A Survey of Visual Artists in Lockdown

During this pandemic, I have been working at my essential job a few days a week, which provides me with some of the casual chatting I have been missing since we started social distancing. Plus, I live with a partner and dog, which means I still have a lot of in-person interaction. I exchange friendly greetings with my neighbors from our porches, and I have regular movie dates and internet game nights with friends and family. For a person who doesn’t have a bottomless spring of energy for social interaction, I have a pretty full calendar right now. But even with this wealth of communication, after two months of stay-at-home orders, I miss the direct contact with my creative community that I took for granted during the entirety of my life up until March of this year. 

The space between us all has widened, in some cases unbearably so. We look at each other through screens and plexiglass barriers and from across the street with increasing wistfulness as the time passes. Even as shops and restaurants begin to reopen, it is hard to maintain a sense of connection through muffled, masked conversations held across a distance of at least six feet. 

How do we connect when we can’t breathe each other’s air? In the second installment of this series (see May’s issue for part one), Yuka Petz and Vanessa Centeno are artists who have found ways to reach out across the gulfs that separate us and create moments of communication. During this pandemic, they are engaging with the tactility of making art, the vulnerability of sharing it, and the importance of solidarity—even at a distance. 


Yuka Petz’s mixed media practice explores the visual qualities of written language, and she also makes bunnies out of cut paper. She recently moved to Seattle from New Orleans.

You moved away from New Orleans to Seattle fairly recently. How has the change of location affected your experience of the pandemic? 

It takes a while to fully embrace and be embraced by a new home and new communities, so the sense of solidarity is different. While social distancing would keep us from our friends in New Orleans, my heart aches to be in the same time zone and geographic space, to be experiencing the same local news (I still read Nola.com and The Lens), participating in the awesome efforts that Antenna is producing, and doing what we can to support the local businesses that we have loved for years. 

How are you holding up? 

I’m OK. I don’t really know anymore. We have settled into some expectations and routines in the day-to-day. We are grateful to be stable at the moment, but we are still full of anxiety and worry. I enjoy the tulips and bird songs one hour, and then I am deeply frustrated and full of rage the next. 

Are you still doing any work that requires you to leave the house? 

No. My studio is off-site and the landlord has asked us not to come in per the governor’s orders. I’ve stopped by a couple of times to retrieve supplies, and I probably could go work there since there are only a few other people in that particular building. But I’m trying to be responsible and do what I can from home. 

Have you lost any jobs or opportunities due to the pandemic? 

This spring was supposed to be the time for me to relaunch my art and design business here in Seattle, to start figuring out how I can fit in the various communities in our new home. While I haven’t lost specific opportunities, I’m losing time, which has immediate costs, like studio rent and longer term costs. As we slide into the challenging economic situation that awaits us, it also feels like opportunities that artists have been able to seek out or anticipate are going to be much fewer and farther between. I expect the businesses and organizations who manage to make it through this are likely to have much slimmer budgets for some time. 

Have you applied for any relief, and have you gotten it? 

I’m still trying to find relief opportunities that I am actually eligible for. 

A lot of artists’ work has shifted to online exhibition, and I know you have posted images of your work on social media during the pandemic. What has been your experience of online art presentation during the pandemic? 

I think the work I have been posting on social media has become a way for me to say, “I’m here. I feel this. I think you do too.” My commitment to my practice is directly connected to my sense of self, so if I go too long without creating, I fall apart. While I am having to put my work aside to support my family’s needs, it’s become important to share that I’m still making something, even if it is not work that I would have publicly presented before. Sometimes I’m not sure that I should even post my CoronaBunnies. They’re like fast and dirty sketches, rapidly multiplying and taking over. I realize that I am actively letting myself be more vulnerable in what I post publicly, which seems counterintuitive when we are in such a massively vulnerable situation. The support has been tremendous, though, and I’m grateful for the very positive interactions with friends and strangers. The feedback helps motivate me to keep making whatever I can and to set aside my inner critic a little. That feels important because there are enough external stressors and challenges to navigate right now. 

How has your practice changed since the Stay-at-Home order? 

We are fortunate that my husband still has some remote work, so I have become the primary caregiver for our four-year-old daughter and the general family manager. I’m grateful that she’s happy to spend a good portion of the day drawing, crafting, and doing other creative projects together at home. Of course, this has left me very little time or energy for my independent practice, but I have found small ways to continue creating alongside her. One of the surprising benefits is a resurgence in my sketchbook practice, which has been dormant for a few years. If my daughter is working on something that I do not need to be immediately on top of, I am often sitting next to her at the dining table, playing in my sketchbook. 

