I feel that the pandemic put us all in various precarious mental states regarding survival. This pandemic has been a thorny arena for me, a ceramic artist dependent on my Community Ceramic Art Studio at the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago – my art home since 2012 and the 1970s. Being a ceramic artist means you deal with a lot of equipment one often does not have at home – kilns, clay mixers, drying racks, and minerals for glazes.
The dangers of the pandemic in 2020 closed my ceramic studio ad many classes online. That’s great for drawing, photography, collage, and even planning for artwork. But doing clay online without a setup of one’s own makes art via Zoom particularly frustrating. Then my father was hospitalized for an immune condition and caught Covid-19 while there. He lasted a month, with me not being able to see him or rarely talk to him no matter how I cajoled, threatened, and maneuvered at my local hospital.
Panicked, desperate for an outlet, I reached back to a skill I had not done since high school in 48 years. I pulled out an old sketchbook, still with high school drawings, and started copying my ceramic works to keep my mind occupied and not sink into despair. Slowly, I started drawing once or twice a week. Then my father died in the first COVID wave. Funeral homes were either swamped or refusing to take COVID victims. So I had to do a cremation, and the city lost my father’s body either at the hospital or the crematorium or somewhere else. My darkest time slowly sank into depression while railing at various city agencies trying to locate my parent’s body.
What kept me going was drawing. I found when I found something to draw two things happened. First, it was like a mini-vacation putting a hand to paper with a pencil or pen, concentrating on drawing an image. Second, I varied images depending on how I felt that day. A few were violent – like a woman shooting a winged COVID virus out of the sky…was actually quite satisfying though unnerving to my friends who saw my posts on social media that I shared. But what I learned was that creativity has to come out in some way, just like grief.
There are two avenues to creating art.
One avenue is doing something with your hands, creating an idea that actually gets some of the chaos out of your head or helps organize it to make it palatable. Your brain is involved with your hands means you have to concentrate on something other than the problem. Instead of the marbles rolling around in your brain like ping pong balls, the marbles are put in containers or rolling tracks that give you a chance to breathe. Carving out a little space physically or in your head gives you a more flexible outlook, n,o matter how grim.
Secondly, creating for me gave me a window to see myself and explore ideas, no matter how angry or grief-stricken I was. While I started drawing daily, my skills improved, and I got satisfaction in something I could control since the outside world had become dangerous and uncontrollable. Sometimes the only thing I had to draw was myself in various states of mind – cell phones are handy for self-portraits. I began to recognize my own emotions on the drawing page when I could barely articulate the pain of losing my father verbally to others. I started adding marker colors, and my drawing opened up more. Once my father’s body was found, I continued to draw and remembered some of my art teachers’ high school techniques. I looked for drawing resources online, including many African American graphic artists on Instagram that were very helpful and inspiring.
At the beginning of each pandemic year, I drew a breakfast table with a mug, a ceramic type I am known for. This past year I drew the same mug but with different designs reflecting how I felt. Though amusing, my art documented what I was going through, and looking at those images; I saw growth! Growth as a person, growth in an old skill that I hadn’t practiced in 48 years! The parting gift of my father’s death had guided me back into a wonderful skill I had forgotten I had. He would have been proud at that.
Though not as much, I still draw, but it is more purposeful and fun trying out new ideas to challenge myself. So try out something new, close to home and your heart. Whether drawing, jigsaw puzzles, singing, dancing, reading, cooking, sewing, needlework, computer drawing, or creating music, your brain will thank you for the distraction, mental exercise, and growth no matter how old you are! You just might surprise yourself
Christine “Liz” LaRue is a clay artist and illustrationist. She is known for her intricately textured figurative sculptures and emotionally illustrative drawings. Chicago born though also raised in Utah and Idaho, Ms. LaRue is of Creole/Cuban descent. Her art has been influenced by her Afro-Latino heritage. Ms. LaRue’s interests has been in Pre-Columbian art of the Olmec, Maya of Mexico, Nazca and Moche face pots of Peru. This also includes the bronze sculptures of the Ife of Nigeria, and Tā Moko tattoo art of the Maōri.
Ms. LaRue got hooked on ceramics at the age of 10 at the Hull House Art and Music Camp. She earned a B.A. in Latin American Studies with a Ceramics Minor from the University of Denver. She has a Master’s degree in clinical social work specializing in multi-cultural families.
Though she lived briefly in Mexico pursuing ceramic art studies, she brought the knowledge
back to Chicago to teach wheel throwing and handbuilding a various ceramic studios in
Chicago. Ms. LaRue’s art work spotlights the beauty of the African American portraiture so
ignored in American mainstream society.
Ms. LaRue has shown at various venues in Chicago including; Black Creativity Juried Art
Exhibition at the Museum of Science & Industry, winning best in ceramics 2015, 2016, 2017,
Hyde Park Art Center, The Cliff Dweller Club, DuSable Museum and UIC 5th Floor Gallery. She
has numerous works in private collections.