After the COVID-19 restrictions took effect, and OCAD University closed its doors, we quickly switched to online learning to complete the semester. In this unprecedented and unique time, we had no idea how our Drawing and Painting students might respond to the pandemic.
They had very little access to art supplies and no access to studios. They had been physically separated from their classmates and faculty. These restrictions were also compounded by the broader societal pressures of the pandemic that are affecting all areas of our lives.
However, one week after the shutdown, we began to see unbelievable art by our students being posted on Instagram. Shockingly beautiful pieces that directly responded to the new and surreal world that COVID-19 has created. Our students’ resiliency and creativity in the artworks were breathtaking in their scope.
The resulting work is thoughtful, sensitive, and visually communicates what many are experiencing on an emotional and physical level. Themes like anxiety, insomnia, and loneliness, emerged from figurative and abstracted drawings, paintings and textile work. Students interested in realism began to interpret the city and spaces that were void of people. Students switched to digital platforms and began to create work about technology and its sudden surge in our daily lives. Those without materials grabbed what they could find in their houses and began making work from upcycled recycling and tearing down old works to make new ones.
The psychological and emotional effects of social distancing emerged from the work and spoke to a collective commonality that humans are experiencing worldwide. Emotional overwhelm and burnout, struggles with childcare, an unnatural dependence on technology and screens, and upended daily routines. Here we have our students doing what artists do best, interpreting the world around us and feeding it back to us with beauty sensitivity and collective relational understanding.
- Ilene Sova, Ada Slaight Chair of Contemporary Drawing and Painting
Sophia Kyungwon Kim (first-year student) - The Screen Age - oil on canvas, 48" x 36"
“In this pandemic, I'm staying at home with three children, keeping social distance. Looking after three children who don't go to schools, I have two different feelings about the screens. I appreciate the convenience and usefulness of them, but also feel scared that perception through the screen replaces the five senses of being human. I feel like screens are gradually taking over the real world. For an expression of these feelings, I was reminded of Yonge and Dundas Square, which is the most flourishing and bustling place in Toronto. Intensive social isolation has made this street empty but full of colorful screens, just like our solitary life in a great city. As the scene seems to imply our life in 2020, I painted it in traditional way like contemporary history painting.”
Claire Heidinger (fourth-year student) - Purell against Blue and White Pattern - oil on canvas, 11”x14”
“In light of recent events and protocols in place due to COVID-19, I brought back a study I made earlier this year that has found new context to our current situation. This painting originally began as a reflection to the sanitation of culture, but it is now so important to be extra cautious of our physical sanitation. “
Tania Costa (fourth-year student) - Untitled - oil on canvas, 48" x 36"
“I spent the first week of quarantine creating this piece for my thesis final. With a slight emphasis on pattern repetition and minimal colour use, this image depicts the weight of tradition, identity, and emotion on the female form. In many ways, this work also represents my emotional state during these unprecedented times.”
Daniel Oh (second-year student) - United We Fall, Divided We Stand - 3D art
“The Year 2020 is set to be an unprecedented time for everyone in the world. The virus called COVID-19 has changed people’s lives completely. We are forced to keep two meters apart from another and stay home while the curves get flattened. Experts are predicting this behaviour won’t end soon and we will need to keep two meters apart from others for an upcoming extended period. United We Fall, Divided We Stand attempts to describe the importance of social distancing by portraying dominoes falling in two different situations. If we all be like the dominoes in the second scene, we might be able to meet the life we had before COVID-19 soon.”
Andrew Ireland (third-year student) – Working from Home, digital painting, 2000 pixels x 1800 pixels
“Working from home is a piece made in response to the changing conditions of work, socialization, and relationships during our time in quarantine. It is a live model session done through a zoom call. For my partner (the subject of this piece) the pandemic meant a shift from working in an office space, to working at home. The digital element represents how I had to go from working in a studio to doing work at home with much less space to paint. All of our quality time together is now through video chats, and this holds true for many relationships, friendships, and families as well.”
Parisa Heydari (second-year student) – Embracing Hardship, oil on canvas, 18” x 24”
“Embracing a bunch of bristles, the girl looks happy, relaxed, satisfied and content. Embracing hardship can be a chance to improve in life and open your eyes to new opportunities.”
