Local artists find enforced solitude frustrating, productive

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

For many of us, the enforced solitude of the coronavirus lockdown has been a trial. Even if you're able to work at home, there's still the strange quality of being out of touch with colleagues and trapped in your domestic environment.

But for artists? Do the limitations of sheltering in place weigh as heavily on a profession that, for the most part, is solitary by nature?

The Detroit News surveyed a group of highly productive Detroit artists to see how the current crisis has affected their work and rhythms. Here are their responses.

Hubert Massey

Massey is perhaps best known for his large-scale murals around Detroit, including the 2018 "Detroit: Crossroads of Innovation" in the TCF (formerly Cobo) Center. Last year he restored a mural on the east wall of downtown's Foundation Hotel originally created by the dean of Detroit artists, Charles McGee.

Artist and muralist Hubert Massey is lucky -- he's creating a prototype of an obelisk for a public-art project, which he can easily do at home.

"I’m doing pretty good. I’m up here trying to work on an obelisk that I’m designing as a piece of public art. So I’m doing a prototype, and we’ve got to get that all painted up.

"I been self-employed for almost 30 years. So working at home really hasn’t changed that much for me per se. But I guess if I had a 9-5 job, that would be a hard adjustment to make.

"These days it’s just getting materials that slows things down. So now instead of just going to the store to pick them up, I have to order online. When you get to the store, they just hand you the materials while wearing rubber gloves and the mask. It’s a little different."

Scott Hocking

Hocking's work mostly focuses on striking, site-specific installations, which he documents with photography. Among other projects, he built a huge ziggurat in the old Fisher Body No. 23 plant, as well as a giant egg constructed from pieces of broken plaster in Detroit's Michigan Central Depot.

Scott Hocking constructed "Ziggurat and Fisher Body 21, 2007-2009" in an abandoned auto plant.

"I was on vacation in the Dominican Republic with my girlfriend from March 10 - 16, so everything was ramping up to crazy-time while we were out of town.  I've been 'self-quarantining' since our flight back, beginning March 17, so going on 2 weeks now. 

"For me, things are not that different than any other time in my life, in that I'm *always* self-quarantining for projects.  I'm used to working alone, my studio is also where I live, and I'm actually catching up on a ton of things because all of my upcoming project deadlines have been idled and postponed. 

"I've also been getting out into nature, walking, hiking, and revisiting some of the old abandoned building haunts that I haven't had time to visit in years.  Honestly, the biggest hurdle for me has been getting food! 

"Like most artists, working alone and being isolated is part of the job, so I'm doing just fine. I can read and do research for upcoming projects, edit, scan and organize photographs, update my website, and in general make headway on my to-do list. I wouldn't call it 'jail.' It's more like an Artist Residency in Detroit."

Nicole Macdonald

Macdonald works in many genres, though her large-scale portraits of significant Detroiters  -- often filling up windows in empty buildings -- number among her most-visible creations.

Detroit muralist Nicole Macdonald is working on her sketch for a DIA community mural in Lake Orion.

"Being locked up is not good for me - I'm sort of a news junkie by nature and now it's just a steady stream of everything you didn't want to know about the virus (but were afraid to ask).

"Plus I was planning on doing a mural in Italy this fall (looked likely) and so not only is that off, but I'm completely consumed in what is going on there and it's just devastating.

"I've been working on finalizing renditions for different murals that were supposed to start soon. The first was for a wall in Southwest Detroit by Honeybee Market on Bagley Street in commemoration of (local resident) Francisco Panchito, I finished the color drawing and some details on the mural.

"Also, sketches for the next Detroit Institute of Arts community arts mural in Lake Orion. It will be 150 feet feet wide! The theme was dragons, because they have 'dragons on the lake' boat races."

Iris Eichenberg

Eichenberg is artist-in-residence for metalsmithing at the Cranbroook Academy of Art, and works in a variety of sculptural media, from jewelry to installation pieces.

This recent piece by Cranbrook artist-in-residence Iris Eichenberg is part of her "It Is Getting Darker Series." Other work was supposed to be exhibited this spring in Valencia, Spain, and Athens - but both shows have now been canceled.

"I always wished somebody would put me under house arrest , so I would have an excuse to not engage with the world for a while. Well, here we are.

"Making my own cloth has always been my therapy, so I am knitting and sewing.

"There is a piece which should have been in a show in Munich. I took it apart and right now I am on the third version of it. I am full of plans and action, and an hour later go and take a nap. Great ideas from the night before scare me the next morning.

"How wonderful are normal, boring working days! I knew that but feel it even more so now."

Darcel Deneau

Deneau has carved out a unique niche, creating vivid Detroit landscapes with glass mosaic. The artist likes to think of it as "painting with glass." Unfortunately, as she notes, the lockdown has gotten in the way of most of her creative pursuits.

A recent city portrait by Darcel Deneau, made entirely from glass. The artist says she's not able to work at home during the lockdown.

"I haven’t been able to do much art because my family needs me to babysit while they work from their makeshift home offices.

"I have two grandsons whom I have most of the day, and bringing some glass home to try to get work done isn’t so practical. The only recent creative project we did was constructing a playhouse out of Ikea boxes."


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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy