Art in small places


Dear Artist,

Last Sunday, in a shock of re-entry, two visitors came to the studio — the first in six weeks. They arrived at the door wearing masks, and we introduced ourselves for the first time with what felt like both a momentous and unsatisfying wave, from six-feet apart. I resisted the urge to embrace them properly. I did my best to show them what their presence meant to me. My visitors seemed weary of the protocol and sat down amongst the paintings I’d been working on at my new, yogi-like pace. We discussed the immediate future of the art world before talking about painting. Our visit was tinged with a calm and realism about the unknowns that face our special ecosystem. After an hour, we thanked each other and they got into their cars and drove away.

Self-portrait, 2017 Flashe on canvas 48 inches by GIovanni Garcia-Fenech (b. 1967)

Self-portrait, 2017
Flashe on canvas
48 inches diameter
by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech (b. 1967)

Alone again, I remembered what I had forgotten — the fuel of keen hearts and curiosity for that which is otherwise a completely private quest. Like the paintings in the world’s currently shuttered museums, artists have been isolated in their rooms to exist without their audience, many of them to a perilous edge — we painters are practically unscathed in comparison to those in the performing and collaborative arts. For that hour, I once again felt connected to a community that bolsters itself with shared aesthetic experience — an ever-broadening pack of what my Dad used to affectionately call, “tail-waggers.” I wagged my tail over to my wet brushes and returned to work.

In New York gallerist Magda Sawon’s recent op-ed about how her tiny gallery will come out of this alive, she ruminates on the sudden benefit to being small. “There will be a revolution,” she writes. “Art fairs will be dead for a long, long time, maybe forever.” She describes a redefined gallery culture based on adaptation and flexibility. “At the moment, oversized, shiny vessels control the spotlight. They have the resources and the PR apparatus. But in the end, it is little sailing boats that can best navigate choppy waters.”

Self-portrait with Two Problems I, 2015 Acrylic on canvas 60 × 60 inches by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech

Self-portrait with Two Problems I, 2015
Acrylic on canvas
60 × 60 inches
by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech

Magda amplifies the notion that no matter how slick and convincing our digital lives may become, art will always need to be seen in real spaces, “to deliver a full spectrum of contemplative experience.” This, from a gallerist who has long-spotlighted screen-based and media art. “Galleries — which are by definition local, low-density environments —will be allowed to open their doors first. And people starving for non-virtual encounters will come. As theaters and other performing-art spaces have to reconsider their very structures to serve audiences safely, galleries will be able to reopen without too much change.”



PS: “The current virus may well be the equivalent of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. Because sometimes, the system has to be destroyed in order to be liberated — and to make room for evolution.” (Magda Sawon)

Self-portrait, 2016 Acrylic on canvas 24 inches diameter by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech

Self-portrait, 2016
Acrylic on canvas
24 inches diameter
by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech

Esoterica: An artist friend has coined this period, “The Introvert’s Delight.” In reality, we are straddling the realms of contemplative, undisturbed creative solitude and the vibrating community of makers and audiences that complete and realize our work. We are also lumping along without the ability to stalk our own heroes in the world’s galleries and museums. I am imagining the day when all of us are able to re-enter our cultural spaces, to top-up our depleted spiritual gas tanks. Like a holy communion, art in the flesh — and sharing it with others — will once again restore meaning and recalibrate the soul.

I wish each and every one of you well during this global health crisis and encourage you to flatten the curve by staying at home with your creative materials. I hope our Painter’s Keys community can be a source of friendship and creative inspiration during this time and always.
In friendship, Sara 

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Untitled, 2013 acrylic on canvas 48 x 48 inches by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech

Untitled, 2013
Acrylic on canvas
48 x 48 inches
by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech

“The health and vitality of art is exclusively dependent on the bottom of the food chain. It relies first and foremost on the artists, who reflect on the world and the time we live in, and secondarily, on institutions, organizations, and galleries that have the passion and foresight to support them.” (Magda Sawon)







  1. I’m great with isolation–a natural state for me! I’m getting so much painting and writing done. However, I’m a curator/show organizer, as well and put together a recent virtual show on Facebook called Artists Drawing Artists (each participant assigned one of the others to create a portrait) that was a smashing success! 21 artists participated, putting their idle hands to work. And the show was hugely liked and discussed on the Facebook forum. And, presently, I have 35 artists gearing up to produce a work using a chosen theme from my challenge of an FB show titled, 15 Reason to Live. I’m pumped and looking forward to seeing the results. Adapt, folks, adapt!

