I moved to Indiana twenty years ago, yet I feel I have recently gotten to know the state since covid arrived. Here is my story about how covid affected my artwork.
Let me backtrack.
I love cities; the bigger, the better. I was raised in the suburbs of Chicago and went to college in the heart of the city. I love the people, the movement, the architecture, and the sounds that makeup life in a city. In 2017 I began a series of paintings based on cities and the display windows in which urban life is reflected. I combed through places like Chicago, NYC, and Indianapolis, looking for interesting display windows in crowded urban locations.
Every time I take a vacation, my camera is busy. Whenever I travel, I find that even the most modest item can take on visual excitement for me. When visiting China, I recall embarrassing my 10-year-old as I dragged behind our group, photoing man-hole covers. Traveling allows you to see the world with fresh eyes. It reveals artistic joy in the least expected places.
For years, the majority of the photos I took were references for my artwork. I would select the most promising images, bring them into Photoshop, where I would manipulate, merge, add to, and alter until I came up with a picture to adapt into a painting.
During the summer of 2020, I had intended to visit England. Like many people with plans to travel, covid put an abrupt end to it. My dreams of photoing London storefronts faded in a heartbeat!
At the beginning of covid, I was living in Indianapolis. During those early days, I barely left my house. On the rare occasions I went out, I wore a mask and plastic gloves.
My need for the city was strong, but my fear of getting ill during pre-vaccine covid was stronger! The issue, I needed new inspiration and photos for my art. The number of cases in Indianapolis was blowing up, like many cities across the country, and I didn’t want to know firsthand what covid would do to my body.
In the end, I looked towards the numerous small towns that populate Indiana. Somehow, the lack of large numbers of people in confined spaces felt safer. With a mask and camera in hand, I began wandering throughout the state.
While looking for artistic inspiration, I began to understand the state I now call home. Here is what I have come to know.
A large part of the economy in Indiana is based on manufacturing. Manufacturing has taken a big hit, in recent years, not just during covid. I see it in the town where I relocated to last December. This town was built on the automobile industry. It boasts one of the earliest car manufactures in the U.S. The recession of 2007-2008 deeply hurt the auto industry and the people who relied on it to care for their families. The pay isn’t what it used to be.
As I traveled throughout the state, I have been witness to smaller towns financially going under. You can tell by the once expensive homes on the main streets of rural towns that people are experiencing hard times. It is disheartening to see plastic tarps covering ragged rooftops, old furniture rotting on unused porches. Storefronts that have been shut down for years. In some instances, I am reminded of the Depression photos taken by Dorothea Lange and Arthur Rothstein.
Perhaps it isn’t that bad. Perhaps it is.
I realize that I have not lived country life, which feels different from the lifestyle of a city.
What have I seen during my travels?
There are a lot of American flags. The music that plays in the local Casey’s is country. The late-night local radio stations mainly consist of religious discussions. A lot of small towns lack grocery stores, making the gas stations selling food a necessity. There are a lot of stores that sell things for a dollar and Pizza Kings in rural Indiana. Some towns have only a grain elevator and closed-up stores. The open fields are lovely. The windmills are beautiful during the day, yet there blinking red lights are intrusive on the night skyline. Notably, the people of Indiana are friendly (it took me years to realize that people here are legitimately kind and not secretly planning to mug me!).
Since Covid-19, I have changed the direction of my artwork. I have begun to focus not on urban but on rural environments. My interest remains with commercial and manufacturing buildings, graffiti, and storefronts, but those found outside the city. I am no longer taking photos that are strictly reference images. Now I offer those photos for sale next to my paintings.
I have not abandoned cities; I will always find inspiration from them but getting to know more about the state I live in is expanding my knowledge of this country and my artistic inspiration.
Photos from top to bottom
Museum of Oddities, Metamora, Indiana
We Care About You, Jonesboro, Indiana
Submit Your Problem, Muncie, Indiana