Koplin Del Rio
May 2, 2020 1:07PM

In the (Home) Studio with Elyse Pignolet & Sandow Birk

You are spending this time in your home in LA, how is it going? What do the days look like for you now taking into account that you are both working artists, and you have your two kids home full time at the moment?

SB: I think it’s been really hard and stressful. We live in a loft and mostly work at home, and though it’s a big space, it’s hard to get any quiet time to yourself. Our kids are young and now they are doing homeschooling with daily video calls with their classmates, and they need constant help and monitoring to get them to focus on the work and use the computers, so it means hovering over them for three or four hours a day. That comes with arguments and rebellion from the kids, and then the adults getting stressed and no time to really get anything done except by picking away at things for 15 minutes at a time. Stressful.I’ve been working steadily, though, on small paintings. It’s my escape and having a project to work on keeps me sane.

ECP: It's funny, I've talked to some of my artist friends who don’t have children and they’re having a very different experience during this time. It seems they’re having longer periods working in the studio with less distractions, with no more meetings to go to and many of their deadlines have been postponed. In a way, artists have been training to self-isolate.

For me, before the pandemic I spent most of my days alone working in my studio. As you might imagine, today’s reality is much different with our young children home from school and the obligation to homeschool them both. After a morning of homeschool we try to get out for a little activity, maybe a walk, skate, or bike ride in the neighborhood. Sometimes we’ll do a bigger project with the kids. We had a basic model kit for a small boat, we extended the project by adding our own design ideas over a few days, and we kept tweaking and testing it at a local lagoon.

Clockwise from top left: Tejo's handmade boat; homeschooling, the family out for a walk/skate

You have collaborated regularly on work in the past - are you working on any projects together at the moment?

ECP: Yes, we have collaborated a lot in the past and we have talked about ideas for future projects, but nothing going at the moment. I think our efforts in homeschool for the two kids have been a collaboration. Wow, do I Really appreciate our kid’s teachers!

SB: We have taken the indoor time to get more on the computer than normal, so I’ve been applying to grants and public art projects for us as a team, but they are all just shots in the dark right now, as most things are on hold. But it feels like you’re doing something by getting an application finished and sent off.

We have some big projects in mind, roughly, that we’d like to get to if the time comes when we can collaborate with printers or others.

Elyse Pignolet Homemaker / Homewrecker, 2019 Ceramic vase with glazes, 2.5" x 5" x 3"

Small watercolors in progress by Elyse

What word describes your state(s) of mind?



What are you working on in the studio - can you tell us about it?

ECP: My ceramic studio is not at our home and at the beginning of the shelter-in-place requirement I was still going. Things seem to change frequently and for a time I wasn’t allowed back in, I think this has changed again but I haven’t been there in a few weeks. My creative outlet has mostly been working in my sketchbook and also with watercolors on paper, but I do have an idea to work on canvas and acrylics… this would be something new! I was suppose to be in a big show at Long Beach Museum of Art, opening early May, which has been postponed. The show will showcase a big ceramic tile installation I made but I also have new ceramic vessels and objects in the works.

SB: I was scheduled to have a show in August in Los Angeles, in this funky artist-run gallery that is actually onboard the USS Iowa battleship, which is now a museum ship in L.A. Harbor. Since the gallery is in these two small, metal rooms on the ship, I am planning on doing many small paintings to sort of hang salon style. And since the tone of the whole museum is so serious and all about facts and technical stuff and war heroism, I thought it would be interesting to make paintings that seem to be serious and antiquated and traditional, but that are actually contemporary and metaphorical with surprises in them. So I’m working on those, and dreaming of time when the same ideas could actually be realized on a larger scale as well. A time without kids around.

A painting in progress by Sandow

Considering the context of your respective work - which deals with social injustice, politics, environmental issues, capitalism, etc - what ideas are forming in light of this event for each of you?

ECP: This has never happened here before and it is such a hard and depressing time, with everything happening so fast. There is so much going on in the news daily but life in quarantine all the drama is happening in private. It is a lot to process, I feel I need to bear witness. I also think there’s more self-reflection and internal ideas forming.

SB: Well, my marine paintings have all become about isolation and crumbling disease and shipwrecks, as well as a couple that are about the pandemic itself: about the Navy hospital ship arriving in L.A. harbor and another about the captain of the aircraft carrier that was fired for trying to get his crew off his ship when the virus was spreading.

Sandow Birk Becalmed, 2020 Acrylic on canvas, 9” x 13”

What vision do you have (best case scenario - disregarding the broad sentiment) for how we come back from this?

SB: Oh, I don’t know. I was hoping that by June our kids could make it back to school, but that’s been cancelled. I would dream now that by summer months they could at least be back on their soccer teams and we could go to the skateparks and beaches, because that’s what we do a lot with them. Being able to travel would be amazing. A road trip or some time in the tropics. That’s what this family needs, because we’re pretty water oriented.

ECP: I’m hopeful for when we’re on the other side of this. Better days will return. When we go back to some sort of normal, it will be so easy to be happy again.

What are you reading and listening to?

ECP: Podcasts: The Daily,Science VS,Chasing Cosby,Every Little Thing(to name a few)…Music: KCRWmorning becomes eclectic (local radio streaming)Reading:The New Yorker,The Atlantic, too many news outlets…Reading for an escape: Andre Aciman,Call Me By Your NameandFind me, Jane Austin, Emma… evening distraction with Netflix and wine!

SB: Kids movies. Podcasts on earphones. I can’t take all the virus news all day, so I like to listen to podcasts about soccer and pro surfing. As for reading, not much. Magazines before bed. The news.

Koplin Del Rio