Jeff Williams

Section Road, September 2020
Watercolor on Paper
11 x 14 in
2020 has been a very strange year for all. As a plein air painter, I began the year like gangbusters, being juried into every event I entered, selling work, and winning several awards. Spirits were high, and in early March I began my first road trip, driving over ten hours to my first event only to learn that the event was canceled minutes before my arrival. Shocked, I turned around and headed home, hearing more about COVID-19 and the various closures and cancellations as I traveled.

Like everyone else, I was trying to process what was going on. The stock market was dropping rapidly, government programs were being discussed constantly, news reports and updates varied daily if not with greater frequency. As they began to identify the “at-risk” population, it seemed like they were specifically identifying me. As every event and exhibition that I was part of struggled to determine what was possible, I began to see more events and exhibitions canceled, sales opportunities slipping away rapidly, and I was trying to process what was happening to friends and family in the NYC and New Jersey areas. Hearing the residents of New York City applaud the health care workers every evening literally brought tears to my eyes.

How was I to earn a living? How important is art and beauty in a world that is becoming more and more focused on basic necessities? How do I concentrate on my painting when I am not sure whether we can pay our mortgage or buy food? When will this end? Like everyone, I struggled to process all this and I became unable to concentrate on my painting. Plein air painting has always been a way for me to get totally immersed in my work, setting the outside world aside as I focus on how to communicate the place and emotions that I feel about a particular place. Being outside had always been cathartic, and painting has been my “happy place” as well as a way to earn a living.

Instinctively I knew that I needed to stay positive and keep moving forward, but I could not find a way to do that through my painting, so I began to work on many things painting-related. I tried to think of this as a gift of time and worked on documenting my work, working on my website, finding new ways to market my work, learning online skills, setting up the studio to do online teaching, applying for grants, exercising, gardening, etc. I also began posting to social media multiple artists work each day in the hope that I could help provide something positive and beautiful to those exploring social media as well as in some small way perhaps help these artists reach new followers and find new sales opportunities. I posted the work of hundreds of artists over an almost five-month period and I found that I was learning about new artists, as well as making connections with many new art lovers. I stayed very busy, but every time I tried to paint I found that I was distracted and found it difficult to focus on my paintings. As a result, I was quite dissatisfied with my work.

As the end of August neared, I decided I needed to push myself past this by challenging myself to paint every day. Each day I ventured out to find something new to paint, and while this had to be done within the limitations of the pandemic, I was able to explore in isolation many areas nearby. Step by step I began to find myself in my paintings again. I have always tried to be a very optimistic person, and I am very glad to report that I feel like a new person again (or perhaps, my old self)! As that has occurred, my painting quality has returned and several commissions have come along, as have other successes in the art world! Through these paintings of simple, local places that are often passed by and never thought about, I have found a beauty around myself that has inspired me and I hope inspires others.

This particular painting was done about a week ago on a lonely section of road only a few miles from my home. Where is the road leading? It certainly has its ups and downs, and in spite of a virus meandering through our culture and environmental issues affecting us regularly, there is a resilient, meandering landscape that stretches out before us. I like to imagine myself somewhere out in that landscape, enjoying the cooler air that is coming and the sounds of nature that surround me as I explore my way forward, acutely aware of the beauty that surrounds me. It is my sincere hope that paintings like these can help others find their way in these unfamiliar times as well…