Chicago based artist, Leslie Baum brings us on a journey through her process of pivoting during quarantine, and her discovery of new ways to appreciate her garden.
1. How are you holding up?
It really depends on the day of the week, the time of the day, whether I take a long walk or connect with loved ones. It constantly changes; right now, I feel ok in my personal world. When I reflect on the bigger story, I find myself sinking into despair. So, I am sticking with my personal story for now. It helps to have a practice; to have a garden; to have a person to see and touch. But I still miss so much…
It’s been a time of reinvention and pivoting. COVID -19 has had a total effect on my work, my employment, and my paintings.
2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?
It’s been a time of reinvention and pivoting. COVID -19 has had a total effect on my work, my employment, and my paintings. My painting practice had been situated in the interpersonal, the intimate, the shared – sitting side-by-side at a small table – arms often touching, engaging in Plein air painting. It had been my hope to take this project to new places, geographically; to California in May 2020, and hopefully to Europe in 2021. When the full impact of the virus sunk in, I realized that this project would-be put-on hold and have to transform…if I wanted it to continue. The first thing I did, back in early March, is to buy a second Plein air painting table. I knew it wasn’t time yet for remote in-person, but I hoped and anticipated that the time would come. In those intervening months, I Plein air painted over the screen with friends from faraway places as well as those close by in Chicago. It wasn’t the same, of course. We weren’t outdoors; we weren’t together; we weren’t painting the same thing…but, it was a way to be connected. It was a way to continue to paint with someone; to pursue the project in this new strange reality. The work shifted, as it inevitably does; I stopped going to my studio and set up a watercolor station at my dining room table. At first, I was painting my house plants; then I started thinking about my garden which was beginning to bloom. It is a shade garden and flowers come early in March, April, and May and really end in June. I cut a few blossoms, having never done that before, and put them in a vase to bring up to my dining room table. The idea of cutting flowers seemed like an anathema. I found myself painting the flowers from my garden; keeping a bouquet until the flowers had completely dried, lost their luster, and the petals began to fall. It was then I realized that I was keeping time with the flowers. They became a calendar; a metaphor, with the cycle of bloom and death, corresponding to the seasonal shift. I haven’t been in my studio since the first week of March. I have visited it, yes, but I haven’t been able to resume the work I was doing.
I try to make 3 daily watercolors, although I’m not always successful. I would like to keep this practice, with its clear and set parameters.
3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?
Time and the passage of it are currents running through my work. In 2016, with the election, my paintings became a meditation on the cycle of the seasons and of the day. I looked to these enduring rhythms as a way to connect to something beyond the present moment, to provide me with a more geological perspective. With the quarantine paintings, my relationship to time has become more concentrated. I try to make 3 daily watercolors, although I’m not always successful. I would like to keep this practice, with its clear and set parameters. It is an extension of how I painted before, just with sharper clarity and a more fixed set-up: Three daily paintings on a small in scale; intimate in subject matter and restricted in palette. Three is a good number; enough to be open and willing to take risks; to explore and learn without holding on tightly to outcomes. Working small is liberating, it is something I have always done. I didn’t value the small work; I do now. I will continue to paint seasonal change; I don’t know if I can or will want to paint flowers. Will it have the same meaning- as summer gives way to fall and fall to winter? I am curious to find out…
4. Of the artists you follow, who is handling this particularly well?
I am particularly moved by how Rema Ghuloum, Magalie Guerin, and Amy Sillman have been working through this time. Rema is an LA-based artist who also has a daily small-scale project called ether paintings. These are transcendent works. Magalie, a dear friend, and amazing painter has taken this time to learn ceramics, hand-building, in particular. She has wanted to pursue this form for a long time and to take it on without the support of an in-person ceramic studio makes it all the more impressive. Amy is someone I admire greatly; she too has turned to painting flowers...hers are sumptuous. These three artists share a common thread of generosity, community building, and political engagement during this time.
Leslie Baum strives to pay close attention and be a good friend. Taking walks and making watercolors helps with both. Baum also makes paintings and painting-based installations that are invitational, informed by her twenty plus years as a museum educator at the Art Institute of Chicago. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, with exhibitions in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Portland, Mexico City, Rome, and South Korea.
You can find Leslie Baum online:
Remote Shade watercolor paintings are on view and for sale until August 30th, 2020 at Julius Caesar. Fifty Percent of all profits from sales go directly to three local non-profits doing good for racial justice. My Block, My Hood, My City, A Long Walk Home, and Brave Space Alliance.