Queer Femmes Respond – Liz Nania on Art During the Pandemic

Back in May, Liz very kindly dropped by to talk about public speaking and her response to the pandemic; and I’m so honored to have her back again today!

Deep gratitude to Liz for her dedication to art and soul, for sharing her most recent Speaker Sisterhood words with us, and for responding with such nuance, vulnerability, and love to the times we live in now. And for sharing pages from her sketchbooks! Breathtaking!

Do you have something in your life that’s just for you; something you do on your own that feeds you, maybe keeps you sane, or possibly just fascinates you? And do you find yourself, during COVID-19, fighting yourself to do that thing?

For me, that’s my art-making. I’ve made art continuously since I was little. As a kid, I’d come home from school and hunker down with some crayons, glue, paper, toilet paper rolls, whatever was handy to make something with. As a teen, a time of turmoil for so many of us, the high school art room was my sanctuary. After school I’d go home and embroider one of my drawings onto my denim shirt, or crochet a really ugly sweater vest with long, tangled fringe. In my senior year, after filling out college applications for art school behind my father’s back, I managed to get a scholarship to the art program at Boston University. Four years later I became an art teacher in elementary schools, then in junior high, and then with adults.

Eventually my career as an art teacher ended, but I continued making art for myself. There were many years of painting, then designing metal and rhinestone jewelry and tiaras, which became a small business for several years. Now my primary art mediums are painting with wax and mixed media, and also fiber art, where I make collages using vintage textiles and embroidery.

Of course, there are always side avenues to tempt me. For a couple years, I’ve been fascinated with books, especially making books by hand. And that seems to be my most guilty art pleasure of all! As a productivity junkie, this one really trips my alarm system. These books I make become sketchbooks, and I fill them with little paintings, notes, sketches for future projects, or collages; but mostly, just abstract colored ink paintings, totally spontaneous, completely intuitive, made without one bit of forethought or any plan at all. Page after page of loose, slightly landscapish paintings in a hand bound book, that no one will ever see. It’s very easy for me to do. It takes no planning. In fact, the ease of it sometimes makes me uncomfortable: am I a lazy artist? Am I not challenging myself?

Since COVID emerged in March, I feel absolutely exhausted at the thought of starting a big painting or a month-long fiber art collage, the stuff I usually love doing, (and also work I feel “justifies” having my art studio space.) In daily life, and in the art studio, I often feel like I’m slogging through two feet of water; life just takes more effort. Lately, all the art I can manage to do is make sketchbooks and fill them up.

Meanwhile, my Productivity Demon goes absolutely batshit. He screams, “What a waste of time! You have a beautiful art studio, and all you want to do is doodle with colored inks at your desk! No one will ever see them! They’re not even good art! And making your own sketchbooks? Cutting all those pages, figuring out how to painstakingly stitch them together, making the covers, hours of technical labor that you’re not very good at, and so SLOW! Who CARES? For godsake, you could buy a blank sketchbook in a minute, like you used to do, and be done with it!”

My Productivity Demon is the brother of “The Art Committee”. The Art Committee always has tons of helpful criticism while I’m making art, trying to dissuade me from ever enjoying or appreciating my work. They’re relentless and sneaky. And mean! They work devilishly hard to suck every ounce of joy right out of anything I do on my own, anything that’s only purpose is actually, joy. And play. They tell me, if you think you’re a serious artist, then you know the only Real Art is work you can exhibit or sell. Huh, that’s a good one, because it’s COVID-19, and nobody’s actually buying art. But that doesn’t stop the Productivity Demon!

So I get derailed, and I try to direct my art attention towards other things, anything but filling up sketchbooks with private paintings. I’ve got a long to-do list! And we’re in a pandemic, and I’m unemployed, and now my career is in jeopardy, and I’ve been taking care of my mom which is a challenge, and we’re on the brink of an election which could extend the reign of an ignorant fascist who is hurting and killing people, and running our country into the ground. This is a lot.

Suddenly, talking about my art feels trivial. Our country is in crisis. And, so is my little world. So, for me to keep my head above water and connect to peace and happiness on any ordinary day, I’m drawn to the little things; the latte my husbutch, Sandy, makes me every morning – the blue jays and cardinals we know by sight, and have named, who come to our railing for their breakfast and dinner; hot days at the beach – online concerts – neighborhood walks and bike rides, and occasional backyard visits with local friends on weekends. And making little books, personal and intimate art, never to be seen or judged or sent into the marketplace. Just small wonky books filled with notes and paintings of inner landscapes, my own personal inner landscape of the moment. I still don’t know exactly why I make them. But I’ll sit down at my desk with my mixed feelings, the Art Committee and the Productivity Demon hissing from their perches in my brain, and I’ll grab a paintbrush and just dip it into the ink.

About her art, Liz says: Much of my painting is abstract, but I do create some representational work, too. My art explores love, time, celebration, being a woman and a lesbian, social commentary, and other things dear to my heart. And my textile art is unapologetically feminine; it’s even more girly than I am!

See Liz Nania’s work: www.liznania.com, and on Instagram at liz_nania_art.   

Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme goddess. I want to feature you! Write to me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com and let me shine a spotlight on your beautiful, unique, femme story! If you’ve written a femme story or poem or song, oh, please let me post it!

 New Femme Friday feature starting spring 2020: Queer Femmes Respond. Are you reading more poetry? Are you navigating various technologies in order to see your folx and not be so isolated? Are you still going out to work? Are you able to get out for walks? Who’s home with you? We queer femmes are meeting these unsettling times with queer femme panache, and I want to hear about it! Along the lines of the Corona Letters over at the Sewanee Review, please send in what you’re doing, how you’re staying centered and sane! Write me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com with questions or ideas or a full-on post (with bio, if possible)!

At the Total Femme, my intention is to post three times a week: Meditations for Queer Femmes on Monday, Pingy-Dingy Wednesday on Wednesday and Femme Friday on Friday. Rather than play catch-up in a stressful fashion on those weeks when life prevents posting, I have decided to just move gaily forward: if I miss a Monday, the next post will be on Wednesday, and so on. Thank you, little bottle of antibiotics for inspiring me in this! (“…if it’s almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Don’t take a double dose to make up for a missed one.”) As I recover from treatment for breast cancer, however, I’m just going to post whenever I can manage.

Published in: on September 11, 2020 at 11:34 AM  Leave a Comment  
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