  2. Sarah, as usual, your letter is so perfectly timed to my inner musings. Magda’s quote “Galleries — which are by definition local, low-density environments —will be allowed to open their doors first. And people starving for non-virtual encounters will come….” is about where I am at the moment, trying to figure out how the heck I will be able to move people through the gallery rooms and maintain physical distances. I have 2-4 weeks yet to sort it out. It may mean only one room will be open. It may mean “by appoint” for most of the time. In between sorting out these puzzles I paint, purchase an art box for a large newly sold painting that will need to be shipped rather than personally delivered, do the prep for a European requested corporate commission and scout out more canvases and paints because some of my usual suppliers are still unable to respond to online requests. My gallery is small, local and in a low-density environment with online global fans and art collectors. I have been presenting and selling my work online for over ten years. Yet, for the life of me, I have no idea what my painting or my art business will look like six months, a year, eighteen months or two years from now! What I have been doing seems to fit with this new pandemic normal but I am pretty sure that what was my unique edge in a mix of online gallery space and a small physical gallery space is going to have a lot more competition. So what next? How am I going to create something the allows my work to step beyond the chaos and lead us into our reinvented future? One year from now? Five years from now? Ten or even twenty years from now?

  3. Great insights!
    And obvious that you, and your expected audience, live in a populated area with culture: “We are also lumping along without the ability to stalk our own heroes in the world’s galleries and museums. I am imagining the day when all of us are able to re-enter our cultural spaces, to top-up our depleted spiritual gas tanks.” Here in the rural north, nothing has changed. There are few cultural spaces, and certainly not within several hours drive. There is no access to any art museums, unless online (or travelling). Here, it’s culturally the “same old, same old” way of doing things. Be thankful you have cultural spaces to go back to, to top-up your spiritual gas tanks. ;)

  4. Thank you for this post. We’re by far not out of the woods with the virus here, and on top of it, I’m moving…

    But I disagree with you about art fairs. I’ve thought a lot about this. What will carry them -and the galleries, although to a lesser degree – is the entertainment value. I believe, from my observations in my own booth, that most people do not come to an art fair to buy art, certainly not high-end art. They may come with $100 in their pocket, but mostly they come to have a lovely day strolling among pretty things, listening to the music, enjoying the sunshine, getting food, and maybe a beer. That may set you up for online sales later, but the entertainment is the thing. Galleries face the same phenomenon: local people have a bevy of out of town guests, and how do they give them something to do if there’s not an art fair in town? They go to galleries. I’ve done it myself, and in my co-op gallery, we see this all the time. That won’t change. What will change is the actual SALES location. And I think that will migrate to some degree to online.

    What this is also going to shake up is price structure for middle- and less expensive art. Focus will be on lower prices. Not that we should lower ours, but maybe lower the size or whatever. Give them alternatives.

    Good luck, everyone.

  5. Want to “top up” your fuel….go to pinterest and look up some of your favorite art media….human creativity is boundless and incredibly inspiring….overwhelming actually….I sometimes overload at sublime images of what other artists are creating….or simply go outside and enjoy the beauty of nature….or the symmetry of machinery/architecture/old phone lines….creative juice is everywhere! Be grateful for your sight and talent and use this “down” time to its full potential.

  6. Thank you for this. I am actually enjoying my time here, as I am holed up in my studio making things. I edit a newsletter, which is underway. This issue will focus on our members who are making things now. But I’m also reading, knitting, cooking real yummy things, and walking in my rural neighborhood. I call myself a ‘Buddhist-Presbyterian.” At the beginning of this seclusion, the meditative time was wonderful, feeding the fish in my little pond and watching the garden emerge. But the Presbyterian work ethic has returned and I am busy in my studio. I have called myself a compulsive maker of things (CMT) for many years, so I am enjoying watching the baby sweaters, the face masks from quilting fabric, the loaves of homemade bread and most of all, the artist’s books that are my primary focus these days, emerge from my hands. Thank you so much for this posting, and for all your wonderful tales.

  7. i really miss the museums. The virtual galleries are nice—but iteracting with the artwork in person, to see the size and the modeling and the structure is part of each piece. I have the luxury of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston within a two hour drive—I always go by to see some of my favorite pieces—like saying hello and visiting with a longtime friend. And each time, they have something a little different to say.

  8. Artists will have to devise ways to sell during these trying times. The art fair artists will lose a large part of their in come.
    Art fairs and festivals are good for people to meet and acquire from the artist in person. On line sales are impersonal, the exception being if the artist has a previous connection to the buyer.

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Up to the Mark: 2.5 Day Abstract Intensive with Emphasis on Mark Making in Santa Fe, NM with Julie Schumer and James Koskinas
May 1, 2020 to May 3, 2020


Experience beautiful early spring in Santa Fe, NM.  Develop your own unique marks and painting vocabulary in this 2 1/2 day abstract acrylic workshop.


We will work on paper, and for those who like, unstretched canvas, using conventional and unconventional mark making tools and drawing media.  Via guided exercises you will practice a variety of marks and learn how to create a work rich with history and depth through the process of layering these marks with acrylic paint.


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