20 Artists on the Work They Made in 2020

Artsy Editorial
Nov 20, 2020 11:49PM

For centuries, artists have responded to pain, grief, loss, and injustice through their art, at times to brilliant and cathartic ends. Even so, it would not be fair to assume that contemporary artists come out of the tumultuousness of 2020 with a masterful new body of work. Yet, in a testament to the deep resilience of the artists working today, many did.

The 20 artists here tell us about the work they made this year and how the COVID-19 pandemic and social upheaval of 2020 affected them personally. Some endured deep disappointment as their exhibitions were postponed or canceled; many buckled down to meet work deadlines despite the crumbling state of the world. Some found solace in new mediums or a slower approach; others navigated childcare and processed loss. While several did admit that their day-to-day lives didn’t look so different this year, all of the artists we spoke to touched on the grief they each endured. And yet they all kept creating fresh, new work.

Marisa Takal

B. 1991, Montclair, New Jersey. Lives and works in Los Angeles.


Can you tell us about the work you made in 2020?

Ironically, 2020 has been the year that I’ve made the least amount of work. This year was one of deep marinating and then some simmering before I began to make much. I had a show right before quarantine called “Sharing.” It was in a very intimate space, where everyone was allowed to touch the work and investigate it. In hindsight, it was a very bittersweet sendoff into isolation.

The work that I have made this past year is about connectivity through our behavior and patterns, how we relate to one another, how we can feel less alone and disconnected, how we organize ourselves, systems of organization on micro and macro scales, deep investigation into the self, into otherness, into the other, the viewer, people, fear, etc., etc.

Marisa Takal
“Who Do You Want To Be?” written messily on the back of her hand, 2019
Night Gallery
Marisa Takal
You Me and Truth Tree, 2020
Night Gallery

I was actually driven to make this work as a direct effect of not working in my studio for months on end. I volunteered with the National Empowerment Center to learn how to facilitate emotional CPR (E-CPR), which teaches the principles of how to lovingly communicate to individuals during mental health crises and teaches individuals how to communicate through open-hearted, non-judgmental listening. For me, a way to radicalize or change systemic injustice at the ground level is learning how to directly communicate and listen to people in an open and compassionate way, where people feel seen and heard and cared about.

How did the events of 2020 impact you as an artist? Did your outlook as an artist change?

My day-to-day life didn’t change too much this year. If anything, what changed was how I paced my days and what I decided to focus on. I got to face pains and fears that I had been pushing down, while the world did, too. I surrendered to everything that I couldn’t control. I’ve become a lot slower in my studio, I let things sit for longer. Now I am very excited to be making work at a pace that feels natural and loving.


In the beginning of the year, I definitely had a “What is this world? Where is my place in it? Why are artists important? What is the art world? Who do I want to help? How can I be of service to humankind as best as possible? Should I become a therapist?” spiral. And I still go there and want to pursue that. I would like to figure out how to be of service to others in a larger, more generous way. But over the course of this past year, I have realized how important making things and sharing them with others is for me, how powerful it can be to relate or be curious and learn about one another through various forms of connection.

Michaela Yearwood-Dan

B. 1994, London. Lives and works in London.

Can you tell us about the work you made in 2020?

Life continues to inspire me, so the work I’ve been making still reflects life, both on a personal and a wider, society-encompassing level. I started the year with creative goals and challenges that I had put on to myself to make sure I keep myself invigorated by my practice. I decided to start using red more, after shying away from its loudness for as long as I can remember, and to enroll in a class to learn how to make ceramics (which stopped after three classes due to COVID-19).

Michaela Yearwood Dan
What a Time to be Alive, 2020
Tiwani Contemporary
Michaela Yearwood Dan
Not All is Lost, 2020
Tiwani Contemporary

I have made work this year that makes commentary on the political injustices of the global West and questions what freedom really is, as well as works that celebrate some of the things that define me, like new love, pride in my femininity, Blackness, and queerness. My process has changed a lot this year due to months of working from home. Having to do so encouraged more thinking, research, reading, and a lot more planning for my work than I had ever done before. Having online shows and teaching myself a new skill were truly the driving factors on what kept me creating. The introduction of ceramics into my practice was truly something that saved me from falling into depression this year, being home alone in isolation for so much of it, and having something I could mentally escape to and keep my hands busy.

How did the events of 2020 impact you as an artist? Did your outlook as an artist change?

They impacted me significantly! On a day-to-day basis, in regards to my studio practice, 2020 saw me spending a lot of time making work from my London flat and it basically forced me to revise the scale and medium of my work. The new addition of ceramics to my studio practice has definitely changed the way I approach paintings now, be that the physical movement of my ceramics that I’ve adapted for canvas or the way I’ve embraced slowing down and letting things rest before completing works. In regards to the disaster that 2020 has been for many people, it of course has provoked lots of reflection and reaction from me as a woman and an artist. It intrigues me to see whose lives and voices governments across the world seem to value and respect. My political opinions and social disappointment have started to shine through in my most recent works.

Browse more available works made in 2020.

Umar Rashid (Frohawk Two Feathers)

B. 1976, Chicago. Lives and works in Los Angeles.

How did the events of 2020 impact you as an artist?

Initially, 2020 was to be a creative explosion for me and a time to prepare for my next decade-long sub-narrative for my historical epic. Instead, it became a time of despair, confusion, lethargy, and utter disbelief.

