Self Portrait After the Spanish Flu, Edvard Munch
At the end of each year, I take it upon myself to reflect on my art and all of the ways in which it compares to the last. This is when I’m hoping I have achieved my New Years' resolution of getting better at expressing myself, connecting and touching people in just the way I intend to. I found that the goals I’d set for myself became much more challenging once the pandemic hit earlier this year. As a result of it, I quickly grew uninspired from having been completely taken away from all of the day-to-day activities that I relied on for inspiration. Instead, I sat at home staring at a blank canvas for hours on end, desperately searching my brain for an idea.
This was until a couple of months ago when I began stumbling upon some of the most amazing paintings by famous artists in the past that underwent very similar situations to COVID-19. Of these paintings was Edvard Munch’s Self Portrait After the Spanish Flu. In it, Munch portrays his very own experience having contracted and later survived the Spanish Flu of 1918. This was an Illness that managed to spread amongst 500 million people--one-third of the Earth’s population--and killed an estimated 50 million. In his painting, you can see Munch completely torn down from attempting to fight this unbearable flu, his face falling in exhaustion. Depicting that same illness is Egon Shiele’s, The Family, an image he began of himself, his wife and who was supposed to be their future child. Unfortunately, his wife died six months into pregnancy due to the flu and just three days later, Shiele also lost his life to the virus. It strikes me that both of these artists chose to paint and leave a testimony to commemorate the tragedy that this disease brought into their lives despite being actively suffering through it at the time.
Not long after I had deeply submerged myself into these older paintings, I found that artists today are already incorporating the present-day COVID-19 pandemic within their artworks. They take advantage of this great historical event we are living through to express their own personal feelings and experiences with the virus in a unique and interesting way. While reading a Washington Post article, I ran into Sylvia Georgieva-Sellvisa’s artwork labeled A Quiet Place. This is a collage she put together from a picture her child had made of her looking out the window as they were unable to go outside. Sellvisa portrays her only hope at a connection to the rest of the world as she looks out the window, something that many of us can relate to nowadays. Another one is Cheryl L. Zemke’s painting, Hold Me, which conveys the struggle that having to wear masks and gloves has brought onto those who are trying to hold intimate and personal connections with others.
Soon, all of these paintings caused me to return to that blank canvas one day just to passionately complete it in just a matter of hours. I had come to realize that I also wanted to show my own perspective living under this moment we are all sharing. Since then, I have picked up watercolors and become addicted to making illustrations of my room, my kitchen, my balcony, even my bathroom. This is my own interpretation of the pandemic--life at home in lockdown. That is why I will conclude that although this year has been quite troublesome and had its moments, It has taught me how to leave my own personal legacy amongst the spectrum of history. That said, I encourage you to paint, doodle, sculpt or make whatever piece of art commemorates this year before it’s over.
When The World Was Young, Constanza Vera (me!)