In the Midst of the Plague

In the Midst of the Plague
Harvey Dinnerstein, At the Window, 2020, pastel on board, 15 3/4 x 27 1/2 in. Permanent Collection of The Art Students League of New York.

For the past seventeen months I have been quarantined with my wife Lois in lockdown at the epicenter of the pandemic. The only contact we had with the outside world was a view through the window of a backyard in Brooklyn and an ambulette ride to the hospital when Lois came down with pneumonia.

Harvey Dinnerstein surviving the pandemic
Harvey Dinnerstein, Methodist Hospital, 2021, graphite on paper, 6 x 5 1/8 in.

The world I was familiar with has been drastically altered by the invisible virus, and I have great difficulty navigating this unfamiliar terrain.

But after a period of uncertainty, I found great solace when I picked up a drawing tool or brush and somehow the creative spark returned. An affirmation of life, beyond the shadows of the deadly virus.

When I returned to working in the studio, images came to mind that reflected subjects and themes I had developed in the past, transformed to address contemporary concerns.

Harvey Dinnerstein surviving the pandemic
Harvey Dinnerstein, Ferry Crossing, Sunrise (detail), 2001, oil on canvas, 33 x 40 in.

Drawings and paintings of Lois that I had done years ago resonate in present time, as we confront the uncertainties ahead, Ferry Crossing, Sunrise.

And compositions I had developed in the past seemed to have another kind of urgency today, as they portray the diverse humanity of Underground Together (1996); transformation and death in Parade (detail) (1970–72); and the renewal of life in Another Spring, The Seasons (1982). All these images reverberate in another context in the work I was about to undertake.

Following is a selection of work I have done this past year and half in the midst of the plague.

The initial images focused on Lois, with various drawings building toward the pastel At the Window and continuing in the hospital when she came down with pneumonia, Methodist Hospital. Followed with other studies when she returned to recover back home but still in quarantine.

Since we were confined in lockdown, the only view of the world outside was through a window, and I remembered a related drawing I had done years ago. Working over the old drawing the current image evolved, Full Moon in Winter.

Harvey Dinnerstein surviving the pandemic
Harvey Dinnerstein, The Plague, 2021, pastel on board, 17 x 15 in.

One image suggested another, and I recollected seeing from the same window, a predator falcon capturing a squirrel in our backyard. Drawing from memory, an image of the Falcon Hunting emerged.

After these drawings and pastels evocative of our confinement in quarantine, I turned towards the subject of the pandemic, with an image of The Plague as I imagined the invisible virus surfacing underground.

Along with the danger of the pandemic, I am also acutely aware in this tenth decade of my life of our inevitable mortality, and Death in Arcadia reflects these concerns.

Harvey Dinnerstein surviving the pandemic
Harvey Dinnerstein, Death in Arcadia, 2021, pastel on board, 13 x 9 in.

Sometimes an old drawing seemed to have another kind of relevance today. I worked over a drawing I had done thirty-five years ago to construct a contemporary image of The Fratricide.

Nurses, doctors, and emergency works at the front line remind me of rescue crews at the ruins of the World Trade Center, and I returned to the subject with First Responders, developed from unresolved sketches I had done twenty years ago.

Looking back over the diverse images I have done this past year, I realized they were all interconnected. But missing was an image that would express hope and the possibility of renewal. My response was the composition From Darkness Into Light of an old woman and child learning to walk, searching for the light we all seek at the end of the tunnel.


HARVEY DINNERSTEIN was an instructor at the Art Students League of New York from 1980 to 2020. He is represented by Gerald Peters Gallery.