In December 2019, I exhibited at the fair Untitled, Art with New Image Art, and in January 2020, I went to the Netherlands to mount a solo exhibition with Cokkie Snoei in Rotterdam. While in the Netherlands, I participated in an unprecedented group exhibition of African American artists titled “Tell Me Your Story,” curated by Rob Perrée and Robbert Roos at Kunsthal Kade. I was invigorated and beaming and hurried back to my homebase of Los Angeles to put the finishing touches of my debut exhibition (also with New Image Art) at The Armory Show, in a special section curated by Jamillah James. I was excited to finish the work for the Hammer Museum’s biennial “Made in L.A.: A Version,” curated by Myriam Ben Saleh, Lauren Mackler, and Ikechukwu Onyewuenyi. And then, one day, while at brunch with my wife and children, I was made aware that the coronavirus had been reported in Los Angeles. Three weeks later, we were in a full lockdown.

“Nothing has changed for me that wasn’t already there. I can see it clearer now, though.”

After the gut punch of gravity humbled me, I quickly moved through the stages of grief and realized why I work in a narrative form in the first place. I already had detailed plans of what I was going to do. So I went into the studio (a safe haven where masks weren’t required and no children were present to derail my focus) and finished the “Made in L.A.” works, Stockholm, Califas and The Battle of Malibu. I was ecstatic. And as the world around me crumbled due to the civil unrest and the disregard of science, I began to work on smaller projects.

I had gotten my groove back. And then, all of a sudden, I remembered that I had a solo show at Tiwani Contemporary in London. At this time, I was in full swing, creating works for auctions to support social change and voting rights organizations, including a bandana for Shepherd Fairey at Obey Giant. But I managed to refocus the energy I had stored up in the early months of the pandemic and pushed myself to the limits on a creative, kinetic tidal wave.

After an intense packing session, the work made it to London. The show was well received and I was happy again. I finished the year off with a powerful group exhibition at Blum & Poe called “Show Me the Signs,” a protest sign show (I was also part of the gallery’s fall group exhibition, “Sympathetic Magic,” curated by Half Gallery’s Bill Powers). And at the end of November, I’ll be participating in the Prizm online art fair and the Beyond the Streets art fair in December.

My remix of colonial history continues with abandon. Nothing has changed for me that wasn’t already there. I can see it clearer now, though.

Erin Armstrong

B. 1990, Canada. Lives and works in Toronto.

Can you tell us about the work you made in 2020?

The work I have been making this year is in reflection of the current human condition, through the individual experience of being alive in a time of isolation, chaos, and uncertainty. My work attempts to juxtapose the colliding feelings of helplessness and fear, with an awakening sense of calm and optimism that slowly emerges from this forced interruption of our lives.

My recent paintings intend to highlight the intersection of these emotions. Depicting bursts of light, melancholic and disillusioned figures, and motifs that include classic iconography of biblical animals—such as snakes and fish falling from the sky—I hope to create a visual, emotional language that captures the feeling of being alive today.

The relationship between the figures and their environment is fundamental to the sense of disorientation that I am hoping to achieve in this series. Swirling flora and fauna distort the sense of space and time. I wanted the natural elements to be especially pronounced in order to capture the fragile balance with the world around us. Many of the figures are seated beside plants that are either wilting and dying, or blooming and budding, signaling the cycle of life, death, and time. It is an examination of how time can shift both physical and mental landscapes.

How did the events of 2020 impact you as an artist? Did your outlook as an artist change?

Life as an artist is already fairly isolating, as I typically spend most of my time working alone in my studio. Therefore, the pandemic didn’t directly impact my daily routine as drastically as it did others.

I was working late one night in my studio when I received the news that two upcoming exhibitions were going to be canceled. My plan to start a residency at the Vermont Studio Center was also postponed, which was disappointing as well. Following this, I felt a bit deflated and took a pause from painting for over a month. Painting at this point seemed frivolous, and I questioned my contribution to the world at a time of so much suffering. I was forced back into the studio with a deadline for a commission, and the project reignited my momentum and motivation.

“I hope to create a visual, emotional language that captures the feeling of being alive today.”

Painting has always been a meditative and self-reflective process, so I consciously used this time to paint for myself and my own sanity. With this mindset, I started painting things differently. The canceled exhibitions provided the opportunity to slow down, observe the world, and experiment.

With this renewed energy and outlook, I’m busy working towards a solo booth for Untitled, Art with Duran Mashaal, opening virtually on December 2nd, and looking forward to a solo exhibition with Bau-Xi Gallery in Toronto, opening in September 2021.

Hayv Kahraman

B. 1981, Baghdad. Lives and works in Los Angeles.

Can you tell us about the work you made in 2020?

This year has been tumultuous. There have been multiple ruptures in my life that, for me, have highlighted the fragility of our physical bodies, coupled with what I see as problematic language surrounding our immune systems, contagion, and epidemiology.

The field of epidemiology breeds the imaginary of an “other” as defined by imperial modernity (a dirty immigrant), who then becomes the carrier of the disease into the confines of the state. Is the body really a fortress, untouchable or impenetrable to “foreign” germs and “enemies”? How can we change the militaristic rhetoric in epidemiology, which is based on building imaginary walls between our bodies and the rest of the world? For me, this language is similar to the us-versus-them rhetoric used in discussing refugees and immigration.

