By Darren Lum
This story is a follow-up to an article called, Daily account of the pandemic in self-portraits, which was published in the Echo on May 5.
It’s been almost a year since the first lockdown was implemented in Ontario and artist Rossana Dewey started her artistic journey of self-reflection and introspection related to the pandemic.
Since then the provincial number of reported COVID-19 cases and deaths have risen to unprecedented figures, causing another lockdown that started on Boxing Day.
The calendar shows close to nine months has elapsed, but it seems so much longer for Dewey, who had completed a daily account of how she was processing the first lockdown with daily self-portraits that she called a diary, which ended after the first lockdown.
She admits this second lockdown has brought a different tone because, in a typical year, once the winter is over there is a greater feeling of optimism.
“It’s funny. Before it felt hopeful. Like spring is coming, it’s going to get better. Now, I am kind of forcing myself to be hopeful. I’m trying to keep my mind on hope,” she said.
Dewey said she and her husband felt down after hearing the province’s announcement of the stricter measures in addition to the lockdown that started on Boxing Day.
“Here we go again … It’s really worked on our emotional state. It’s my husband and I all the time. He’s working. He’s an essential worker so he goes in, but he works with nobody so he’s by himself all day. I’m his only person. It does. It really starts to eat away at you after this time. It’s a long time,” she said.
The first collection of self-portraits has progressed to a broader approach, which has included still-life paintings that show the boxes and packaging she has received during the pandemic, a collection of oil paintings of friends that will form one piece to resemble what a Zoom meeting screen looks like with multiple squares of heads, synonymous with the virtual meets used by people for social and for commercial reasons, and a new set of self-portraits using a mono-printing technique.
It was the lockdown that drew her back to the studio to do another set of self-portraits.
Started in January to keep her engaged to her art, her newest set of self-portraits are made using a mono-print technique. Each days she completes one. They are on a piece of paper, measuring close to 5 x 7 and is about giving her a creative outlet. The results are more experimental by virtue of the printing technique, which leaves a lot to chance with how she applies paint to a copper plate and than transfers the negative image to arrive at a finished image.
“The first set felt more emotional. With this, it feels more … I’m getting different results. They’re not planned. Once you pull the print it’s unknown,” she sad.
Pointing over to her collection of first lockdown self-portraits under her window, she said, “This one I was showing more how I felt just from my emotion where this is more of a surprise. Maybe it’s kind of like the whole situation. OK, everything is a surprise every day. What’s going to happen next?” she said.
She plans to continue this work for the duration of this lockdown.
Her other work includes still-life work, which she calls, the Boxed in Series.
Behind her on the studio wall, there are several paintings, showing cityscapes created from seeing the arrangement of boxes and packaging lying on a table underneath, which were created by Dewey. It’s a possible unconscious manifestation of what she has not been able to see since the first lockdown.
And like the title, it’s a manifestation of her personal feelings.
“A lot of it has to do with the fact that I feel boxed in,” she said.
She laughs about the absurdity of the concept of how her boxes travel more than her now.
“I’m waiting on a laptop and it went from Ottawa, went to Montreal and now it’s in Toronto and I’m waiting for it. I’m like – that box has travelled more than me,” she said. “That seems to be happening to us all. We’re surrounded by boxes and deliveries, but we’re going no where.”
Like everyone, Zoom has become ubiquitous to a safe method for communication and interactions with loved ones.
Dewey said the upcoming Rails End Gallery show, Connection Annual Salon Exhibition, made her think about how she stays in touch with friends and loved ones.
It was the impetus behind the piece tentatively called The Zoom Room, when she painted the likeness of her friends as they appeared on Zoom to her.
The 13 painted portraits of her friends that will be brought together to resemble what people see when they are in a Zoom session while on the computer or mobile device. It’s an image that people can relate to and that her approach to not telling her subjects she was painting them was to show them as they are. She captured each individual as they were and how they appeared at their homes during meetings in November and December.
“I wanted to capture the fact that they weren’t perfect. Some people were in their bedrooms. Some people were in their kitchens. Some people were in their living rooms. And I wanted to capture that environment behind them. So that was really fun,” she said, describing the artistic process.
All the subjects know their likenesses will be part of the piece that will be featured in the exhibition.
Dewey said her likeness won’t appear, but her “signature” will be present in a frame like the Zoom meeting’s administrator.
The gallery member show will be held from Feb. 27 to April 17. All work is available to view through the gallery’s social media platforms Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and is for sale online with 70 per cent going to the artist.
All of this work is part of an effort to show the affects the pandemic has had on society. She said this collection of work will be part of a proposal to exhibit them together in the future.
Dewey believes art is important to document what is happening and how people are feeling.
Time alone as people shelter in place has left a lot of time for thinking and for introspection.
“With all this time to ourselves, what’s my purpose? You question everything. What should I do? What’s the future going to be like? You start to think, what’s important? You start to analyze your own value system. What do you want to do? Like, where do you want to go? Normally, I wouldn’t be thinking so much,” she said.
The one thing, she said, that she has noticed about herself is that she is giving more thought to what is important.
“What do I miss the most? It’s people,” she said.