“Calling All Bay Area Artists: We Want to Showcase Your Art” read the de Young Museum’s email headline. I took this message personally: YOUR art. We had been quarantined at home for more than a month; our girls were ‘mostly’ doing their homeschooling unassisted; I had a few free shelter-in-place art lessons ready to post; and had just finished an online art course through MOMA New York. I NEEDED a new project.
The requirements dictated that the canvas could be as large as six by six feet tall and artists were encouraged to address the concept of “On the Edge,” an especially poignant theme during the COVID-19 crisis.
Problem one: where was I going to find a 6’ x 6’ stretched canvas??? I ‘needed’ a 6’ by 6’ canvas: social distancing told us to remain six feet apart. Six feet fits the theme. However, a large canvas certainly didn’t qualify as an essential service, and I certainly wasn’t going to pay over 800 dollars to have one shipped – possible within a couple of months. I needed one now.
Spending a significant amount of time on the internet, I found an Instagram post stating that as of the following Monday, Blick Arts would take phone orders from their stores and mail the supplies overnight. At eight o’clock Monday morning, I called and yes, a real person answered. Matthew at Blick Art San Francisco gathered all the necessary materials for me to build a 6’ x 6’ canvas on my own and mailed the supplies by express.
Problem two: how on earth was I going to stretch this sucker all by myself? I worried there would be a crease running straight through the middle, or the cross bars would be too short, or the corners wouldn’t be exactly ninety degrees. Long story short, I managed to prep a 6’ x 6’ stretched canvas all on my own, including priming it with gesso!
Frontline: Six Feet Apart is anchored into the American fabric, within a world context. I used the colors of the American flag: red, white and blue. The background is painted blue, the color of the sky and sea. Blue is also the color of the protective gear worn by Covid-19 first responders, producing a calming effect. White is associated with light, faith and safety. The color red represents oxygen rich blood, energy and love.
I textured a world map as the first layer, with the American continents front and center, showing Asia to the West (left) and Europe to the East (right). Covid-19 has no borders, no race, and no shame.
Next, I painted the lungs. Covid-19 is a respiratory disease, attacking the lungs and making it impossible for the host to breathe in the worst cases. Lungs look like tree branches, and like trees, exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide in reverse.
Lastly, and most importantly, I want the viewer to witness the human face behind the Covid-19 epidemic – the face behind all the protective gear. I want this painting to commemorate FRONTLINE health care workers: true American heroes.
I don’t know the name of the health care technician who collected my nasal swab at the Alameda fairground drive-through testing site. She was friendly and didn’t mind me taking her picture. I do know that I admire her resilience and her strength to confront the Covid-19 virus with a comforting smile on her face.
And, if you look very closely, she bears the weight of San Francisco on her left shoulder.