Koplin Del Rio
Apr 4, 2020 6:45PM


Where are you spending this time - upstate or in the city, or both?

I and my family left Manhattan three weeks ago for our little house in the Catskills. I'm feeling incredibly fortunate to have this place to escape to, and my heart goes out to everyone in the city. My teaching has gone remote, so we don't anticipate returning to NYC for quite a while.

How are you and your family spending this time?

Aside from the deep anxiety that this pandemic has produced, we are having a beautiful time in isolation. We're able to hike in the mountains, plant a garden, and make art. This gift of open time has allowed me to start teaching drawing to my twin daughters, and organize spaces that have been neglected. My art teaching has shifted to limited online Zoom sessions, and this has allowed me to hone projects to their essence. I just completed a painting that will be cover art for composer Anna Clyne's next album, "Mythologies". Anna and I have worked together for a decade now (see The Violin animations and other sheet music cover art).

During our 14-day quarantine upstate, my wife and I have donated to help local community organizations deliver meals to isolated seniors and we hope to engage further with relief efforts. There is an understandable resentment in the Hudson Valley of city residents who've fled to the country, but we found that reaching out to our Catskills neighbors ahead of time to assure them that we're socially isolating has been helpful in building trust and community.

It's also been a philosophical time for me. I can sense the earth breathing more deeply. Reports of bluer skies and birds singing in some of the world's most polluted cities give me some solace.

Below, a Work in Progress.

Your paintings blend elements of dream worlds, with what feel like post-apocalyptic landscapes. Has this moment of collective pause provoked any shift in the content of your work, or the way you are thinking about your work?

Oddly, this all feels unsurprising and familiar to me. It's a bit like a waking dream and a manifestation of the worlds I've been making for decades. My wife says she sees me in a completely new light now - grasping a state of mind that I'm used to - the edge of doom place where my paintings come from. Virus forms and ruined civilizations have always populated my landscapes, so it feels different - redundant almost - to be painting them now. I have never been one to explain my paintings or to try to fully understand them myself, but I've thought of them as cautionary tales. I've often referred to my works as a "joyful apocalypse", but right now, with thousands of people dying, the joy is buried. I still must view everything from afar, and I always return to the fact that for too long, humans have abused the planet and ignored the fact that we are part of nature. This is a wake-up call.

I'm uncertain how the pandemic will continue to affect my work. What's given me comfort has been to document my painting process with time-lapse films of the making of small panels I'm calling a "plague journal".

In times when people are suffering, a constant everywhere on the globe, I question the importance of art. But it's also in these moments when I'm reminded of the simple healing power of making things with one's hands, and the capability of imagination to create an escape - an alternate world.

What are you reading at the moment? Can you recommend three favorite books or essays?

I'm reading Murakami's newest novel and Shirley Jackson's "We Have Always Lived in The Castle". It's hard to choose all-time favorites, but a few works I return to over time are Calvino's "Invisible Cities", the poems of Li-Young Lee, and the journals of Paul Klee and Odilon Redon.

With your interest in animation in your own work, maybe there is a favorite animation or short film you might suggest?

I have seen the Quay Brother's "Street of Crocodiles" fifty times, and I'll probably watch it another fifty times.

What word describes your current state of mind?

I can't find one word since I'm living in such a contradictory state - blissful quiet of nature paused from the usual stresses of life while knowing that so many people are suffering. Disturbed. Asea. Frightened. Sad. Resigned. Hopeful.

Will you draw the view outside of your studio window?

Here's a view from my studio on a rainy Monday afternoon - with walnut ink on old paper.


Where are you spending this time?

I’ve been spending time in two locations in my hometown of Laguna Beach. My husband and I are in temporary quarters in a cottage on the hill, while a portion of our home (down the hill) is undergoing a remodel. My studio is a separate structure behind our home. I’ll continue to work in my studio unless tighter restrictions for sheltering in place are implemented. If that happens, to keep me happy, I have gouache, paper, and a small easel at our cottage on the hill.

Much of your work deals with development and the physical transformation of landscapes. How has this event informed your work, and your perspective on the relationship between humanity and the environment? Do you suppose that this moment of forced pause will bring about any major change?

I’m not sure if this forced pause will bring about major changes in my work. At the moment, I feel the need to create something calm and soothing. The upheaval of these unprecedented days could potentially make its way into my paintings, though I would want that to happen organically. The concept of impermanence, the way it is manifested in our environment and in the physical world, has been of interest to me for many years. There is certainly an undercurrent of change taking place all over the world. I perceive this as the ground shifting beneath our feet.

What are you reading at the moment? Can you recommend three favorite books or essays?

I am currently reading Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe, a compelling account of devastating events that took place in Northern Ireland during the Troubles of the 1970s. Hilary Mantel’s recent book, The Mirror and the Light, the final novel of The Wolf Hall trilogy is my next anticipated read. Mantel’s historical novels, Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, are vivid tales that sweep you into the life and times of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s right hand man.

One of my favorite books of all time was a gift I received from a college friend, The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. It is an epic family memoir filled with history, art, artists, writers, palaces, places and people of great renown.

Skooter likes to keep me company while I read.

Will you share an image (or a description) of your favorite piece of artwork? What about that work captures you?

Paul Fenniak is the artist whose work I find most moving. His quiet paintings are filled with mystery, ambiguity, and subtle narratives. His 2002 painting, The Kitchen (Ways of Escape) depicts a woman and a man standing in a small kitchen. The man has his back to the woman and he is either putting on a sweater (arriving) or taking it off (leaving). Over his shoulder, through an open window, a river can be seen winding into the distance. A calendar with an image of a hot air balloon hangs on the cabinet door behind his head, suggesting the passage of time and a journey or escape he might be yearning for. The open drawer implies a search for something - the scattered journals, sketchbooks, and photos – records of life lie in disarray on the table. The woman leans against the wall, one hand behind her back, the other hand holding a colorful, cheery mug that belies the mood in the room. She gazes in the direction of the man, not at him. She appears to be waiting.

Will you share a favorite recipe?

My mother, Maura Maria, was born and raised in Guantanamo, Cuba along with her twin sister, Noelia, and her younger sister Martha. My aunt Martha was a wonderful cook. Years ago, she gave me her recipe for a smooth, creamy flan that I love to bake and share with friends.


Darlene Campbell, "29 Palms #5", 2018, oil on panel, 9" x 12"

What we're reading/ watching / listening to this week:

Koplin Del Rio