Many small businesses and self-employed individuals have felt the effects of the isolation and shutdown because of COVID-19, including visual artists. With galleries closed and public showings not permitted, many artists have been forced to adapt or face serious hardship. The Orange Art Gallery in Centretown has helped to represent several local artists through virtual vernissages, ensuring they could continue showing their work through the pandemic.

These Ottawa artists have taken the stress produced by the pandemic and turned it into art:

Jennifer Kershaw

Instagram: @kershaw1880

As for how the pandemic has affected me as a painter, I’d say, as something of a reclusive introvert accustomed to working in relative isolation, it surprised me how much I miss attending openings.

“That really is what I miss most: the opportunity to socialize in person with other artists, friends, and art-lovers.”

Jennifer Kershaw, Ottawa artist

The Orange Art Gallery, here in Ottawa, has pivoted really well in response to the new challenges by doing virtual vernissages on Instagram and embracing YouTube as a way of showcasing artists, but I look forward to the day when we can all gather again in person; I have come to realize how much those gatherings meant. Like Joni Mitchell sang, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” It’s fitting with regards to my work, which has always been about appreciating what we have while it lasts.

"White Russian" 30"x40" oil on panel [Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kershaw]
“White Russian” [Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kershaw]

Mathieu Laca

Instagram: @mathieulaca

Because art is a communication, artists feed on social interaction, consciously or not. With the confinement, a lot of it was amputated. Personally, I feel I’m creating more “art for art’s sake”. My work is more experimental. I would be very curious to see how it would evolve on the long term. I might emerge a totally different artist!

By closing all physical spaces, the confinement also has had a booming impact on the online world, a world that was already reshaping how we experience art. Not necessarily that more art is sold, but I see artists like myself sharing their process, giving tips or chatting in live videos on Instagram, for instance. The technology allows so many ways to get in touch. I really enjoy the inventiveness, the authenticity and the immediacy of these contacts going on right now.

[Photo of Mathieu Laca courtesy of Guy L’Heureux]
[Photo of Mathieu Laca courtesy of Guy L’Heureux]

John Marok

Instagram: @johnfmarok

Beyond the obvious conditions of isolation and solitude that accompany this pandemic, there exists for me the inescapably iconic image of the mask.  

In my painting “Pandemic Lovers”, I have metaphorically painted my own relationship with this time — that being how I am missing the physical intimacy and communion of my fellow humans. I’m a painter that allows for influences from “le quotidien” (daily-life) to manifest into my work, so I feel like everyone else, with respect to the isolation. But I also am impacted visually by the mask, how it changes us, how it becomes us, how it oppresses us. In my painting, in the midst of a new masked society, there is a couple who just cannot relinquish the primal sensations they have for one another and are passionately revealing and sharing what is in their heart, risking it all for a deep, escape-from-reality but life-affirming kiss.

“Pandemic Lovers” [Photo courtesy of John Marok]
The artist and “Pandemic Lovers” [Photo courtesy of John Marok]

Julie Berthelot

Instagram: @JBerthelotArt

This forced break from the regular schedule has given me more time to paint and, as a visual artist and introvert, I’ve been quite happy to hide in my basement studio and paint for as long as necessary! It’s also inspiring to see all the creative ways others have made the best of their time in confinement.

[Photo of the artist, courtesy of Julie Berthelot]
“Evening Peonies” [Photo courtesy of Julie Bertholot]

Violeta Borisonik

Instagram: @violetaborisonikart

I decided to fight back the dark cloud hovering over us by throwing colourful bright paint over the canvas. I found it very therapeutic. It was truly some sort of catharsis. I am a believer of the power of art to heal the soul and clear the mind.

Actually I had a show to prepare for Orange Art Gallery. The timing was perfect because it was right in the middle of the lockdown and a lot of people saw it virtually. Here’s an image of “Forever Porto in my Mind” using lots of colours and textures.

“Forever Porto in my Mind” [Photo courtesy of Violeta Borisonik]