Story × Art: Alex Rudin
As we head into the eighth month of Covid-19, the distractions of apple picking, pumpkin carving, and outdoor dining are behind us. Lockdowns have long been lifted and social gatherings have become commonplace. The ominous inevitability of a deadly third wave looms. This guaranteed “dark winter” begs one to reflect on the early days of the pandemic. A time when fear, disinformation, and isolation plagued every household, no matter its inhabitants. 2020 has been a year of postponement, grief, isolation, and reckoning. Yet with struggle comes the opportunity for growth, change, and creation… If you let it. As Andy Warhol once said, “they always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
As a self-employed artist, uncertainty is a language I speak well. Prior to Covid-19 I spent my days in the School of Visual Arts printshop in NYC. From conceptualizing and prototyping new products for my business, Rudin Studios LLC, to fumbling around for an answer to the age-old question of “what to make,” it is clear I was lost in an artistic haze of looking for purpose. Then Coronavirus hit. Instantaneously everything turned upside down. Suddenly, I was in an unfamiliar town, without the ability to work (silkscreen), miles away from the studio I call home. I remained glued to the news awestruck by the infection and mortality rates. I racked my brain for something to do, how to help, what to make.
I became focused on those who were not as privileged as me. Those who were struggling to find housing, to feed themselves, to protect themselves from this deadly virus which was clearly and disproportionately hurting people of color. I began working on a series of paintings to be auctioned off, 100% of the proceeds going to homeless and trafficked youth in NYC. While the fundraiser was a success, I could not help but feel the conceptual aspects of the work were not important, relevant, or impactful. If I learned anything from my education at Parsons School of Design, it is that concept is king. My artwork slowly began to shift towards the idea of documentation. Buzzwords like “historical” and “unprecedented” flew across the airwaves and fueled my desire to capture and document the struggles of 2020. This was just the beginning.
Soon to follow were the atrocious murders of George Floyd, Ahmed Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, which brought racial justice to the forefront of the American conscience. While the President continuously fanned the flames of racism, the cries for equality and allyship were deafening. It was time to allow my artwork to reflect the times and struggles of our country which so deeply affected me and so many others. Black Lives Matter, and it is the white person’s responsibility to be educated allies; to use the privilege we are born into to advocate for our oppressed brothers and sisters. I wanted to help acknowledge, reflect, and correct the institutional racism that is so insidiously intertwined with our institutions and the American way of being.
Concurrently, the 2020 Presidential election was ramping up. Climate change’s incendiary winds pillaged the west. The wearing of masks became a polarizing political tool. And all the while, the current administration refused to acknowledge or accept responsibility for any of it. Rather shifting blame, denying, and lying became the governing practice. The global importance of what was taking place in the United States was apparent. Election 2020 was to be a reckoning. On the docket: racial justice, women’s rights, climate change, science, and healthcare, to name a few. A polarizing choice between Id and empathy.
For the first time in my career, my purpose seemed clear. I began making work that focused on the progression of human rights, equality, and fairness relying on my trusty formula of stylized portraiture and anecdotal commentary. I firmly believe that artists have a social responsibility to reflect the times we live in. The majority of my work has focused on uncovering and expressing truths about what it means to be a woman in 2020. However, one cannot comment on the feminine experience without addressing the current political situation and the oppression experienced by American minorities. While the Trump Administration continued to attack women’s rights, promote violence, ignore climate change, and fan the flames of racism, I relied on my creative voice to talk about the challenges we faced not only as women, but as a nation. That being said, I decided to devote my time to creating a series of posters for the 2020 election to help galvanize the female vote. This included partnering with Women for Biden Harris 2020, Women for the Win, and Article 3 among numerous other female-run organizations.
While the trials and tribulations of 2020 have forever altered the fabric of American reality, so has it altered me. A year such as this begs internal personal reflection if not metamorphosis. To find purpose, love, and empathy through the chaos of hate and violence is the silver-lining we all need. In a time where division is the name of the game, we must transcend the idea of the “other.” As the most recent Covid-19 wave surges across the country, I implore anyone with the creative impulse to say something, to do so. Pick up the pen. Document the times, the thoughts, the fears that come along with living through such tumultuousness. Follow the empathy, the creativity, and the voice inside telling you to advocate for those less fortunate. As Thomas Paine aptly stated, “The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.” If you find yourself in a place of privilege, take it upon yourself to seize the opportunity in front of you. It is not an opportunity for financial incentive or career advancement, but for internal revolution. Soon, life will “go back to normal,” but there’s nothing normal about what we have witnessed. Allow the intensity of experience to alter you. For when the time has come and gone, and you reflect upon 2020, wouldn’t it be nice to say that through all the sadness, grief, and fear a better version of yourself was uncovered?