Early on, my daughter initiated a collage session and I ended up making these bunny heads with expressions of fury, horror, dismay, sadness, etc. I have continued making them when I can squeeze out a little time. The process and style are very different from the work I’ve been making for the past decade, which tends to be more subtle, contemplative, and text-based. The CoronaBunnies are loud, brash caricatures. I think they’re this way for a few reasons. First, they are born of my immediate circumstance—short on time, less mental capacity for following creative questions down various conceptual rabbit holes, and torn or cut from paper with big, lunking scissors because that’s what is closest at hand. Second, we have been watching the broadcasts by children’s book authors like Mo Willems and Greg Pizzoli. I think the exaggerated expressions of their characters have gotten into my head. Third, the CoronaBunnies are conduits for the anger, fear, and anxiety about what my family and friends, our country, and the world is going through. I just don’t have any subtle feelings about this. 

The bunny collages Yuka Petz is making are posted on Instagram @yuka_draws_prints_makes, and more of her work can be found at yukapetz.com. 


Vanessa Centeno makes interactive, sculptural paintings—or perhaps painterly sculptures—and collaborates with the artist group The Crystal Efemmes here in New Orleans.

How are you holding up? 

Things have been overwhelming and hard to deal with at times. I feel I can manage with our current situation a bit better. With more information and understanding of what’s going on and how to prevent the spread, I feel that has eased the anxiety. At first, I would wake up and go to bed looking at the cases on the Louisiana Department of Health website and see the cases reported, deaths reported, and the tests that they performed and would be in shock, fear, panicking. It was unbelievable and I was devastated. 

Are you still doing any work that requires you to leave the house? 

No, luckily I was able to set up at home and stay put for a while. 

Have you lost any jobs or opportunities due to the pandemic? 

No, I am an instructor at Southeastern Louisiana University and had to switch to online teaching, which was another level of stress and maneuvering. I teach foundations and had to rethink some of our in-class work sessions to remote learning and that was challenging for myself and some of my students. I am very thankful that I still had my job and could focus on being creative with my students, and I think that was one of the ways that kept me sane and productive amidst all this crazy shit happening outside. 

Have you applied for any relief, and have you gotten it? 

No, I had my teaching job that kept me afloat and actually I saved money by not having to commute two hours a day. 

The sculptures in your 2018 show Embrace were inanimate objects designed to hug people. Is physical contact still an important part of your practice? 

Yes, I felt that particular show came from a longing to bring my relationship that I have with creating my work to the public. In my studio my work and the objects that I create are birthed from holding, dragging, folding, and stuffing my canvases into these forms; and I feel that that’s when the work becomes alive. It’s like a summoning of sorts. These types of interactive works I want to continue, to explore and create different ways of bringing the viewer into these moments. I feel that painting for me happens inside the painting and the surface of the canvas is a luring device. I’m just so in love with the process of painting with all the paints, tools, and different techniques. It’s just magical! So I can’t have one without the other, sculpture and painting. 

Has the pandemic caused you to revisit old topics or projects in your work? 

When I’m working in my studio, I just move in the direction that feels right and sometimes I don’t know what I’m doing until it comes to me. I like to play and get lost in whatever is in front of me. I’m just starting to get my groove back in my studio now that my classes are finished, so it’s like summer vacation in there. I think the topics will arise and will be part of what comes out next for sure. There is definitely an ongoing stream and each project ties into the next, but it’s an organic process. 

Do you have any pandemic-specific projects that you want to talk about? 

Yes, I’m working with my collective The Crystal Efemmes to do a group show at The Front Gallery this June. We have been discussing things that we fear and the things that give us joy. The writings and imagery that we produce will become personified and symbolized sultans, demons, and queens using collage, photography, and mixed media works. We feel this would be a way to share the things that hinder and scare us while sharing the things that bring us life and inspirations. That acknowledging your fear is part of your ability to move forward and gain control of those lurking demons that eat our potential. I’m very excited to be working with The Crystal Efemmes: Robyn LeRoy-Evans, Cristina Molina, and Ryn Wilson. We have been very supportive and caring for each other during this time so this opportunity to be creative together will be, in a way, healing and therapeutic. 

What is making you happy right now? 

Gardening at night. I love going outside in my little garden and looking at the stars and the moon and all the little creatures that are scurrying about. I listen to the night and try to let go of all the things that are stuck in my head, and get my hands into some dirt and look at my plants very closely while whispering to them. Also, me and my boyfriend cooking a lot together and sitting down, eating together has been very relaxing and enjoyable.

Vanessa’s work can be found on Instagram @banessica; for more info on The Crystal Efemmes go to crystalefemmes.com.