Given the circumstances, I may have to develop a way to do these all by myself.

Is there anything else you specifically want to share?

My first project during lockdown is to create a video that tells about my tree series ("Life of a Tree") and the chronology or train of thought. I hung my canvases on wooden dowels (because stretching them all would have been quite expensive, more expensive to ship and difficult to store) in preparation for the "Into the Light" show I was having with Margaret Nes and Gretchen Ewert at the Stables Gallery (canceled due to the lockdown). The paintings are hanging in my studio. I'm going to do the video first so that I can proceed to get messy with painting. At some point, I'll work on creating a virtual exhibition of "Into the Light" that was going to happen Easter weekend.


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