The Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, in partnership with the UGA Graduate School, UGA Arts Council, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and Flagpole magazine, has awarded 34 micro-fellowships in its Shelter Projects program. The $500 fellowships support graduate students and community-based artists and practitioners in the creation of shareable reflections on their experience of the current pandemic through the arts and humanities.
Artist Statement by Terry Rowlett: The Wilson Center’s project to document through art the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic plague seemed fitting for my concerns and methods of expressing myself artistically. As some know, my paintings often reflect on the tenor of the times, and often the zeitgeist of Athens itself.
I’ve personally been toiling in a vegetable garden and fruit orchard that I planted this spring due to my concerns of the coronavirus. That is what led me to paint the image of the skeletal reaper in the orchard picking the last good pear! It seems to me an appropriate image with historical symbolic echoes to document our current times.
Flagpole: Tell us about your vegetable garden and fruit orchard! What role has gardening served in your personal life during the pandemic?
Terry Rowlett: The vegetable garden is mainly over now. I’ve recently started pulling up spent plants and started returning much of the garden area to grass and yard once again. During the pandemic, however, the garden served less as a food resource than as a helpful diversion from the summer worries. Its need for constant upkeep, and also the many hours of pleasurable visual delight, help immensely. The new orchard produced one apple, one pear and half a dozen plums—not too bountiful, but at least the trees are in and now on their second year.
Flagpole: When I look at this painting, I see Death almost innocently reaching out for that last good pear, as if simply fulfilling its own destiny or role within the larger order of the universe. Who or what does the Reaper represent to you within your painting?
TR: Basically, you stated it well—death comes to all living things, even to us and our friends. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened our sense of our own vulnerability to death—of our own premature death before our “natural” due date—and this is why I chose the traditional image of the reaping skeleton to illustrate our fears of dying during this plague.
Flagpole: Have you been working on any other paintings during this time that are inspired by the pandemic? Would you like to share any progress shots with us?
TR: Yes, the painting of the lone gardener has almost resolved itself. The female gardener, Cheryl Washburn, seems to have an inwards expression on her face, possibly many serious thoughts as she she plows forth with her task at hand. Also, the painting of the three monks has this same feeling of inward contemplation as the monks make their way across the canvas, complete with eerie, firey red sky and mysterious dark foliage.
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