From Solitude to Togetherness

Emerging Artists Paint a Vivid Picture

of the 2021 Emerging Artists Exhibition

Writing has always been a solitary pursuit for me. I’m an only child of much older parents and spent most of my childhood alone in our house at the top of a hill. I wrote short stories and novels in bound notebooks, filling page after page. My writing was not shared with anyone but my English teachers, who gave me extra credit for crafting short stories out of my spelling words.

Throughout the years, I have begun to share my work more often, but writing is still a deeply solitary pursuit. The Emerging Artist Exhibition on Wednesday reminded me of the joy of sharing art.

Our cohort was named in September of 2020, when COVID-19 restrictions were still stringent. We banded together once for a Zoom event, but otherwise, we did not have many chances to meet up – it just wasn’t safe yet. For most of us, Wednesday was the first time we connected face-to-face.

As someone with a good deal of social anxiety, I fretted over being in a room full of people again. I was both overjoyed and a little overwhelmed to find the exhibition was packed.

The space is stunning – big and full of light. I was immediately struck by the layout, the acoustics, and the detail and intricacy of each setup. But the best part of the night was seeing my cohort in person. It was strange to meet these people I had been so far away from during the program. Some I recognized right away. Others looked different in person.

Paintings by Mason Gehring

I took my time going around the room. Mason Gehring’s paintings struck me quite viscerally. She paints on a large canvas, with thick bold colors. Her work emanates power and strength. Each time I looked at them, I picked up different details.

It was a joy to speak with Yuly Restrepo, the other novelist in the program and someone whose work I was very excited to hear. She used the grant to finish a novel called Valentina, a story about a girl in Colombia who joins the guerilla. Her prose is enchanting. It has a rhythm and beat to it, almost like poetry does.

In the guerrilla, everybody had at least one scar of every
shape and color imaginable. It wasn’t that people flaunted
their scars, but they didn’t try to hide them. They walked
around shirtless, with dark lines crossing the length of their
bellies or dozens of small dots punctuating their chests.

We spent some time talking about our backgrounds and even agreed to become readers for one another. As long-form writers, readers are our life blood. They sustain us in times when we doubt ourselves, provide us with much necessary feedback, and correct us when we go off path. If not for the exhibition and the chance to meet in-person, we may have never gained this connection.

Sara Reis Dziekonski performing her poetry

Poet Sara Ries Dziekonski gave an outstanding reading. She was animated, bold, fresh and engaging. To me, most poets have enviable performance skills. I have always been in awe of how they seem to thrive in the spotlight, how deeply they connect with their work onstage, and how brilliant they are at performing it.

Performing live is a deeply vulnerable thing. I avoid it whenever I can, preferring to sit at home and put my pen to paper instead.

But performance is also so necessary in this line of work. It is a method of connection. It brings the audience closer to you, invites them to see things from your perspective. After many months of solitude due to COVID-19, it was wonderful to watch the performances, to hear the voices of my cohort and get to know them better.

The entire event felt a little unreal. Although I am naturally a solitary person, I became much more solitary during the pandemic. Standing in that room that Wednesday night with people laughing, talking and drinking felt almost like something out of another life.

Several days after the exhibition opening, I returned to Creative Pinellas to meet my Emerging Artist mentor, Sheree Greer, in-person for the first time. Although we have a mutual friend (most people in the LGBTQ community are connected somehow!), our first interactions were during COVID, which meant they were exclusively online. During the grant period, we met biweekly via Google Hangouts, where she provided me with advice and support for my project, a novel called The Harvest.

The book is now on submission with a few different publishers. I am so thankful to Sheree who truly was mentor to me in every way during the drafting of it. She supported me when I had writing disappointments. She gave me advice when I wasn’t sure how to move forward, celebrated my wins with me and encouraged me when I needed it.

Paintings by Mason Gehring and hanging works by Emily Stehle, with Nick Davis’s paintings in the background

I am forever thankful to Creative Pinellas and the Emerging Artist program for placing her in my life and for the opportunity to write a book I am so proud of.

You can explore the work of Chelsea Catherine

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