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During Armory Week, I was concerned about the coronavirus pandemic but went on Saturday to my friend’s group show. We talked about the wisdom of cancelling a trip to Big Sur the following week because California might be considered risky and it could be difficult to get a flight back. I knew I did not want to go to the piers for the Art Shows, mask or no mask. I had a friend in Milan who hadn’t been out at all except to get necessities, which made me wonder how that would play out in NYC.
I then realized that I might also have to cancel an upcoming trip to see my 101-year-old mom in Maryland, wondering if I would ever see her again. The days in lockdown blend together much like life in the sanatorium in Mann’s The Magic Mountain, an old favorite novel that I’ve picked up again. My routine has changed so much through its present limitations that time has altered. It feels like there’s something magic going on here, too. The days are nearly indistinguishable and I have to really think about how many weeks it’s been since this or that happened. My calendar is no longer needed except to mark the time. I have been at home and nowhere else since then, except to go out for brief excursions for necessities: groceries, odds and ends, and walks in the parks for exercise.
Camilla Fallon, First sketch in quarantine
Camilla Fallon, Bluebell
During the first week staying indoors, I made sketches of our cat. We have a spacious apartment and I began to use the extra bedroom as a studio. I thought of the Intimists — Bonnard, Vuillard — and the show I saw of their work last year at the Phillips Collection in Washington, of Manet and great still life painters like Chardin and Morandi and how they make ordinary objects, including cats, absolutely transcendent.
Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Still Life with Cat and Fish, 1728, Oil on canvas, 79.5 x 63 cm
I set up a few familiar objects to draw at first and then bought some tulips to add to my still life. I love having flowers in my workspace and this year their quiet beauty means more to me than ever. Spring has been especially poignant: birds and flowers are oblivious to our present crisis but birdsong is conspicuous since there is no street noise, save for ambulance sirens.
The days go by quickly when I’m drawing and I don’t want to stop. I’ve been drawing from observation exclusively; I find it grounding and I’ve been compulsive about making a drawing a day. It is almost like a diary. I regard these flowers and household objects with ardor and try as I might to make the marks on the paper reflect their presence and spatial relationships. Without it I’d be lost.
Camilla Fallon, Home studio
I don’t know what it will feel like to go back to the studio and whether that work will seem at all relevant after spending so much time alone with my husband, very much slowed down. We are grateful. It won’t be easy to go back to the general frenzy of life in NYC. The uninterrupted time is a gift, although the anxiety only recedes so much. These drawings feel casual. The work in the studio feels riskier: it takes preparation, thought, planning, materials, it’s expensive to make, and takes much more time. My home studio makes for a more easeful approach. In some ways it feels more authentic and less self-conscious. Maybe I’ve hit on something that will grow. And my piano helps, I’ve had a few lessons on Zoom and it works surprisingly well. I’m set: I’ve almost learned an entire new Chopin Waltz; I walk to the wonderful parks near where we live in Yorkville and spend the day drawing.
Two poems play on loop. Each walks us to the end of what is known and keeps walking.
Toward the Unknown Region
Darest thou now O soul,
Walk out with me toward the unknown region,
Where neither ground is for the feet nor any path to follow?
No map there, nor guide,
Nor voice sounding, nor touch of human hand,
Nor face with blooming flesh, nor lips, nor eyes, are in that land.
I know it not O soul,
Nor dost thou, all is a blank before us,
All waits undreamed of in that region, that inaccessible land.
Till when the ties loosen,
All but the ties eternal, Time and Space,
Nor darkness, gravitation, sense, nor any bounds bounding us.
Then we burst forth, we float,
In Time and Space O soul, prepared for them,
Equal, equipt at last, (O joy! O fruit of all!) them to fulfil O soul.
Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass
When you turn the corner
And you run into yourself
Then you know that you have turned
All the corners that are left
Camilla Fallon, Arch, 2019, Oil on canvas, 40 x 50 inches
Camilla Fallon lives and works in NYC and shows in scattered venues around the city.