Gilbert artist Barbara Tibbits

Gilbert artist Barbara Tibbits said her watercolor, “Salmon Run,” depicting fish swimming upstream, reminds her of people during the pandemic.

East Valley artists are finding a somewhat brighter side of sheltering in place.

With long, uninterrupted hours to be creative, many area artists are using the unexpected free time to appeal to their muses.

Members of Gilbert Visual Art League have also taken up brush and pencil to portray their emotions. 

Sharon Hess’s watercolor of a theater mask draped with a string of Mardi Gras beads, titled “Let’s Party,” speaks to how we associated the object in the past – more with a festive or entertainment element rather than with a security or life-saving component. After Covid-19, our memories of masks will change forever. 

“The mask I wish I could wear,” Hess said. “Let’s party when this is over.”

For some, the pandemic and the new normal life of seclusion led to detachment and sorrow.

“Visual artists tend to work alone creating artworks. However, our ideas don’t form in a vacuum. They are influenced by the world around us,” said Donna Finter, who found it difficult to paint until a fellow artist invited her to a challenge.

Now, she’s back in the groove. “Bright Moment” is a trio of red flowers giving a cheerful nod to the world at large.

“I’m trying lots of subjects and painting methods. Creating gives me feelings of peace and accomplishment. I hope my artwork gives others a little lift,” Finter said.

Barbara Tibbits has embarked on a series of watercolor abstract paintings. “Salmon Run” illustrates in blues, greens and gold-reds salmon swimming upstream.

“What meant the most for me was a calming body of work that helped rest my mind and lower my stress level, plus, surrender to the fact that our plans for a month-long visit to Washington State was cancelled,” she said.

Chandler artist Shachi Kale, whose art show in Scottsdale scheduled for April was postponed, is among them.

“A lot of my current art is centering around home, oddly, a subject that was part of my show too,” she said. “So I do have art that deals with home and shelter that would have been in my show.”

Kale’s watercolor on paper, “Shelter in Place,” depicts a bird’s eye view of a Valley neighborhood, a cluster of cookie cutter houses with backyards and swimming pools, where all seems calm and orderly.

“But as all of us try and shelter in place, home takes on a whole new significance,” she said. “Is it a place where you feel safe? Or a place you feel stuck? So many of us having very individual experiences and responses to this crisis, but all of us sheltering in place till this dark cloud passes over and we can finally be free to soar.” 

In another painting titled “Aware,” she depicts from above a young woman lying on the bed with her hand on the stomach. 

“I find myself becoming hyper-aware of my hands, my face, my breath, my thoughts, my existence,” she said. “Yet, strangely, it has also made me hyper-aware of my blessings, my home, my family, food, friends, art, nature and how critical they all are to keep the anxiety of these times in check.”

Therosia Reynolds, a professional artist who resides at Mesa Artspace Lofts, an affordable housing complex in downtown Mesa, created a drive-by art show in the art gallery within the complex. 

The gallery is closed, but Reynolds has positioned the artwork high above the floor, making it possible to drive by and view her work without leaving a vehicle. 

Her nine inspirational pieces featuring bold, universal colors are visible from the large windows that face South Hibbert Street. 

Each piece has a deeper meaning that falls in line with the current situation. A 4’x3’ painting features “Our Deepest Fear,” a powerful poem by Marianne Williamson. 

“It’s an inspirational drive-by, that’s what I want it to be,” she said. “I’ve watched people fighting in grocery stores over toilet paper. That’s a little bit of a loss of humanity. That’s a fear mode, it’s not a faith mode…we are bigger than the current circumstance.”

Paul Soderquist, a Navy veteran and retired Presbyterian minister in Mesa who paints for leisure, painted his vision of the virus, inspired by the media’s depiction of it, rather than painting his usual landscapes and nature scenes. 

He obtained an easel, brushes and canvas and set out to paint in his quiet backyard.

 “Something just stirred within me,” he said. “I sensed a need to express outwardly something of the stress and anxiety I was feeling inwardly. Painting relaxes me. Maybe painting for me is a kind of prayer. The spiritual masters write about spiritual practices of solitude and silence. I think it’s that.” 

Soderquist’s painting depicts the virus as seen through a microscopic slide, surrounded by a number of smaller satellites. He named the acrylic painting “Corona Chaos.” 

“I think it probably represents my own anxiety regarding the corona virus and what it’s doing to everyone around the world,” he said. 

Everyone seems to have made up their minds to make the most of the precious commodity of time. 

Said Soderquist, “I am going to count my blessings, which are many. I am going to take time to slow down, to breathe deeply, to appreciate, to hug my family, to pray. And I’m going to keep painting.”