Creative Quarantine: Artist William Conger

Self Portrait, 8 inches diameter. oil/wood 2020/ © William Conger

1. How are you holding up?

I am doing well considering my age, 83, and need to adapt my routines to include caring for my ill wife.  In the midst of the crisis, I do work in my studio about half the hours that are usual for me. I am very cautious and practice the safeguards necessitated by Covid-19.  I am comfortable working long periods in solitude. 

Floater, 12×13 inches, oil/wood, 2019 | © William Conger

2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work and if so, in what way?

I am deeply affected by the realities of the pandemic and the enormity of our Federal Government’s failure to deal with it properly. I’m also very troubled by the breakdown of societal cooperation and the overt disruption caused by extreme right-wing groups. The underlying social disunity being exacerbated by the troubling response to the pandemic is irrational and even insane, horrifying.  However, instead of urging me to express this leadership and societal madness in my work I find I am more consciously engaged in seeking implicit order and harmony in my artmaking.  I find myself beginning to use more pale or calming color as if to insist on stoical resistance to the chaos we face.  

Boomer, 36×36 inches, oil/linen, 2019 | © William Conger

 3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you would like to keep after this is over?

I continually make small sketches and collages to maintain the flow of ideas for my work.  Recently, I’ve been making unplanned small paintings and that in itself may reveal less social interest and a greater concentration on personal art-making.  In that sense I am taking more risks and don’t think about how the work might be exhibited.  A few months ago, in a departure from my usual abstraction,  I made a small self-portrait by propping up a little canvas in front of a mirror so I could see myself and the painting at once.  I might do more observation-painting, more personal, less public. Maybe. No promises. I think many artists are actively engaging all their options as artists now because they know that the future of art is truly in their hands for the first time in decades if not in a century.  The Institutional Artworld may be losing its authority to define art through its market power but the artists will remain to reinvent a new art.  

Untitled 16×16 inches, oil on wood, 2020 (painted during quarantine) | © William Conger

4. Of the other artists you follow, who’s handling this particularly well?

Nowadays,  I’m scarcely in touch with other artists except through social media like Facebook and Instagram.  However, I am always surprised and captivated by the new work by artist friends Bruce Thorn, Gary Justis, Anna Kunz, Peter Reginato, Dan Gamble, Carmon Colangelo and Chris Kahler, and Nicholas Sistler.  There are many more artists I could mention.   Each of them is committed to an intensely personal vision. Together, they always embrace the full range of human experience but retain a sense of hope through carefully nuanced, complex visual order.  They promise survival in our time of genuine trauma and emerging dispair. 

Track | 16″ x 12″ | Oil on panel | © William Conger 2020

William Conger is an abstract artist whose work has been widely exhibited since the late 1950s.  You can see more of his work on his website, as well at Zolla Lieberman Gallery. Check out his Wikipedia page for more.