Megan Hill (first-year student) - The Norm, the Monarch and Miles - digital (GIF), 1545 x 720 pixels
"Isolation is my norm. I have multiple disabilities that make it difficult to leave my apartment. I am also immunocompromised, so keeping a face mask with me and washing my hands frequently comes naturally. My daily life continues (almost) completely unchanged, so it’s oddly fascinating to see how being somewhat forced into my way of life has impacted many others. I have dealt with the struggles of depression, and the limitations of self-isolation; I have had time to acclimatize. As usual, my cat Miles is none the wiser. His life is even more unchanged than mine…My hero."
Su Tarhan (first-year student) - Isolated Mind - watercolour, honey, beet tint, cornstarch, flour, baking soda, baking powder, vinegar, sugar on Masonite, 8.5” x. 11”
“I made this work in isolation while having access to very limited materials. I have found that materials most of us have in our pantry could work quite well to make a “homemade” gesso that can be applied to surfaces like wood, canvas, or paper. Mixing and heating flour, sugar and vinegar makes an organic “glue”, that can then be mixed with water, cornstarch and baking soda to make a gesso. I’ve found that baking powder can also be used to add a really nice sheen to the gesso mix, or to any pigment, colour, ink that you might have on hand. Honey and turmeric are also materials I have been using to give colour and depth to my works. Being isolated away from my apartment in Toronto, I won’t have access to my usual painting and drawing materials for the foreseeable future, so I wanted to share with others who might me in the same situation how I have been working during this time.”
Justyna Janik (fourth-year student) - Bed, Bath and Kitchen, shower curtain, pillow, cutting board, oil paint and sound, 96" x 72"
In “End of the World” in Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, Timothy Morton defines hyperobjects as objects that manifest in the human experience, however their wholeness cannot be perceived by human senses. I conceived of the coronavirus pandemic as a hyperobject. My intention was to create an image of the working of the virus, while reaffirming our inability to conceive of the whole by restricting its manifestation to simple household objects, which are simultaneously representative of the spaces most common to my daily existence during the period of quarantine, the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom.”
Hana Hozhabr Pour (second-year student) – Untitled, acrylic, coal and oil on canvas, 31” x 47”
"My paintings depict a two-fold process of alienation from nature and attempted reconciliation with it in times of Corona pandemic. To convey this message and using a combination of acrylic, markers, oil and pastels, I try to envision how the Corona pandemic has ironically created a new is and fragmented horizon of possibility for human reconciliation with nature. I try to depict this as a dialectic between lines and colors where the former points to estrangement from nature and the latter signals possibility of reconciliation with nature.”
Marcelo Fernández (fourth-year student) - One More Day - Oil and paper appliqué on burlap, 75” x 75”
“Informed by the intersection of the personal and the political, my work depicts isolated figures in dystopian environments to evoke feelings of anxiety and alienation. I use oil paint on textural surfaces – burlap, linen and appliquéd paper – and merge abstraction and representation as part of my visual investigation into the themes of loneliness and disconnection in late-capitalist society. COVID-19 has both heightened our anxiety and isolation and exposed an economic system rooted in inequality. It serves as a wake-up call to question our mode of life and its impact on our very survival.”
Maya Skarzenski (fourth-year student) - Interscape – photo, 17" X 11.5"
“Being in isolation has made it harder to stay focused and to stay motivated. Physical art shows are an impossibility at the moment. Many of the opportunities I looked forward to either no longer exist or simply don’t seem possible at the moment. Much of the outside world seems like an abstraction now. For me to continue making art, I have had to switch gears and really focus on the enjoyment of the process. Chaotic embroidery has become a source of comfort for me. I am returning to an art practice that is more for myself and my personal growth. The repetition helps to calm me while I find the textures to be fun. Turning my embroidery into photo-based works allows me to reuse my materials, as I lack access to obtaining more.”
Arthur Zhang (first-year student) - The Real Virus - pen pencil and marker, 1.0m x 0.45m
“In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 virus had spread for four months and caused tens of thousands of deaths around the world. However, many people are not able to get deserved treatments in time because of absurd reasons. Due to “existent divergences”, some governments are not capable to do something to control the spread of virus. The elite, such as the president who wants to reopen the whole country to stop economic crisis and some American senators who hid the truth of the pandemic in order to sell their stock, should be responsible for this crisis more than the virus. Our society just like our body, needs an “immune system”. This “real virus” killed much more people than COVID-19 did.”