Hayv Kahraman
Back Fold, 2020
Pilar Corrias Gallery

Through anchoring this series in the distinct Y-shape of antibodies, I focus on the idea of a trickster. The antibody is a shifting figure that only exists as it comes into contact with the “foreign,” yet it is also the essential messenger, delivering cues that propel the survival of our species. The figures in the work, seemingly extraterrestrial (as they have multiple limbs), take the shape of this trickster Y. They’re not really antibodies but rather affirmative pro-bodies working tirelessly to heal and repair our wounds and hopefully moving towards highlighting some sort of symbiotic relationship to difference.

The body ultimately for me is a site where trauma resides and it’s also a site in which I can reimagine different worlds where multiple heterogeneous ideas and ways of living are played out.

How did the events of 2020 impact you as an artist?

The process of making the works has been rocky. The concept and ideas were there for months, but the making of the paintings has both taken some time and also shifted as we live through these ups and downs. I do feel that I’m in a good place with these new works and excited to have them all come together in a show at Susanne Vielmetter in late February next year.

My first reaction to the pandemic was familiarity. As a war refugee, this precarious feeling of shifting grounds and uncertainty is something I’ve lived through before. My day-to-day life changed when schools shut down. Since then, my six-year-old has been coming with me to my studio and it’s definitely been a challenge. We are working through it and adapting as need be.

Browse more available works made in 2020.

Ndidi Emefiele

B. 1987, Abuja, Nigeria. Lives and works in London.

Can you tell us about the work you made in 2020?

The year 2020 proceeds what had been the toughest year in my life, having lost my elder sister, who was also my best friend, and leaving me with a tiny baby. I had imagined this would be a year of deep reflections starting out with a completely different outlook on life. I guess nothing truly prepared me for a year where we would all be forced into isolation, quarantine, and lockdowns inadvertently giving us the time and space to have these conversations with the self.

I started out painting these surreal empty beaches in splashes of purples, blues, and grays. I took some interior items and placed them outdoors, like sofas and tables which I collaged on the beach sands. I also collaged birds, some of which emerged from the figures, suggesting just how powerful and supernatural they are. There were times I saw the characters I was painting as myself, as these works are very personal.

Being in my home studio during the government-imposed lockdown increased my desire to paint the outdoors and long for a getaway from home. Painting at home is not new, as that has always been my preferred work location, but that feeling of knowing it’s a choiceless situation leaves one feeling a little uneasy.

These works made in 2020 reflect sadness, loss, and a lot of emptiness, regardless of the painting being crowded with figures and objects. These works have been my journal for expressing how I have felt within the past year; the works carry in details the vestiges of the pain from the previous year. I was able to use the different pieces—recently shown in my solo exhibition at Gallery Rosenfeld, which opened October 1st—to give a sum of the relationship and death of my sister as they seek to question life, the afterlife, the passage of time, and being.

Shawn Theodore

B. 1970, Germany. Lives and works in Philadelphia.

Can you tell us about the work you made in 2020?

My work challenges how identity is created by story, folklore, legend, and ongoing community conversation. I’m driven by the perseverance of hyperlocal storytelling and how it can be its own mythology, in this case, “Afromythology.” This expression can be quantitatively and qualitatively more than a site-specific series of observations, it can also be an ethereal, existential, community-specific experience(s). My work isn’t created as a direct response to the ills of society, it’s meant to create a missing archive in the history of the African American community. My process is very much driven by my spiritual well-being. With that said, throughout 2020 I’ve been most interested in decolonizing the camera and giving agency back to the intended viewer through the subjects in the work. We often forget that the camera was—and to some extent, still is—a symbol of power. My process shifted slightly to address this power by reexamining my catalog.

How did the events of 2020 impact you as an artist? Did your outlook change?

When I was doing street photography, I was drawn to the notion of what happens to the self as the objects, spaces, and places around you begin to disappear. In other words, what happens to the Black body and mind in vanishing Black neighborhoods? However, throughout 2020, it’s been about when people disappear from COVID-19 deaths, from poverty, from senseless murders from police violence, and the mental toll of the cumulative effects of these systemic constructs. As a Black man, it has been a lot to contend with.

My day-to-day energy shifted all the way in-house. My six-year-old daughter has class weekdays, I’m teaching my classes at the University of the Arts from home, my day job as director of marketing and communications at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center shifted to home, and my work as gallery director at PARISTEXASLA went from bicoastal to home-based as well. These shifts made me reconsider what kind of practice I have, and how to explore more business-related opportunities in and around the art world.

The saving grace of the year has been working to create public art with The Print Center (Philadelphia), Mural Arts (Philadelphia), and Harbourfront Centre (Toronto); enriching the working environments of fellow photographers through the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center and the Los Angeles Center of Photography; and the personal gratification of the many art/photo fairs and support from my representative galleries (PARISTEXASLA, Paradigm Gallery + Studio, and Richard Beavers Gallery). I’m thankful to have such an amazing community around me.

Klara Kristalova

B. 1967, Prague. Lives and works in Norrtälje, Sweden.

Can you tell us about the work you made in 2020?

