Day by day, an artist chronicled two years of covid in America
So Brodner, a painter and political cartoonist, did a personal act every day. He will pick up his pen and brush to highlight one salient aspect of the coronavirus pandemic from the current news cycle – one face or event at a time.
Now, his heartfelt portfolio of ink and paint snapshots has been collected in a new book.Living and Dying in America: A Daily Chronicle 2020-2022“— a real-time reminder of how the pandemic brought out the best and worst in us during its first 22 months.
The book illuminates sacrifice and support, neglect and denial. And it gathers a cumulative force as its human mosaic becomes more complex. On one page there is a medical worker who makes do with very little equipment. A politician, on the other hand, seems to make up information that has little basis in reality.
The spirit of the project, though, was sparked by Caius Kelly.
Kelly, 48, was a nurse at Mount Sinai West Hospital in Manhattan who contracted the virus in March 2020. She is believed to be the first healthcare worker in New York to die from Covid.
Once the artist read about Kelly, he was moved to create a tribute painting.
“This young man basically gave his life to save his patients,” Brodner says. “According to his family, he felt it was really important to go to work — to be there for these sick people.”
Brodner began threatening Kelly with a photo. He then posted the artwork on his social media accounts. “I looked at it and thought: Yeah, let’s do more.”
The practice, documented daily, was a way for him to cope with the speed at which the virus was spreading.
“I felt when I started doing them that I was stopping time a little bit,” the author says by phone from Manhattan. “I want to see their faces. I want to hear their stories. I want to hear their voices, if possible. (Disclosure: Broadner contributed art to The Washington Post.)
The scope of the project would grow considerably, but initially, Brodner kept it simple and gained steady momentum. A few lines of ink. A few lines of prose.
The artist wanted each portrait he shared on social media to stand as a marker—as a “symbol of this life,” he says. “Like a tombstone, or a little memorial card that you’d slip into a wall or display.” Some of the victims’ loved ones sent him notes of appreciation.
Yet Brodner, 67, says much of his half-century-long career has involved adapting his art to his point of view. So, increasingly, he drew on other voices and news that also reflected the pandemic era, especially when he felt that the U.S. Covid response exposed the ways in which “we no All in it together.”
In a Brodner portrait, a Houston medical worker describes how he has to tell some Covid patients: “I don’t have enough beds for you.” In another example, a woman at a Houston rodeo says of a veil: “It’s against our constitutional rights. They can’t dictate what I wear.
“To Live and Die” specifically criticizes leaders who downplayed the dangers of the pandemic Or who opposed the lockdown? “There are people who shouldn’t be let off the hook,” the artist says of the political response to the virus. More than 1 million Americans.
Broadner sought to explore physical and emotional truths. He has an initials that he uses when teaching his art students at New York’s School of Visual Arts: “DMIU.”
“Don’t make it up—I write it on their papers,” says Brodner, emphasizing that “when you’re making a face, you really have to look. On Face.” He adds: “You’re consciously or unconsciously entering that person’s world.”
This approach enhances his sense of artistic empathy. Late at night in his studio or at the dining room table, he would be overcome with sadness: “I would sit and feel the loss.” He didn’t know any of his victims, yet he felt such a strong emotional connection that he cried. (Brodner, who is vaccinated and boosted, notes that neither he nor his acupuncturist wife have contracted Covid.)
As for who Brodner chose for the spotlight, he was particular. Affected by the loss of a nurse, cancer survivor, boxing coach, musician and Nick Corderothe Broadway actor who died in the summer of 2020 at the age of 41.
He made these portraits To connect and cope.
“The only reason I did it,” he notes, “was because I felt it.”
He pauses for a moment and says: “I think that’s why we make art.”