Roaring Fork Valley artists reflect on their creative process during the pandemic

Jessica Peterson
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Wewer Keohane works on a mixed media piece called Detour to India as part of the Breakfast in Japan series.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

At the beginning of the pandemic, all artist Wewer Keohane wanted to do was clean her studio.

“Nothing was coming through me creatively,” she said.

While she was cleaning, she came across a stack of big, educational flash cards and decided to reach out to other artist friends to ask if they would want to step away from tidying up studio space and collaborate with her on a piece working from the cards as a starting point.

“I asked if they would want to participate and I would do everything I could to find a place to exhibit it … but the main thing was just to get creative, do whatever you want with this card,” Keohane said.

Keohane, who is best known for her tea bag kimonos piece and the current inaugural fellow at the Aspen Art Museum, ran the project by the Carbondale Arts Center. They took on Keohane’s proposal, along with the 54 other artists who agreed to participate, and opened the Flashcard Project in the middle of the pandemic.

Keohane said the project helped her regain momentum to re-enter her creative process, but it was moments of seeing other artists and maintaining human connection in a safe way that became most valuable to her.

“Just seeing Chris (Erickson) on the road because we live down the road from each other or taking a walk with Lisa (Singer) with our masks on, those have been the highlights. But just not being able to see other artists but to make sure we stay in touch has been very important to me,” Keohane said.

Wewer Keohane works on a mixed media piece called Detour to India as part of the Breakfast in Japan series.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Lisa Singer, a painter who primarily works in acrylics and is local to the Roaring Fork Valley, said she saw a dramatic shift in the type of work she created throughout the course of the pandemic. Singer works on big canvases, typically about 4 feet by 4 feet, and said her work is generally a translation of what is happening in the world around her and how she feels about it.

“Right in the beginning I found myself painting things that I didn’t really understand where they were coming from. They weren’t necessarily anything that had inspired me before,” Singer said.

Prior to the pandemic, Singer said she was accustomed to painting bleak landscapes with almost nothing in them aside from a literal or figurative ray of light. As the world came to a better understanding of Covid and it became clear it was not a temporary situation, Singer said she saw her work shift drastically.

A piece of work created by artist Lisa Singer. This piece was inspired by a recent fire at Singer's house which took out her greenhouse which she often used for creative inspiration. This painting was her way of processing a devastating loss.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“I guess desperateness and desolation just had no place in my life anymore and it certainly wasn’t inspiring. And I started painting really big, bright colorful objects. No mystery whatsoever, what you see is what you get. And it was just kind of lighthearted, life affirming fun. In a word I’d have to call it therapeutic,” Singer said.

Chris Erickson is a painter and sculptor who currently works mostly in spray paint and stencils. He also owns a business in Aspen called Prop that is based on industrial design and builds installation or one-off pieces for events. He said his process is a distillation of information from various forms of media, including podcasts and politics, until he can boil it down to what’s really important.

“I guess as an artist I take all that information and process it … dream about it, mold it and I don’t know what it’s doing … it creates anxiety, it creates joy, it creates all the emotions in life. I feel like I take all that information … and distill all that down by removing all the crap and the nonsensical data … I try to take that little nugget and put that into my work,” Erickson said.

Erickson said the past year included incredible extremes. He began 2020 with a solo art show in Snowmass that within two weeks was shut down, and changed to appointment visits only. As the year went on, he said the range of events, personal and otherwise, ran the gamut.

“I had a monumental birthday this year, I lost my stepfather who passed away a few months ago, I entered into an incredible relationship, adopted a dog … and have been making work and finished building a house on land that Wewer sold me. It’s been truly insane, it’s been crazy,” Erickson said.

An example of work by local artist Chris Erickson.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Erickson said he made it through this past year trying to reevaluate what was really important to him. While there was terrible tragedy, good moments arose from the pandemic, Erickson said, and it was important for him to acknowledge them.

“It kind of hurts to say that and I want to acknowledge all the suffering that’s going on … incredible highs and low lows and trying to find that balance and that median line I think is the challenge (for everyone),” Erickson said.

Singer described her primary takeaway from the pandemic as a lesson in mental flexibility.

Pieces of work by local artist Lisa Singer.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“The brain that’s kind of in between these huge losses and lows and devastation, and this hope and joy and gratefulness…just balancing that in ourselves takes I think a lot of flexibility to maintain over a long period of time,” Singer said.

Part of this flexibility, at least for Erickson, is being able to imagine what the world will be on the other side of the pandemic, once things are more under control.

“The exciting thing for me is we will get through this pandemic … and it is my opinion that there is going to be a sort of renaissance afterwards, I really believe that. From that there’s going to be a lot of great art, music, literature and poetry,” Erickson said.

Keohane said she thought one of the reasons the pandemic happened was because everybody needed to take the time to slow down. Now that she has found that pace, rhythm and the voice she wants to share through her art, she said she is ready to make creating art her priority.

Wewer Keohane's work station in her studio inside her house.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“I realized that the solitude in walking, writing or in my studio is really what’s keeping me going and I don’t want to get back into the pace I was in … I think my priorities are going to be easier to set as far as where I use my time and energy,” Keohane said.