Drawing in the Age of the Corona-Virus

A big part of every painter’s studies involves drawing on paper, lots of it. Ideas begin as a drawing evolves and generates additions, modifications and erasures, seeing the whole and the parts. And during this stay-in time of the corona-virus, we have had plenty of time on our hands to draw. A few days ago, as I was reviewing my saved and uncompleted drawings on paper made over the past ten years, I saw this life drawing that I began in an experimental drawing class in 2010. It was unfinished, but a good start.

“RLM MyLM”, Charcoal, ink and watercolor on paper, 24″ x 18″, Thom Wright, 2010 – 2020

Shown above, I first continued the drawing by strengthening the charcoal lines, then added a light-valued ink wash, followed by some blue washes to increase the 3D modeling on the figures and the background. On the two mailing labels that were already there, I added text, “RLM” on the robot figure and “MyLM” on the male figure on the right, with these new symbols referring obliquely to the present rise of the “Black Lives Matter” movement and BLM political protests against police brutality and particularly to their recent shootings of Black Americans. Applying this language here, the RLM stands for “Robot Lives Matter”, and “MyLM” stands for “My Life Matters”. This drawing addresses this coming future crisis when a large percentage of human jobs are replaced by robot jobs. This is an issue of global magnitude and about what may happen to the economic value of human life versus the benefits of smart robots. Just as in today’s corona-virus crisis, the US economy suddenly closed down, and the unemployment rate sank from about 4% to today’s 16%, how do that many unemployed people cope with life for what may last for an economic recovery that takes years.

When I began this drawing, I remembered my direction at the time concerned the political/social issue of the coming age of robots, when machines will do most of the physical labor and who knows how much of the mental labor. Technology is driving our future towards an unknown period of dramatic change in our culture, and there are political and ethical issues of displacing a large fraction of working people with more efficient machines. And what do we do then? Even working artists may be replaced. Even the current stay-in period presents similar challenges and is creating social, cultural and political changes.

Concurrently with the BLM movement today, there are the corona-virus threat and its social and economic upheaval, our current political dichotomy and its approaching national 2020 elections in the fall. In addition, the ongoing and growing threat of climate change continues unabated, which many believe is the greatest threat to mankind, and it has influenced much of my art making.

Thom Wright with a recent drawing and its art statement on his front yard billboard

One of my personal approaches to dealing with these issues is shown in the photo above. For the past four weeks I have presented my art during this corona-virus period at my sidewalk and street, changing the work each day, to show neighbors, friends and passersby that art is happening here, and in particular my kind of art and what is important to me. I first read about other artists doing this, and how their local communities responded positively and with appreciation and some art sales. Here and now on this new art website, I am also presenting my art that concerns contemporary issues to broaden this dialogue, especially about climate change, that as Senator Bernie Sanders describes it, “the greatest existential threat facing mankind today”. I do not intend to provoke argument, but believe it is important to relate my art making and its influences. I also believe that good art relates to its time as well as deals with aesthetic values.

Published by Thom Wright Art

Thom Wright has combined his passions for art, music and engineering, and all of his practices have benefited each other. In 1986, he had an epiphany, one of those moments when he realized that he had to be a better artist. His subject matter moved toward contemporary issues, including geopolitics, global environment, technology, cultural and natural processes of change, and jazz. His abstracts also migrated towards mixed media and printmaking. These interests and processes continue in his art work. Desiring to improve his skills, theory and knowledge in art, he took early retirement from the Boeing Corp. in 1999 and entered art school full time. In May, 2006, he completed the MFA program in Drawing and Painting at California State University, Long Beach.

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