In 2020, I started with an exhibition, “Up in Smoke,” at Magnus Karlsson in Stockholm, which was delayed because of COVID-19. It was mainly about fear of aging, and of course, fear of death—my own in particular. I had been thinking of this pathetic subject for several years and needed to do something about it in my work, because it didn’t leave me and I was so affected by it. The process was slow; I felt old and bored with myself. I went to a residency where I felt even older and more boring than before, which really pushed me into the project. The pathetic feel of it, feeling sorry for myself became almost comical at some points.

I did a lot of painting on paper and large collages that I had been wanting to do for a long time; a neon work; and some fabric experiments that I didn’t show in the end. When the show was finally in the gallery, the feeling of it was light and playful. This really surprised me. During my work with this, I realized I need to write more, about the work and my process, so I applied for a university course at DI, Stockholm. Later, I did several installations with plants and some public work as well.

How did the events of 2020 impact you as an artist? Did your outlook change?

The events in 2020 meant to me as an artist that I did many shows, but didn’t meet any visitors at all. It gave a very strange feeling. I wasn’t aware it meant so much for me, seeing people looking at the work. People don’t say so much when you meet them in the show, but it gives the feeling it’s present and visible, meaningful or not to them. Now, I just installed the shows, some I even by instructions on Skype. It gave a very surreal and empty feeling. Like the work just disappeared into nothing. No finality of the work.

I’m of course very worried about the climate, politics, and COVID-19. But my worries about these things are probably not so visible in my work, at least not yet. I’m worried about the culture in general here in Sweden. Will we have no theaters in the future? What about museums, galleries, etc.? Who will be able to work with culture in the future?

My day-to-day work didn’t change at all, since I work where I live, as usual, in the woods far from other people, but I miss my social life. The image in my head I have from this is that you wave to people from a distance, but you don’t hear what they say anymore.

Ko-Wei Huang

B. 1988, Taipei. Lives and works in Taipei.

Can you tell us about the work you made in 2020?

In the works I created in 2020, I successfully combined all of my exploration of painting techniques in the past few years. It made me realize the gray areas between dualities, and the opposing questions of natural and artificial, fluid and stable, objective and subjective, life and death. It’s like a dice with six faces, rolling with the same amount of possibility for each facet. The idea of “One Die” is a pun for the unpredictable possibility of the end to one’s life.

How did the events of 2020 impact you as an artist? Did your outlook change?

Everything moved faster and was out of control in 2020. With all of the seemingly apocalyptic events which happened in 2020, all we can do is seize the day. That’s why exploration of spirit, like mysticism, is getting more and more popular. I tend to focus on this type of thinking, of separating consciousness from the body. It makes me understand myself better.

As a painter who grew up in the digital age, I inherited traditions of painting, though my practice is influenced by the digital. Living in a fast-changing world, I always ask myself several different questions about how to move forward and how to improve and develop my own art language through selecting from a huge amount of information. It’s a personal, spiritual process, about building faith in times of chaos.

Browse more available works made in 2020.

Satoshi Ohno

B. 1980, Gifu, Japan. Lives and works in Yamanashi, Japan.

Can you tell us about the work you made in 2020?

After the Great East Japan earthquake that occurred in 2011, various senses of values have changed and disappeared inside me. Under such circumstances, I began to feel that “love” was most essential to me. I now feel that it is important to paint the shape of “love.”

In the paintings of my “Sleep in Jungle” series, male figures are depicted as green vessels and female figures are lying down on top. The reason why I painted such bodies and close physical contact is that I wanted to express and portray a couple in need of one another and how they accept each other’s presence.

The “Sleep in Jungle” works of 2020 marks the second chapter of a series of the same title that I created in 2004. For around 20 years, I have frequently visited forests, from the subtropical area in the south to a coniferous forest zone of the north. I appropriated the plants that I saw in the forests as motifs to produce my works.

Since 2007, I have set up my studio at the foot of Mount Fuji, and have been residing there to this day. I often go into the forests and consider how my senses change, so that I can express the contrast between human beings and nature. I see fallen trees and new buds sprouting from them. The life and death of plants intermix and coexist to become a forest, one large space of life. As I feel myself entering the depth of the forests, I am confronted with my incomplete humanity—my total inability to live as beautifully as the plants.

The forests changed completely after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station accident, triggered by the Great East Japan earthquake in 2011. One day, five years after the nuclear disaster, I found in the nearby forest a caution sign that said: “Radioactive cesium exceeding the maximum permissible limit regulated by the Food and Hygiene Law has been detected in Fujiyoshida City, Yamanashi Prefecture. Please do not harvest, sell, or eat wild mushrooms for the foreseeable future.”

When I saw the caution sign, I began researching the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. In doing so, I came across this spooky, fluorescent green color used in gamma-ray detection monitors. I was frightened. Then, I noticed that this particular green color also appears in films occasionally, as the color of unidentified objects such as the monsters in “Ghostbusters” and slime-like objects spat out of the mouth of a devil-possessed man. I believe that in today’s society, green is associated with poison, fear, and death. So I followed my intuition to incorporate this color into my artistic expression as the present-day color of death.

Didier William

B. 1983, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Lives and works in Philadelphia.

Can you tell us about the work you made in 2020?

The work I completed this year was actually begun in the latter part of 2019. I’ve been researching early 19th-century landscape paintings by people like J.M.W. Turner, Thomas Gainsborough, and Alexander Cozens. This body of work is very much interested in cloudscapes and sky formations inspired by some of these paintings. I’m compelled by this moment in particular because these works were being produced concurrently with the Haitian Revolution.

