COVID Portraits

Testing at Hudson Yards, Oil on canvas, 22 x 20 inches, 2020

An upcoming “Shelter in place” measure was announced in Manhattan on March 20, 2020, three days after France started its “Confinement”. Sheltering would ensure protection against infection from the coronavirus.

Starting on March 12th, the opera, theaters and museums, and then the High Line – a frequent source of inspiration for my work -, gradually announced that they would remain closed until further notice. Actually, already the previous week, many Manhattanites had started to voluntarily limit their outings, including me.

As a result, my artistic activity changed. Staying at home made me turn inwards and re-examine past work through my watercolor sketchbooks, voyaging around my room, à la Xavier de Maistre.

First, a reflection and work on the garden theme in preparation for exhibitions planned for the spring which I did not realize would be postponed or even canceled. And then the start of a big project on immigration.

Construction Interrupted , Oil on canvas, 22 x 17 inches, 2020

Waiting on line on W37th Street, Oil on canvas, 20 x 17 inches, 2020

Black Flamingo, Oil on canvas, 22 x 22 inches, 2020

Obviously aware of the eerie outside reality, I started looking out my window again and painted what I could see from my studio: people queuing to enter the grocery store downstairs, or the building under construction right across the street where the work had stopped and which crows had invaded.

Rare outings allowed some quick watercolors which I reproduced in oil paintings illustrating the loneliness and desolation of the city abandoned of its visitors, the deserted parks, luxury urban developments turned gym grounds, the rare masked passers-by, closed hotels, or health care workers wearing their personal protection equipment.

Alone in Bryant Park, Oil on canvas, 22 x 12 inches, 2020

COVID Patience, Oil on canvas, 18 X 22 inches, 2020

My introspective journey led me to think about a self-portrait, as testimony of the exceptional period we were going through.

As for most confined people, food had become extremely important. These pauses in the day deserved to be celebrated as moments of beauty. Opening the day, breakfast had to be particularly stunning, looking and tasting perfect. I then decided to document those morning meals and turn them into self-defining moments. Every day, using small plates, I constructed an appetizing dish of yoghurt decorated with fresh fruit, the composition of which varied according to my food reserves.

64 small paintings make up this self-portrait, corresponding to the 64 days of my confinement, which lasted from March 16 to May 18, when I left for France. The paintings are juxtaposed to form a visually pleasing portrait, and not in a purely chronological order. Colors decided of the placement of each one of the pieces.

The fruit arrangements are seen from above, and from a distance look like flowers. This illusion evokes cornucopia, the symbol of endless abundance and nourishment. The variations in colors, the way the fruits are presented, and the fruits themselves, seem to offer endless display possibilities and the daily promise of a plentiful tomorrow.

But the number of small paintings is limited to 64, to signal a beginning and an end. Some of the plates are more richly decorated, representing the days when, mask-wearing, I was able to go to the store. Others have sparser arrangements, depending on the fruit I had left.

In the tradition of a 17th century vanitas, one of the flower plates features the coronavirus crown, acting as a reminder of the fragility of such abundance.

Shelter in place Self-portrait, 64 oil on canvas panels, 65 x 65 inches, 2020