Creative Quarantine: Artist John Soss

Half Remembered | © John Soss

1. How are you holding up?

I’m doing a good job of keeping myself in the middle lane. This situation made me realize I’ve been through worse and if I could survive that I could manage this. The losses are evident so I try to look beyond that and see what can be gained from this experience. I also figured out, early on, that I needed to create some kind of structure in my home and have a schedule of things to do. I start each morning by reading the same poem, “This is the Time to be Slow,’ by John O’Donahue. Then I map out my day with some writing, exercise, creative endeavors, communication with friends and co-workers, and I stay actively involved with my company’s daily workflow. I take walks in the evenings, listen to music, and try to stay acquainted with a couple of borrowed guitars I keep in the kitchen. I do miss the human interaction and I can’t imagine going long-term without the company of my key people.

Like Locked Rooms| © John Soss

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

Everything is connected, so the answer is yes. The benefit to being stuck at home all day is that I get to spend entire days in my home, which gives me more time to devote to this On The Beach project. I went through a several-month period last fall where I was walking the beaches and collecting stuff but I had paused the final phase of that cycle – the step of documenting it all in a photograph. I now have boxes of objects and items from that period so I make a point of carving out time each day to work through the backlog. The Stay-At-Home mandate gives me ample time to sort through the boxes and try to understand how all of these unrelated things fit together. There’s a bit more time to sit at my worktable, let things unfold, and think through some other layouts that I’ve been sitting on for a while, things that take more time and effort and concentration.

The extra time has also given me opportunities to explore new concepts that are unrelated to the beachcombing enterprise. I sorted through a stash of old ticket stubs and found a way to reconnect things that had long ago been torn in half. I retrieved some Scrabble score sheets that were dear to me and reimagined them as markers of time. By digging through boxes of my dad’s old tools in the basement I emerged with an essay that told me a few things about myself. After John Prine died of COVID-19 I wrote a song from the first-person perspective of a much younger John Prine who was himself faced with a Stay-At-Home order during a time when he’d much rather be with his girlfriend. I also decided that the only way I’d gain any traction with guitar playing was to eliminate my old comfort zone so I switched one of them to a C Major tuning and the other to the Palmer Tuning, a nutty E-E-E-E-B-E setup that former Buffalo Springfield bassist Bruce Palmer once taught to Stephen Stills. These allow me to make richer, more full sounds that help fill up the quiet spaces in the house.

Marking Time| © John Soss

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

Betterment, primarily. I’m learning how to use my new camera, and with some advice from a couple of friends I’ll get the hang of that. Another friend, a photographer, is going to share some lighting rigs he no longer uses. I’m also learning how to use Photoshop which will allow me to create better quality images than what I’ve been doing this entire time with an iPhone.

Picnics Tabled| © John Soss

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

Jon Langford’s drive, devotion, and energy never fail to impress me, even during times like these. I’m feeling a strong connection to the music that John Leventhal has been occasionally posting on his Instagram page. Within those unadorned guitar performances, I see and hear beauty, light, strength, history, hope, reflection, joy, peace, and a continuum that links the past to the present to the future.

John Soss

John Soss promotes and markets concerts, rides a bike, walks beaches, collects stuff, arranges objects, takes photographs, and then wakes up the next morning and does it all over again. His never-ending “On The Beach” project was exhibited earlier this year at The Dime gallery.

You can find him on Facebook and Instagram.