A question I return to often in the paintings is: Where does the retroactive imagination coincide with real time, and what kind of resultant reality is constructed in doing so? This atemporal relationship to narrative I think is particularly true within stories of immigration, which often necessarily include intergenerational family formations and various social, political, and economic connective tissues that collapse the space between “here” and one’s “homeland.” For me this is a question that certainly underscores a broader immigrant narrative, but one that I’ve also been personally invested in with regard to my relationship to Haiti, where I was born.

“This moment has changed the way I think about the body. Its function. Its purpose. Its potentials. Its failures. Its mythology.”

In addition to dealing with the sudden and disruptive challenges of the pandemic, my husband and I had a baby this year. She’s been such a blessing during this time. This first year of life is so critical anyway that oftentimes it felt like the forced isolation of the pandemic was giving us something we would have needed anyway, a lot of alone time with the baby. I’d sometimes give my husband a break and take the baby to the studio and work while she napped in Bjorn. Making paintings about the complexities of the body while holding a tiny sleeping baby was a slice of heaven.

How did the events of 2020 impact you as an artist? Did your outlook change?

Thankfully, I was still able to get to my studio. I live in Philadelphia and our studio building was completely shut down to the public, but our private studio spaces were still available and accessible. In the beginning of all of this, going to the studio felt incredibly strange and I was too distracted most of the time to get any work done. It’s a bit better now.

I think, as has happened for many people, this year has just clarified for me what’s important in the life I’m trying to build as an artist. The things I want that life to include and the things I’m not so interested in all came into hyper-focus this year. I really enjoy and crave a lot of alone time anyway, so the last few months of quarantine didn’t prove to be very difficult. The toughest part was my family in Miami not being able to see my daughter. We’re working on that though.

My outlook sharpened this year. With the pandemic happening concurrently with me becoming a father, I’m not sure which life-changing event affected me more. I think in both cases, my ideas about the complex currency that is representation became clearer. I think the crisis of representation is made plain when we are forced into disembodied engagement with one another because of a global health emergency. This moment has changed the way I think about the body. Its function. Its purpose. Its potentials. Its failures. Its mythology. For any artist, there is tremendous risk in one body naming another, and I think the last eight months have reminded us just how risky our bodies can be.

Zoya Cherkassky-Nnadi

B. 1976, Kiev, Ukraine. Lives and works in Tel Aviv.

Can you tell us about the work you made in 2020?

In 2020, my practice wasn’t much different than in any other year. The pandemic (except the lockdown times) did not affect my routine too much—every day I arrive at my studio and work there from 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. There’s an ongoing project I started about five years ago that I’m still working on. It’s called “Soviet Childhood” and depicts my memories from the Perestroika time. I think that this sort of “living in the past,” because of this project, did also help me to cope with the pandemic. It wasn’t 2020 for me anyway.

How did the events of 2020 impact you as an artist? Did your outlook change?

When the pandemic outbreak happened in Israel in March 2020, first I panicked. I thought, “That’s it, this is the end of the world.” I was also in isolation with my four-year-old daughter because we just came back from France. Very untypical for me, the panic was elaborated into a series of Holocaust-themed drawings. Usually, I’m strictly against mixing art and therapy, but in a peculiar way this is what I did, letting my fear lead my brush. Later, these drawings were exhibited as an online show (curated by Alison Gingeras) at the Fort Gansevoort gallery. The exhibition was called “Lost Time.”

After a while I relaxed, the lockdown ended, and my life was relatively back to normal. More or less.

Browse more available works made in 2020.

Lavar Munroe

B. 1982, Nassau, Bahamas. Lives and works in Baltimore and Nassau.

Can you tell us about the work you made in 2020?

I entered 2020 as an inaugural artist-in-residence at the Norton Museum of Art. It was there that I experienced my first lockdown and became very aware of being alone and somewhat in exile from my reality. I quietly began longing, reflecting, and reminiscing on my past. This prompted an investigation of family structures—in particular my family, masculine paternal love, and notions of becoming a man. The work served as tools of contemplation, analysis, and grappling with anxiety, loss, and separation.

I have been using my maternal male cousins as muses in my recent paintings. Merging abstraction and figuration, each canvas portrays a fictional narrative that is based on the specific interest of the cousin being portrayed. Each canvas depicts landscapes, seascapes, and treacherous spaces that I imagine. This work draws from a myriad of references ranging from but not limited to identity, religion, mythology, art history, and popular culture.

Besides photo references, I have relied heavily on memory, nostalgia, and a genuine interest in storytelling to inform this body of work. I create an “elsewhere” that fictionally occurs on the property and inside the house where I grew up in Nassau, Bahamas. This series debuted at The Armory Show and later at Jack Bell Gallery in London (both were solo presentations with Jack Bell Gallery).

Lavar Munroe
Bathwater, 2020
Jenkins Johnson Gallery

I used this series as a means of celebrating, reconnecting with, and mythologizing my family. This is the most personal work I have done to date and I find it a very important body of work for many reasons. Reminiscing, reconnecting, and articulating personal narratives that not only heroizes but also celebrates family in a way that they aren’t celebrated within their everyday lives is important to me.

My next solo exhibition, “Father Alone,” opens at M+B in Los Angeles on December 5th and runs through mid–January 2021.

How did the events of 2020 impact you as an artist? Did your outlook change?