Kainat Ahmad (third-year student) - Stay Home – digital, 1125 x 2000px
“As the issues of COVID-19 started to become more severe, I began to become very uneasy. My commutes to Toronto became very eerie as I noticed how empty the TTC had become. Once, such a happy city, full of life had started to become very sad and depressing to me. It definitely took a toll on my mental health, and I had become more depressed as my anxiety rose. My daily commutes, to and from the city had become such a staple to me. It had been taken away from me and a part of me felt like it was missing. I wanted to show Toronto, as that lively, busy city, to what it is now, which is a is starting to resemble a ghost town, while reminding everyone to "Stay Home."
Aynsley Grealis (fourth-year student) - Feeding the Cuddle Cravings - pencil crayon, marker, and collaged paper, 12"x 8"
“This time of social distancing and self-isolation has made me think greater about the connections I have with others, and how significant they are. This drawing explores notions of comfort and touch, through both subject matter and process. This piece shows two bodies embracing; each covered with a pattern that I associate with comfort, my relationships, and aspects of life that brings me joy. We are facing challenging times and it’s highly important to me that I'm spending my time creating works that make me happy and aid in easing anxiety, which is what this piece has brought me.”
Hayley Chiu (first-year student) - Make a Wish – oil on canvas, 16” x 20”
"In these difficult times, it’s crucial we don’t lose hope. This painting is about wishing for the situation to improve, represented through two hands clasped together the way one would when making a wish. This can also be read as two people holding hands, an example of simple physical contact that we are now deprived of. Perhaps the person is reminiscing the presence of others, but for now can only hold their own hand and keep themselves company. Me and many others my age may have never imagined that something like this would happen, and I found myself wishing I hadn't taken the small things for granted."
Ashley Waithe (first-year student) - Quarantine Self Portrait - oil and crackle paste on canvas, 38” x 50”
“COVID-19 is rapidly changing the way each person goes about their day, from being required to wear a mask to being asked to not leave the house. These protocols, as well as my own personal anxiety of the world crumbling, inspired the channeling of my fear into this. I decided to rethink my self-portrait into how I see myself and how others would be seeing me at this time, with not being able to see my full face behind the mask. The fear in my eyes is the only visible aspect of my face.”
Jim Russell (fourth-year student) - The Poetics of Proximity - watercolor on paper, 11" x 14"
“My Poetics of Proximity series was inspired by the quantity of time I must now spend in close proximity to those stuck with me in quarantine, the denial of proximity required by physical distancing in public, and how my proximity to others is redefined by technologies such as Zoom and Instagram. There is something beautiful and compelling about how I must navigate proximity differently now. I believe human emotions and desires, both good and bad are heightened by the profound changes in the ways in which we are currently forced to interact. I have chosen to express this intensified state with a celebration of color and the uniquely human action of brushwork. I use a lot of water for this type of work which can take a long time to evaporate in order create the effect I am looking for. My perception of time has been changed by how quarantine makes everything bleed into everything else. I love the idea of an image being a collection of little pools of color that in time might migrate toward one another.”
Madelyn Rotella (fourth-year student) - Eight of Swords - Ink, acrylic, spray paint on plywood, 48" x 72"
“In Eight of Swords, I’m expanding upon my body of work from thesis while exploring the obstacles and emotions tied to social isolation, anxiety about the state of the world and the abrupt end to my time studying at OCAD. While the process of sheltering at home can be emotionally taxing, it is absolutely necessary to reduce the spread of this illness and protect vulnerable populations. Throughout this process, I’m using my time to create and use art as a tool for introspective reflection. This is done in the interest of processing and working through this uncertain period of time.”
Angel Chi (second-year student) - Sudden Tranquility, Drowning in Waves - oil paint on canvas
“This piece touches upon the recent situation regarding the pandemic. In the beginning, people described a symptom of COVID-19 as feeling like they are being drowned and unable to breathe. This is based on an underwater theme. To add on, it may be boring in the house in quarantine, but many are working their best to help those who are under the weather. It was a very unexpected turn of events and the process may be taking a toll on people as life-turning events, concerts and our daily routines are being put on hold. The colour pallet and forms created are to represent the uncertainty of unexpected events. I was mainly painting what I felt like would fit into the area of the canvas.”
