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‘Created in Quarantine’

Art exhibit highlights another side of pandemic life

When the coronavirus upended life as we knew it, it was inevitable that art would begin to imitate life.

The Isle of Wight Art League’s ongoing exhibit, “Created in COVID-19 Quarantine,” shows what 30 artists from around the region did when pre-coronavirus life screeched to a halt.

Perhaps no piece in the exhibit better embodies how strange things became than Diane Greenhalgh’s “In the Pink.” The oil on canvas painting created from still life depicts something that became a hot commodity — a roll of toilet paper, its end askew set against a cheerful pink background with hearts.

“It got crazy there for a while and you started to panic when you couldn’t find any, and that’s why I thought to do the painting of the toilet paper,” Greenhalgh said. “It just seemed like a fun thing to do.” She said the inspiration for the painting was to bring a bit of levity to an otherwise serious situation.

“Finding toilet paper in the stores during the first few months of the pandemic was like striking gold,” Greenhalgh said. “I considered naming the painting “Precious And Few” but ended up going with the original title, “In The Pink.”

On March 18, in accordance with state mandates, the league closed to the public. But behind closed doors, the resident artists were still at work. The exhibit “Created in COVID-19 Quarantine” opened July 15 and continues through Aug. 15 at the Arts Center @ 319, located at 319 Main St. in Smithfield.

“When I saw her working on that and she posted some progress shots on Facebook, I said ‘That is too funny,’” said Sheila Gwaltney, the arts center’s director. “I started thinking about all the artists who were working and thought that would make a cool show.”

“We had a short period of time for the call for artists. We put it out to our membership and we weren’t really sure what we’d be getting, but we had 30 artists respond, and it turned out to be a pretty big show. I’ve got nearly 80 individual items,” Gwaltney said.

The artists featured in the exhibit are mostly from in and around Smithfield, and the exhibit includes all types of items, ranging from paintings to jewelry and small sculptures.

After the arts center reopened to the public, Gwaltney said the response to the exhibit has been positive. The league has worked to create a safe, socially distanced environment to enjoy the gallery by placing some pieces under glass and implementing other measures to facilitate a safe, healthy environment.

Greenhalgh also created a couple other pieces on exhibit. “Peonies” depicts pink flowers and “Cat And Mouse,” which features a black and white feline. For her and many other creatives, art doesn’t just imitate life — it’s a livelihood. “In the Pink” is sold, but the cat painting was still for sale as of late last week.

“I started painting before high school, I went to art college, so it’s been most of my life,” Greenhalgh said. She also worked as a graphic artist for nearly 20 years at two newspapers.

In a sense, the pandemic is a paradox.

“I’ve found that I’ve become a little more creative during the pandemic for some reason,” she continued. “I don’t know whether it’s because there’s more time, there’s not the stress of having to get to this appointment and that appointment and things like that. … Of course there’s worry, but (the shutdown) also gives you a lot of time to reflect on things.”