It made me very aware of self, mortality, and the physical and mental well-being of myself and those that I love. Witnessing killings of Black men, participating in protest, becoming an American citizen, being a father, being a friend, and watching the wrath and destruction of a pandemic while being a full-time artist has been quite a balancing act to say the least. This all said, the studio has been my refuge.

I found it important to give back through philanthropic causes. This year, I, along with my daughter, established the first annual Beverly Ann and Lavar Munroe (B.A.L.M) Arts Scholarship, which awards $1,500 to one student each year residing in the Bahamas. This year’s recipient was a recent high school graduate and aspiring illustrator named Katlyn Rolle, who is now enrolled in the Visual Arts Program at the University of The Bahamas.

I also donated a recent work to a benefit auction to help the families of Black women killed by the police. The exhibition “Show Me the Signs,” which recently closed at Blum & Poe in Los Angeles, featured over 100 pieces in the form of protest signs that were auctioned and 100 percent of the proceeds go to the African American Policy Forum #SayHerName Mothers Network.

I was also invited by the chief curator of the Drawing Center, Claire Gilman, to make new work for a benefit exhibition titled “100 Drawings from Now.” The exhibition, on view at the Drawing Center until January 17, 2021, features drawings made in 2020, giving a snapshot of artistic production during a period of profound global unrest that has resulted from the ongoing health and economic crises, as well as a surge of activism in response to systemic racism, social injustice, and police brutality in the United States.

I also began dabbling with an experimental film series via IGTV called “STUDIO RITUALS.” This series came about during my residency at the Norton Museum of Art. It was the result of not being able to fulfill the community aspect of the residency due to lockdowns. In lieu of studio visits, lectures, and community engagement, I began making very short films inspired by Bob Ross, whom I watched as a young kid. In each episode, I expose intimate snippets of my daily studio routines. The intention is to reveal what goes on before my work leaves the studio and goes into the world.

Peter Williams

B. 1952, Nyack, New York. Lives and works in Wilmington, Delaware.

Can you tell us about the work you made in 2020?

When we entered 2020, I was in the middle of creating a new body of work for my shows at MOCAD and Trinosophes, both in Detroit, as well as my gallery, Luis De Jesus Los Angeles. The exhibitions are titled “Black Universe” and include works from “Black Exodus,” a series of Afrofuturist paintings that are a personal response to hate crimes committed against POC which prompted a desire to leave this planet and escape to a new world. This vision includes traveling in classic automobiles that POC have converted into spaceships with the assistance of expert mechanics in Cuba. These mostly large-scale narrative paintings capture scenes as we prepare for, embark on, and discover this new world. They are filled with symbolism and ideas of transformation.

In He Was a Global Traveler (2020), the retrofitted pioneer (becoming one with his spaceship) travels from Earth through a volley of wormholes and tunnels to unknown destinations. It’s about what happens when you go into space. It’s about your life and work and weightlessness. How would we change, and what kinds of things do our bodies become? Nothing ungrounds you like a good middle passage—or is this a final passage?

Life is a marvel in outer space. There is only survival, speed/time (the faster we go, the slower life feels), beauty, and for those animals and people that survive, a kind of ecstasy which exists amongst the flowers (their stems become rays of energy within). Now none of this would be of any value, except that all civilizations travel—some by sheer will, some in search of freedom or food, and others by force, slaves to their very existence. Or, it all becomes fodder in the mind of the Artist, looking for meaning as one does in How to Make A Great Picture (2020).

“Long ago I realized Jim Crow had merely become the newest part of the old present. I continued to work with this subject in recent months.”

There’s the passage of time and the many thoughts of a culture which travels with its moods and memories. To make work like this—part “a short-listed set of possible ideas” and part “a future in search of its inner core”—my search has been motivated by the realization of a raging river that divides us called civilization and hate. Personified by the murders of young Black men and women by police, it struck me that it might be time to get out, away, etc., from this place. “Let my people go” (“go,” as in free us from your corporate system that we are trapped inside) has been an interest of mine since college.

How did the events of 2020 impact you as an artist? Did your outlook change?

My exhibitions were delayed due to COVID-19. And even though they eventually took place, I was unable to travel to see them and that was a disappointment. Then, George Floyd was murdered by the police in Minnesota. It took just 8 minutes and 46 seconds to kill him by kneeling on his neck as people took camera-phone pictures. Horror beyond imagination. It aired on television in almost real time. I flinched, cried, and the anger is still raging inside of me. So I painted a series of paintings like an altar piece: three paintings, which document his arrest, killing, and burial, some of which are explicit (they are currently on view in a show at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles). Did this event change or startle me? No. Long ago I realized Jim Crow had merely become the newest part of the old present. I continued to work with this subject in recent months.

Beyond that, my life did not change much aside from having a sabbatical from the University of Delaware and then retiring. Perhaps my methods have changed as I document the madness in these recent excursions. And I now have a more tightly edited wardrobe.

Hayal Pozanti

B. 1983, Istanbul. Lives and works in Los Angeles.

Can you tell us about the work you made in 2020?

The work is called Shapes of Our Times (2020). It is an online calendar and archive. Each day, I capture and display the trending Twitter hashtag. I also cull the most popular image related to that hashtag. I then create a unique shape representing the date using my “Instant Paradise” lexicon. All of these come together to create a representation of each day. The aim of the project is to act as an instant logo generator for the zeitgeist and to create a cultural history archive. The project can be followed online and also @ShapesOfOurTimes on Instagram as well as @OurShapes on Twitter.

