With Crown’d, Leaf And Signal presents a collection of artistic responses to the coronavirus pandemic and quarantine from a variety of Charlottesville-based artists.
Since the coronavirus pandemic started in early March, people have been forced to change every aspect of their daily lives drastically. Some professions have not been able to work during this time, and most people have been forced to take up their new free time with other activities.
With everyone living through such a global event, it’s no surprise that people are processing this in unique ways. For Virginia’s independent artists, the coronavirus has sometimes provided the inspiration to take their “collective trauma” and turn it into their latest work of art.
For nine Charlottesville-based artists, coming together to donate their quarantine-inspired pieces was their way of contributing to the collective effort of finding a more positive outlook during the ongoing pandemic. The result was a book called Crown’d, released by Charlottesville’s Leaf And Signal last month. For editor and contributing artist Warren Craghead, bringing artists together in a time of social separation was the goal.
“Most of my work is trying and making zine and books,” said Craghead. “I work in a lot of the old comics world. So when this [pandemic] started happening, my first thought was, ‘Well, let’s make a book about this.’”
Finding independent artists to contribute their work to a publication was going to be a little challenging, but Craghead was already ahead of the game. Having already worked with local artists for his other small publications, he knew exactly where to go first.
“A few years ago, I had done a few books like this with Charlottesville artists,” he said. “I invited all these artists, they sent me bits about the summer, and we made a cheaply printed book that was inexpensive to sell. For this one, I thought, ‘Let me dust this off and try this kind of project again.’ So I sent out an email that went out to all these artists in town, and had them forward it to other people. And the idea was just to make people who were making work [during quarantine] to get it together in one format.”
“I’ve been doing photography since high school, and went and made it about half way through my residency program.” she said. “I was just really unhappy, and started doing photography as a job.”
The pandemic definitely affected her workload, leaving her focused primarily on freelance commercial work as other avenues dried up. It also gave her some new ideas to explore.
“I had so much motivation to create new work, and I had this yearning to channel all this fear, sleeplessness, and hopelessness I was feeling. It gave me a reason to have my camera on me at all times,” said Coker. “[Coronavirus] has given me a chance to explore different things in photography, different modalities of learning, and to try out new experiments. So when Warren emailed about this project, I jumped on it so fast. This is probably the third or fourth art book I’ve participated in. They’re so fun.”
Yoder, an abstract painter, agrees with Coker. “I was excited to contribute. I’ve worked with Warren on other collaborative projects and I love his vision. He’s great at bringing people together and this spirit of collaboration is very valuable right now, as we’re so separated from one another.”
Crown’d features artists that dabble in various mediums, including, but not limited to, painting, photography, drawings, and digital collages. Craghead had a difficult choice to determine what piece of art would make the cover, and finally chose one of Yoder’s paintings.
“I was honored!” she said of her selection for the cover. “The other artists in the zine are fantastic, and I was happy just to be included.”
Finding inspiration while stuck inside the house can be challenging. For Coker, that inspiration came from her children.
“I saw that [my kids] were feeling so disconnected from their peers and from their school, that they were reconnecting with nature and with the environment when they would play outside,” she said. “They’re used to me having the camera around, so I didn’t feel like I was sneaking up on them, they were just there and ignoring me. That gave me the opportunity to show what they were really feeling.”
Yoder notes that her work has been inspired by illustrations and cartoons. “Color is so important to me because it can communicate so much. I believe in improvisation but within a strong structure,” she explained. “It’s the best way to work freely, which can sound counter-intuitive. I really want to create a body work that is joyous and open. If people are drawn in by color and shape, and feel invited to stay and make associations and think playfully, then it’s successful.”
Although a lot of artwork involves color, Craghead made it clear that the images would be filtered black and white for a less expensive final book. Beyond that, he left their contributions up to the artists. “I was open to anything they did,” he said. “I was much less an editor and more of a collector of the work.”
While already knowing a variety of artists in the field, Craghead mentions how important it is to keep branching out and include new talent with each new publication. He plans to continue the theme of Crown’d for at least one more.
“I do plan on doing another one of these around COVID,” he said. “Sending out the same call for people in the Charlottesville area, but hopefully new people as well. It’s a particular delight to find artists and artists I don’t know.”
For Craghead, it’s important to capture the way all people, including artists, are processing the unprecedented reality we’ve found ourselves in.
“This is a historical world event that we are all living through,” he said. “I feel like we have to pay attention to it as best as we can, while also trying to survive. I know that cultural workers and artists of all kinds — musicians, dancers, artists — do a really great job of articulating different ways of understanding, coping, and processing these kinds of experiences.”
When asked if they’d like to contribute more work to future publications, Yoder and Coker both answered positively.
“Yes, absolutely. Projects like this connect artists to each other,” Yoder said. “Especially to those whose work you believe is very different from your own. When brought together, you often realize that you’re actually speaking the same language, just with a different accent.”
“I’m so excited about this project, because I admire all of these artists, so just to be able to collaborate like this, at a time when you’re not allowed around many other people, has been quite an honor,” Coker explained. “I hope we’ll be able to do it again.”
Crown’d is currently available from Leaf And Signal as a free PDF, available for download or to read for free at their website. A print edition is forthcoming.
Top Photo by Courtney Coker, from Crown’d