This local artist uses his Shelter in a Place of Art series to compare COVID-19 in Eagle County and New York City
Will Theoharides has been hard at work in his studio during quarantine.
The artist and owner of Avon Frame Shoppe spent the last few months during the coronavirus pandemic channeling his lived experience into a series of paintings, which he’s calling “Shelter in a Place of Art.” He hopes that viewers will look at them and internalize how lucky locals are to live in a place like Eagle County, which has fought the virus exceptionally well.
“There’s lots we can say, just how lucky we were to be here and not in a city,” he said.
The pieces contrast nature and city living with abstract color forms. Many of the pieces start with found and his own photographs: hikes in the mountains and New York cityscapes. Then, he paints over them to partially obscure the image, and finally lays over tracing paper, on which he draws loose nature forms and his signature doodle of a man with charcoal.
“It’s an image that I’ve been working with since 1979, maybe ’80? These little guys have always come to my aid,” he said.
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Even the materials themselves reflect themes of the pandemic. Without access to fresh materials, Theoharides was forced to use what he had lying around the frame shop, which also serves as an office for his other businesses and as an art studio. He used house paints and old frame scraps to frame the pieces.
“Sometimes I’ll either cut the frame to fit the art or make the art to fit the frame,” he said. “I’m making the most of every little bit to make some pieces. To me, that was fun.”
The series isn’t only about physical isolation. It’s about the lasting emotional and psychological effects the COVID-19 pandemic will have on people. The New England Journal of Medicine has already cited post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, irritability, insomnia and more as issues the population may face during and after quarantine.
“There’s still an emotional price, no matter how lucky we are,” he said. “But we were still really lucky to have been an early hot spot and to be very small.”
Theoharides was born in Manhattan and lived and worked in New York City as a graphic and interior designer for many years before moving to the Vail Valley in 2016. He’s been spending winters in Vail since 1994.
Family members and friends still live in the city, and immediately, he noticed how their updates on life in quarantine compared with his own.
“I’ve lost friends and family. The healthiest people you’d ever meet, just totally knocked out. World class cyclists with great lung power, just blown out and can’t do anything,” he said. “It’s just weird: what I see going on in New York and what we experienced here is so different.”
Here, he went on hikes with his partner and watched his neighbors get to know each other for the first time, comingling in the streets and in backyards. In New York City, his friend’s daughter left her apartment for the first time just a two weeks ago. She stayed inside for 86 days.
“If you haven’t lived in that kind of density, you don’t understand how great New Yorkers were to stay in,” he said. “I went for a bike ride in Glenwood Canyon. It was 30 miles, and I saw 16 people the whole time.”
In a fantasy world, Theoharides would love to create a gallery show, where walking traffic is directed through 6-foot wide hallways between isolated rooms. Each artist would showcase original works or works completed during quarantine, as a way of simulating the social isolation the world has experienced in the wake of COVID-19.
But for now, Theoharides hopes that Shelter in a Place of Art encourages Eagle County locals to think twice about the world while they learn to live with the reality of life in a pandemic.
“That’s what art is all about: helping us cope,” he said.
To keep up with Shelter in a Place of Art, follow the series’ Instagram page at @shelternart.