My practice has always been concerned with curating and editing dates and statistics. I’ve wished to translate this into a daily practice for some time. The perfect means of doing this surfaced when my gallery (Jessica Silverman) approached me about doing an online-only project. This was during the most intense part of the pandemic, around April to June, when we were all in lockdown in California and looking to expand our understanding of what an art exhibition could be. We decided to launch the project right around the elections to be able to keep an accurate pulse on history. For now, it will last about two months, but I have a vision for it to be a self-generating project that extends to infinity.

How did the events of 2020 impact you as an artist? Did your outlook change?

I decided to close my studio and move it to our garden to create an outdoor studio. Living in L.A. allowed me to do this relatively easily and I enjoyed the process immensely. Painting and sketching outside, with trees rustling above and birds peering over my shoulder, provided me with moments of respite from the difficult circumstances all of us are facing. This flexibility, coupled with a sudden confrontation with mortality, allowed me to relax the harsh conceptual expectations I had placed on my work. What has emerged are paintings that are more intuitive, more alive, and more mysterious to me. Within them, there are still encrypted numbers. But the numbers stand in as magical representations for poetic titles. What comes to the forefront is an emphasis on feelings, tactility, and mystery. Something primitive that is connected deeply to the experience of being human and living on Earth.

Hayal Pozanti
Flower of Life - 23 (Kamguyunu), 2020
Jessica Silverman

I’ve enjoyed this branch of work alongside the more digitally generative project that is Shapes of Our Times. They provide different outlets for me to explore the contemporary complexities of human experience, simultaneously. I am sure that sometime in the future they will overlap and combine. Just like our cyborg natures.

Browse more available works made in 2020.

Monica Kim Garza

B. 1988, Alamogordo, New Mexico. Lives and works in Atlanta.

Can you tell us about the work you made in 2020?

In 2020, I made works that were more intimate, more cropped, or zoomed in. I also switched to oils, which allowed me to do this with more confidence. The oils gave me the texture and quality I wanted—to kind of give these faces more depth, as if you could see the pores on your face. I had been thinking about making works like this in 2019, and I started the process then. I simply wanted to challenge myself and grow as a person, as well as my work. The process was the same as before, except longer. I later painted over the paint, leaving some bits and mistakes behind.

How did the events of 2020 impact you as an artist? Did your outlook change?

In general, I spend all of my time alone as an artist. But this year, the one thing I noticed about myself was that I gather my energy from friends and outings. I take that energy and bring it home or to my studio. So when I wasn’t able to do that as much, I hit a few walls. I drank a lot. I smoked a lot. And then I drank more. I think it made me work slower. And however it went, it affected me, which affected my work and outlook. I think I still need time to reflect on it all.

Jiha Moon

B. 1973, Daegu, South Korea. Lives and works in Atlanta.

Can you tell us about the work you made in 2020?

In 2020, as usual, I have been working on painting, prints (in collaboration with a print publisher), and ceramic sculptures. I’ve had a busy schedule of shows this year, but many of them got delayed or canceled. I kept myself busy and productive in my studio, using all my anxiety and uncertain feelings to make work. Early this year I lost my father and I had to travel to Korea to see him. That was my last trip in 2020. By the time I came back to my studio, I had worked a lot with the confusing emotions that I had in me.

Jiha Moon
Yellow Wave 2, 2020
Mindy Solomon Gallery

Right before COVID-19 hit the world, I had a solo show at Derek Eller Gallery called “Enigmatics.” Critic and poet John Yau wrote an article about the show and lack of Asian artist representation in New York City for Hyperallergic.

My work usually deals with cultural difference, assimilation, being Asian American in America, putting together the new and the old. So much of what I do makes more sense and is clear to me now, recognizing the crazy world outside. I have been working on paintings and ceramic series called “Yellowave,” where I explore the color yellow as a cross-referential medium between Eastern and Western, something blond but yellow like Asian.

Some of my current and upcoming solo shows include “Lucid Yellow,” open now at Laney Contemporary in Savannah, Georgia, and “Yellowave,” which opens in 2021 at Curator’s Office in Washington, D.C. I am also included in the group shows “45 at 45” at L.A. Louver in Los Angeles, which is open now; “Fairyland” at Mindy Solomon Gallery in Miami, opening in March 2021; and “Objects USA,” curated by Glenn Adamson, at R & Company in New York, opening in 2021.

How did the events of 2020 impact you as an artist? Did your outlook change?

I often think about how the art world would change after COVID-19. I feel that it’s opened up more since many things are happening online. I am hopeful about the post-pandemic art world.

And for my outlook as an artist, I am more confident and comfortable with who I am. I have always been transparent about my status as a minority, person of color, married female with a family. It used to confuse me sometimes when I would encounter a situation with artist friends who are afraid of revealing their marital status, or that they have children, fearing that the world wouldn’t accept them as a “serious artist.” I feel that we were stuck with that wrong “male genius artist” perspective for way too long and let that influence us too often. During this hard time, everything became so much clearer to me as to who I am, and I am excited about the future.

Ajarb Bernard Ategwa

B. 1988, Kumba, Cameroon. Lives and works in Douala, Cameroon.

Can you tell us about the work you made in 2020?

