Painting her way through a pandemic.

April 14, 2020

I am more grateful than ever to have the time and space in which to escape the current situation. The Art Lab in Richmond, Virginia, is the best medicine for me. Everything is as I leave it there. A continuum exists in that space where I can psychically pick up where I left off easily. The only things that change are the quality of light and the impact of the weather. Bertha, our terrier, goes with me so she can run the grounds and bark to her content. She is excellent company.

That said, the art I feel best represents the impact of our isolation nation is this series of small works on paper — all created at home when I can’t sleep. Insomnia is usually something I experience when traveling — now it’s a sign of the times. It’s an excellent excuse to paint into the early-morning hours and to wake up late and hope the ink or watercolor has dried. I usually work on two to four surfaces at once, as the waiting game (evaporation) is part of the process.

The theme in this body of work is one I’ve referenced since working on “The Moving Cultures Project” in Tibet during 2009. Ladders surfaced in the work I made there… a reference to the Tibetans’ desire to escape oppression and/or attain enlightenment. Since then the ladders have become a running motif for me at times, particularly personal and relevant when I lost my parents in 2011.

As my sleep patterns are so out of whack right now, I dream about these images and have realized my ladders walk the line between a DNA sequence and Jacob’s Ladder. Perhaps we all do, whether or not we see ladders.

This series will continue to evolve. What began as part of my “Dharma Diaries” in 2009 currently reflects the anxiety of an unknown unlike any other in our lifetime. I’m okay with the unknown part. Nature and science rock. It’s the Idiocracy that scares me.

At home I will continue to paint and draw on archival rag paper. Most of these are between ten and eighteen inches in size. I use ink, watercolor, gouache, oil pastel, wax and whatever else fits the bill. Larger work appears on my website and at Reynolds Gallery in Richmond, Virginia.

I’m also participating in “The Arc of the Viral Universe,” a journaling group that can be found on FB and IG (#arcoftheviraluniverse).

 — Amie Oliver


You can find more of Amie’s work featured in our interview with her here, and in conversation with Patricia Smith’s “Holy War” (where you will see some early ladder work). Be sure to visit her website:


This feature also appears, in slightly different format, on Medium.