Blair Immink (fourth-year student) - Thesis Paper(s): Unboxing - mixed media/collage (all found) (video stills)
“During the global pandemic of COVID-19, I was presented with the challenge of writing my thesis paper. Before the pandemic broke out, I already knew I wanted to write my academic paper in an amusing manner. In my practice, I use collage and assemblage methodologies in an immersive fashion, so I came to the conclusion to make a 'build your own collage/academic paper.' This requires the full presence of the viewer/reader. I sent this to my advisor, and plan to share it with other folks within my community to play and enjoy. I always have what I need.”
Madison Rose - oides na beatha - intellectual thoughts, secrets, dyed wool roving, ashes, lavender, eucalyptus, juniper, charcoal, mixed textiles (silk, cotton, synthetic), hand-made paper, sketches, paintings, drawings, hand felted objects, sacred objects.
“During a time of great uncertainty, disconnection from others and world felt-trauma, what kind of work can an artist make? To gain closure and hope during this time, I have been reflecting on what I have learned, what is most important, and what is healing during a time like this? For me, that answer is storytelling, community, grounding medicines, plants and textiles. This is the accumulation of my thesis paper as an embodied interactive artwork during COVID-19.”
Paige Dawdy (fourth-year student) - Layers of Healing - satin and watercolour and dye
“You can never really prepare yourself, for anything really. You can try to prepare your body, mind, and essence, but it never truly prepares you for reality or truth. As much as you know something is coming, your body knows what's truly going on and with time, it will react to your emotions. Nothing can really describe the way the mind and body folds and bends in order to protect the person as a whole. Knowing that you will never be able to fully appreciate something you have, as you have it, is hard to think about. Then it becomes true to what they say about not knowing what you have until it's gone. We get so caught up with ourselves, life and then we lose ourselves in the future. Things that you didn't fully understand become clearer, and people you wanted to know closer get farther away.”
Natia Lemay (third-year student) - Kids During Quarantine - oil on canvas, 24" x 30"
“Living with three children during self-isolation can be challenging at times. Kids have interesting ways of keeping themselves entertained. I captured my 14 year old daughter during this time experimenting with makeup looks and modeling with her face mask. The changes in our life due to the COVID-19 protocols have given us the time to be playful and experimental within the safety of our home.”
Susana Mingram (first-year student) - Sleeping Through It All - oils on canvas and Photoshop, 16" x 20"
“What I've been enjoying the most during this COVID-19 lockdown is definitely sleeping. However, I also know that I could spend my time more wisely and stop being so lazy. Hence, I portrayed this picture of me in purple to represent the comfort and laziness I feel whenever I am in bed. The walls are coloured with a gradient of warm colours to represent the potential of being productive in the space around me, and not stay in bed. I did this digitally because it relates to my relationship with technology in these weird times.”
Emerald Repard-Denniston - We Are In This Together - acrylic on wooden panel, 5.5 ft x 15 ft
“Kim, a local Gastown Vancouver store owner, called for artists to paint on her boarded-up windows due to protection because of Covid-19. She asked to feature images involved in the fight against Coronavirus. From the help of my mom's words and my sister's help I accomplished my third mural. This time is an offering, to learn and to strive. Make good use of the moment, use it well, use it wisely. Reflect, rekindle, recharge, and stand strong. Reach out, spread the word, that we are in this together."
Jenny (Yiping) Zhang - Decompression Booth - nitrile gloves & cardboards
“Through this life-size tactile piece, I intended to explore ways of how art piece takes the initiative to touch the viewers instead of the viewers reaching the artwork. Ideally, this piece works as a social intervention on the streets where people are free to interact with, and it meant to serve everyone’s preference as a public facility. The limitation of space created absolute private space for individuals and the air-ballooned gloves leave the leeway for each person to be able to fully immersed in the booth. Decompression Booth has taken the idea of immersive and also a gentle way of pressing and pushing to achieve pressure relief. As the outbreak of COVID-19, the practice of social distancing has allowed us to come to realize that the sense of touch is indispensable in our life, as now we need it more than ever. This is a chance for us to explore our relationship with daily objects, and how our sense of touch is involved within this process."