This year, I returned to portraiture. At the beginning of my career, between 2009 and 2015, I painted mainly portraits, but shifted to painting scenes from daily life in Douala. This year, I started to revisit that format and to reflect on my earlier work. This time, the works are about the photography that we all do with our phones, the photos we take of ourselves, or the photos that our friends take of us. It is also a little nostalgic—the title of my show at Peres Projects is “Studio Ekwe’s,” which was the photography studio that was next to the house I grew up in, so it also reflects on the fact that studio photography is dying. People have more agency in their images, they take most of them themselves.

The motivation for these works was to revisit my old paintings and wanting to paint them again but in this changed context.

How did the events of 2020 impact you as an artist? Did your outlook change?

Of course, 2020 was a devastating year for many people in the world. In Africa, we experienced complete abandonment from our governments and had to become self-reliant through the crisis. For me personally, I live in Douala, but most of my art materials are imported from Europe and I’m not able to get most of the supplies I need in the city where I live. Painting is an important part of my everyday routine, and it was difficult for me when I wasn’t able to go to the studio every day or when I ran out of supplies. It is not only my livelihood, but also part of my identity and what I love to do. I don’t believe my outlook has changed too much from this experience other than that I have learned that no matter what situations arise, I am able to face them.

Haley Josephs

B. 1987, Seattle. Lives and works in New York.

Can you tell us about the work you made in 2020?

I started this year feeling really motivated and excited about the work I was beginning. I was getting ready to show large-scale colored-pencil drawings for the first time. They took me a great deal of patience and focus, and the subject was dear to my heart as it featured a narrative inspired by the short life of my late sister. These drawings, along with some paintings, were featured in my second solo show at Jack Barrett. That show was open for barely two weeks before abruptly closing due to the pandemic.

I was worried I’d have trouble focusing during the dark months ahead but I was able to produce a new group of paintings. This work featured young women in solitude and isolation but within the safety of the natural world around them. I myself was finding comfort in nature, as I spent some months during the pandemic on the coast of Maine.

“I think a lot about mortality. About losing people dear to me and about how I only have one chance as this person in this body at this time. This year has intensified those feelings.”

This body of work came to an abrupt halt again in the summer as I spent my time participating in the protests for racial justice on the streets of New York. It was a unique experience, to say the least, to have spent so much time in isolation and then to be surrounded by so many people. What came out of the intensity of all of this was a lot of inward reflections and observations. And then I started painting again; it keeps me mostly sane. I think a lot of people think my work suggests I’m a happy person. I’m not, and I struggle with my mental health, so this year has been trying as it has been for so many. But my paintings are about chasing a rainbow and trying to find the gold at the end. I have faith in the light, while trying to respect the dark. It’s important to me to embrace both forces, in my work and in life.

Since the start of the pandemic, I have not been able to see my mom. My mom’s a palliative care nurse in Pittsburgh, so she’s needed to be very careful in order to protect her patients. I’ve missed her a lot. Working from photos of the actual event, I made a painting of my mom giving birth to me. It’s called My Mom and Me (2020) (it was part of the show “Good Pictures” at Jeffrey Deitch, curated by Austin Lee). That painting was so special to make. As I stared at my mom’s smile in the photograph, I couldn’t not smile as I painted it. To me that painting feels like a gateway, embracing and welcoming what is to come.

I think a lot about mortality. About losing people dear to me and about how I only have one chance as this person in this body at this time. This year has intensified those feelings. At times, I’ve felt extreme guilt to be an artist and to just be making paintings. But I can’t explain it, I really feel called to do it, and I hope to bring symbols of power into brighter days to come.

Yuli Yamagata

B. 1989, São Paulo. Lives and works in São Paulo.

How did the events of 2020 impact you as an artist?

When the pandemic arrived in Brazil, our president denied the facts, so most people decided to volunteer to quarantine. Part of the population chose to stay home and others maintained a normal routine (either out of denial or as a necessity for working and earning money). Fortunately, I had the opportunity to stay home with my husband. We were following the collapse of the world on the news, but it was hard to properly understand things through computer images.

From March to August, I was not able to go to my studio, so I brought what I could home, like paper, canvas, and paintings. After eight years, it was the first time I started painting again (I quit during college because I didn’t feel my paintings fit well at that time). Returning to painting helped me give shape to feelings of agony, panic, fear, anger, and hope, and that has been very powerful to me.

The paintings, compared to most of my fabric wall works, take much more time (over three months). All the paintings were very small (10 by 15 centimeters, more or less) because I didn’t want to go out of my shell and deal with large scales. It didn’t make sense for me to make a huge “statement” at this delicate moment.

Yuli Yamagata
Untitled, 2020

All of these paintings were exhibited in a solo show called “Bruxa” (“Witch”) that I had at Galeria Madragoa in Portugal this past September. The funny fact is that the exhibition was planned to happen in March 2020 and had been postponed due to COVID-19, meaning that half the work was from “before the end of the world” and the other half (the quarantine paintings) was from “after the end of the world.”

Nowadays, I’ve started to go back to my studio. Surely my work has been influenced; now it’s more violent and silent at the same time. For sure, something changed inside me as an artist and as a human being, but I’m still trying to figure out what. At least I did find a new working friend to support me during this journey: the painting. I am very glad it came to me!

Browse more available works made in 2020.

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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019