This week’s contributing blogger, Linda Serrone Rolon, is an artist with a background in fine arts and conservation framing. Born and raised in the boroughs of New York City, she now lives with her family in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.
This past August, I was excited to find out that one of my paintings was chosen to be included in a salon show called the “Beauty of Friends Coming Together,” part of the larger “Come Together: Surviving Sandy” exhibition mounted in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, from October 20 – December 15, 2013. As a show that highlighted the devastating loss and incredible recovery the NYC art community experienced in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it made sense for me to get involved: my art, my family, my studio and my home (all in the same place) were deeply effected by the storm. My involvement in the exhibition eventually led me to take part in the oral history video project directed by VoCA, where an art conservator interviewed me about my personal experience. After meeting with VoCA Executive Director Lauren Shadford Breismeister and giving my interview, she invited me to be a part of a panel discussion called “Damaged Artwork and Hurricane Sandy: The Artist’s Experience” along with two other artists, Rachel Beach and Diana Cooper, gallerist Magda Sawon, and conservator Beth Nunan.
From the moment I joined the panel and agreed to talk about Hurricane Sandy and its effect on the process and progression of my work, I was honored, but also hesitant. It was not only my art and workspace that were destroyed, but my home as well; I had just bought a house with my husband and son two weeks prior to the storm, so Sandy became a huge part of our new lives together as a family. This experience was (and continues to be) so trying on my spirit and my daily life, as can be expected when your whole world is turned upside down. As such, the storm remains a sensitive topic for me, one I will admit I was a bit nervous to address in public.
Part of the reason I believe I was asked to be part of this panel is my consistently hopeful and positive attitude; despite the trying times I have endured, I have continued to be active and optimistic. When I think of the year that has passed since the storm, I still cannot believe how much my husband and I have accomplished! But when I got to the panel and was the last to speak, I started feeling a bit shell shocked. Seeing the images from the other two artists, I realized how similar our spaces our spaces looked after the storm, Rachel Beach’s studio in particular. The way everything was flipped by the flow of the ocean… emotions began to resurface as I thought to myself ‘that was my studio, that was me.’
But the greatest difference in our experiences lay in the fact that both the other artists mentioned the generosity from people who helped out and assisted them in their immediate situation. That did not happen for me. My husband and I had to clear out and gut our huge space in Sheepshead Bay by our selves. And my work is everything to me, making the task of cleaning up the mess nothing short of tragic. My dear husband Lance did not dare touch the wet drawings that were brighter and stronger just for a moment from the salt in the water and the opened fibers of the paper. We kept finding art everywhere. It was crazy!!! But rather than lose heart, we mostly focused on getting everything out of the space and sorting through it all.
The next step was to build a ‘conservation’ station to help preserve my work, and so began my process of recovery. Having a background in fine arts and conservation framing, my gut reaction was to un-frame and un-stretch everything. And I was especially thankful I was able to save my recently purchased Costco package of paper towels because I immediately started laying sheets and sheets between layers and layers of drawings and works on paper in order to wick out excess water. I would begin my days outside under a huge plastic tarp, changing these sheets of towels. When the work seemed dry enough I placed them carefully in large plastic zip bags and brought them back inside. This was when I really started to determine what I could keep and what I had to let go.
The process of elimination needed to be quick, which meant loosing a fair amount of work, a fact that I sometimes regret. But, truly, and perhaps even surprisingly, for the most part I feel a sense of freedom and relief; the storm forced me to purge my past of study and progress and keep only what I felt was the strongest and most meaningful. I started to view the purge as a sort of new beginning. And my new mantra, inspired by someone along the way, became “water is cleansing.” And that’s what this truly was: cleansing. And, as Rachel Beach said during the panel discussion, “After Sandy, I realized: the space, the tools, the materials, I don’t need any of that. My art comes from ME. And that was truly liberating.”
I do have to say, a year later, being involved with “Surviving Sandy” – meeting such generous people, attending events such as a Sandy-centric poetry reading and an amazing interview with Phong Bui and Irving Sandler, and being a part of this panel– I feel like I have been revived, made brand new. The spirit and togetherness of it all is new to me, and something I am incredibly grateful to have been able to experience.
Before Sandy, it was always just me and my work; I was always watching the world go by. But somehow, because of this storm, and because of my participation in the VoCA panel discussion, Interview project, and other events surrounding “Come Together: Surviving Sandy,” I now feel like I am in the heart of this world, and part of something bigger than myself.
For more information regarding Linda Serrone Rolon’s work, please visit her website at lindaserronerolon.com