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We’ve gone through many stages since mid-March. There have been the emotional stages, ranging from optimism to raging anger. Then, there are the times we're trying to stay busy and productive after realizing self-care just isn't doing anything for us. All of this has an impact on the creative process, and for artists who depend on their creativity to do their job, this has been quite a time for them.
I spoke with three artists about how they’ve been coping during quarantine and how they’re using this time to create for good.
Mattaya Fitts’ Instagram is filled with beautiful murals and painted canvases showing off her colorful skills. The focus of most of her work is Black women, usually placing them in the midst of bright colors and mystical settings.
Fitts started her arts education in college and initially thought about going into photography or fashion. After what she says was an identity crisis, she had a change of heart and ended up graduating school with a painting degree. "Even up to that point, I wasn't doing anything professionally. And it's weird, but I didn't even really consider myself an artist," she says. She started making art professionally about a year after she graduated college. Raised in Dorchester, Fitts began her career using pencils and acrylic paints but has since incorporated spray paint into her work. With this new element in her toolkit, her work has gotten significantly bigger in size and her interest in murals grew.
Fitts had just finished an artist residency in Wellesley when COVID-19 hit the nation, forcing everyone inside their homes. With so much happening outside her door, she took a creative break, she says. Then, the protests spurred from George Floyd’s death started. After feeling a bit overwhelmed, she jumped back into work that she says speaks to what is going on now and can bring positivity. “I’m just trying to be patient with myself. Not beating myself for not making all the work I think I should be making,” she says.
Take one scroll through Mia Cross’ Instagram page and you’ll see stunning oil paintings. Most of the images are tight, close-up paintings of people, or an occasional acrylic piece or large mural. "Sometimes I feel like I'm just a studio, oil-on-canvas person, but then I'll spend as much time doing murals," Cross says. "I would categorize my work as figurative work as well as abstracted color study work. It's all tied up in color and narrative and drawing."
She says she considered herself an artist at age five, remembering that time as when she started to love drawing and painting. Now she is doing commissions, painting murals and even creating public art on electrical boxes around Boston.
Before the pandemic, Cross says she had plans to get married in May. She blocked off time to work on her wedding dress and do a bunch of DIY projects for the event. But when the pandemic eventually hit, she had to delay the wedding. Because of her newfound free time, she started making masks and caps for nurses. She was also working on commissions she had received, but says she decided to take it easy. After the Black Lives Matter protests started in May, she began auctioning off pieces of her work on Instagram, with a portion of the money made donated to the Black Lives Matter organization. “I’m giving myself the time and space to digest what’s going on,” she says. “I’m trying to find where I can be most useful and give back.”
Looking at Valerie Imparato’s Instagram feed, it’s hard to miss the mix of acrylic painted portraits or cool, colorful fiber art. Most of her work features Black women in many forms: close-up portraits, women doing menial tasks, women sitting. Originally from Haiti, Imparato is now based in Boston. She recalls painting with her mother as a child. Her interest grew from there with the encouragement of her teachers. "I didn't know that there were people who did art full-time, but it was something that was fostered as an outlet and something that in my house you did because it made you happy," Imparato says. "Creating was part of the human experience, even if it wasn't encouraged as a career aspiration."
After college, she decided to take another route — law school. Imparato says she had sleeping issues while she was in law school and painting helped her cope. She started painting on a regular basis, filling her tiny Cambridge apartment with her work. To offload the growing collection, she decided to start showing and selling her pieces. Fast forward to a few years later and she is both a practicing lawyer and an artist.
When she started working from home in March, she says her schedule became more flexible, therefore increasing her creativity. “Whenever I feel the impulse to create, I already have my material surrounding me,” she says. And when the Black Lives Matter protests started, she says she felt both desire and pressure to create something. It stunted her for a little while and it was difficult to create during that time, but she found joy in creating as a form of protest. “I was trying too hard to figure out what to do that meant enough,” she says. “Once I let go of that and realized my survival was a form of protest, my ability to create, my desire to create Black women, in particular, was enough.”
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