Hope is the feathered thing that perches in the soul, and sings the melody without the words, and never stops at all… – Emily Dickinson
When Annie Ruygt moved to a small town in the midst of a global pandemic, she created a perfect formula for making the loneliness worse, for experiencing exponential isolation.
Having lived in Napa to be close to her family, she got engaged to Eliott Bernard, a teacher at Redwood / Accelerated Achievement Academy, and moved to Ukiah in July 2020 to live with her future husband.
As an illustrator and author, she knows well the solitude imposed by her vocation, but it was of a different order.
“I was working from home, completely isolated, unable to meet anyone, looking for a way to make a public art form,” she says. “I was ready for anything. “
She wanted to paint murals on the Palace Hotel, but finding out that it was privately owned and would require permits, she contacted the Arts Council and was directed to the Ukiah City Program Administrator, Neil Davis.
This, in turn, led her to collaborate with the city to create the new Alex Thomas Plaza outdoor art gallery to recognize “that the arts, creative endeavors and culture embody a great deal of wisdom, of the intellect and imagination of mankind and reflect the unique way in which the people of Ukiah City express themselves through the arts. Public expression of the arts, creative endeavors, and culture can aid the process of strong emotions, including grief and loss experienced during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. “
The new exhibition space aims to enhance the aesthetics of the Alex Thomas Plaza, provide a public place for local artists to display their work, and serve as a springboard to increase the amount of public art in the city.
Annie worked with her sister, a theater production manager and set designer in the creation of her outdoor exhibit — five acrylic panels, each approximately 4 feet by 3 feet — designing the series to reflect on the past year and a half of ” roller coaster emotions and a cultural touch ”, expressing his feelings around the negatives and positives of the loneliness induced by the pandemic.
After listening to a few of his solo acts and a few others accompanied by community musicians Sid Bishop and Jared Soinila, we moved on to the first piece in his series which depicts a neighborhood of houses of varying sizes with an orange light. fluorescent coming out of their windows. , a handful of trees and a small solitary figure winding through streets devoid of any other living being.
“This one was inspired by feeling completely isolated, not seeing anyone, not knowing where I was in this city, knowing that people were there to do activities, seeing them completely isolated at home. them and wanting to be able to connect with them. I was walking outside and it was like a ghost town.
“I did 10 day meditation retreats, but it was different: at the end of these retreats, I could still go home and visit a friend; the worst part about it was not knowing when it would end.
She explains that she was no stranger to the feelings associated with isolation before the pandemic. An author and illustrator, she works alone all day and has moved around a lot over the past five years.
“It was very familiar, but this time everyone was experiencing it. It’s not that easy as an adult to make new friends. I walked around knowing I was anonymous to everyone; I was trying to find places I could hook up but when it’s all gone, when there’s no yoga studio, no coffee, what do you do?
The next panel, with a similar theme, shows rows of houses casting a warm orange light into the night with figures and Christmas trees inside.
“I look inside. I remember taking a lot of walks and seeing the Christmas trees and the people in their homes, knowing that I wouldn’t have the chance to go to my family for Christmas.”
Connecting with friends and family, singing holiday songs on Facetime and Zoom, texting, all alleviated some of his connection urges, but also led to a feeling of loss in internet feeds and to Zoom’s fatigue, so graphically depicted with a self-portrait of her sitting in front of her computer, her head slumped on the keyboard and thick orange, yellow, green and blue threads slipping her laptop out of the canvas.
“I’m still recovering from this and can’t be on my computer all day.”
The last in the series but the first she painted, very different from the others in style and theme, the only one with a title — Growth in Solitude — shows a male figure seated in the middle of a wreath of new multicolored flowers. . , surrounded by vineyards, overlooking a lush hill of trees and purple mountains.
“My own internal growth turned out to have to come to terms with this new reality; it also gave me time to contemplate what I was doing with my art. It forced me to do this new kind of work, which I really enjoy.
She says it is rare for her to paint and rare for her to do public art; she usually draws by hand on an iPad and publishes her work on the Internet.
“I was on the internet all the time for work and when my social life had to be on the internet too, I hit my threshold. It pushed me to put myself in my hands, to connect with people through art in a real way, to prepare to go back out into the world and be more connected. I learned what I really want to do.