COVID-19 hasn't affected everyone equally, nor have stay-home orders, which came to Idaho on March 25. Yet, it's not so much geography as other factors that have impacted people's behavior. For artists who need a regular job — or jobs — to sustain them, or whose ability to exhibit their work and interact with potential art supporters has been quashed, the coronavirus has been a catalyst for change.
"I'm pretty used to producing every day, so it's been really nice to have the time to really sit back and just work on things I enjoy," says Christina Villagomez, who exhibits under the name StarshipInk and co-owns Electric Age Tattoo.
Unable to tattoo until recently — many Idaho shops reopened May 16 — Villagomez went into the shutdown with a long list of ideas. Stress-related artist's block, however, was a real thing early on.
"At that point I realized that this [shutdown] is such a great opportunity to focus less on getting through a list and more on making things for fun, or at least stuff that's more instinctual."
A North Idaho native who originally pursued journalism before turning to art, Villagomez has been a regular at Emerge, La Resistance, Lilac City Comicon, Terrain's Bazaar — her candles are available at From Here, Terrain's shop in River Park Square — and the All Hallows Tattoo Expo. Her mostly figurative illustrations combine art deco, art nouveau, surrealism and high contrast graphics with sparse-yet-strong color.
Since March, Villagomez has completed around 20 new pieces, some pandemic-related like The Hermit, a faceless figure in a bright orange-yellow bodysuit and matching respirator in front of stacks of toilet paper. She also joined 100 or so other tattoo artists in contributing to The COVID Collaboration Book (available through facebook.com/COVIDCOLLAB2020)
Like Villagomez, Jake Casey is a North Idaho tattoo artist whose creative process has taken a turn since COVID became a household word.
"My ability to make a living is dependent on me being in close proximity with another person, often for hours at a time, and I'm charging an hourly rate," says Casey, a staple at Call of the Wild Tattoo.
"The consultation process would involve time face to face with a client, sometimes with some sketches done on paper, or on the person with marker."
Like many artists, he has numerous side jobs, including designing images for local clients like Bulldog Pipe & Cigar Shop + Smoking Lounge, Bee Kind Coffee Co. and Dirty Roots Farm. He also runs Intent Fitness Systems which, like tattooing, he's had to adapt during the shutdown.
"Trying to take advantage of the new paradigm, I've created some COVID-inspired art by putting a mask on a Japanese hannya mask, and putting the design on a tee," Casey says. "Masks on masks might've been strange a couple of months ago, but not now."
Both Villagomez and Casey have, like many artists, utilized social media to stay connected and build community. For example, the Art Isolation Experiment Facebook page connects Washington and Idaho artists through weekly prompts like heritage, lethargy, still life and dreamscapes. The Coeur d'Alene Art Association has done a daily word challenge.
At North Idaho Artists Facebook page, Blake Coker took a break from his commercial design and comic-inspired illustrations to post a landscape painting of a park in Post Falls.
"Being confined in body and mind can put your creativity in a chokehold," says Coker, who also works at Paint Buzz. "Oftentimes when I cannot go out and obtain new experiences, I feel like I am not actively creating new ideas based on my experiences."
Getting out in nature helped, Coker says.
"What I think is important to do as a creator is to be kind to yourself," Coker says. "You can't change what's happening so don't creatively fight against it."
Villagomez is equally philosophical.
"It's really interesting to me that this virus is something that everyone all over the world is experiencing at the same time," she says. "I feel like creating art related to the pandemic is just another way of documenting that."
She compares the impact of COVID on art to other time periods and global situations like the shift in science fiction art during the advent of the atomic bomb.
It's the art-mirrors-society argument, which for Villagomez requires a delicate balance.
"I've sort of been trying to space out my pandemic-themed pieces and using my other work as kind of a palate cleanser," she says. "It's kind of nice to 'escape' everything going on for a little bit, and then see what feels right when I'm ready to dive back into heavier subjects." ♦