Whether it’s a heartfelt tribute or a biting commentary, the stirring new works by three artists — Jilly Ballistic, Duyi Han and TV Boy — profoundly capture what the world looks like in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. And with that, we present to you their thoughts on the current global situation, their life as artists, and more in the exclusive interviews below.
If you've ever experienced life as a New York City straphanger, then chances are you’ve already stumbled on some of Jilly Ballistic’s eerie historical images of World War II soldiers and civilians in gas masks. The subway artist describes these black-and-white wheatpaste figures as “modern protest work,” as she’s of the opinion that words and images are the two best mediums to reflect what is currently happening in society.
Tell us about the art you've been working on!
It changes from day to day as the situation with the pandemic changes. I’d comment on things like the absurdity of reopening the country while the death toll continues to rise, or I’d use a historical image that reflects our current situation — this is to show how little has changed for us. We’re repeating the same mistakes.
How are things going?
New York City has become a completely different world. Subways are mostly empty, and the streets are bare. It certainly doesn’t have the energy it is known for. It’s sombre, with the occasional glimmer of hope.
What do you think about how the pandemic has been handled and its effect on people?
The State of New York is doing its best to handle the pandemic without any Federal help. Individual states are left to fend for themselves, which leads to even more suffering, confusion, and instability. We aren’t unified as a country, and that’s going to take a toll on our citizens. Art will reflect this, and art around the globe will record what is happening for the history books.
What does your daily routine entail now?
I’m entering my second month of quarantine, which entails me living alone, and producing artwork that I apply to walls on the street or within the subway system. I do have a full-time job that I’m able to work remotely from; I try to find a good balance between these two areas of my life. It keeps me going.
The recent outbreak is devastating on a worldwide scale, but it hits especially close to home for Duyi Han. Making headlines for his mural at a historic church in China’s Hubei province, Duyi’s journey to the region where the virus originated is a deeply personal one, as it’s also where his grandparents reside.
The Doesn’t Come Out creative director was travelling back and forth between New York and Los Angeles for work when China was first swept by the pandemic.
How are your grandparents holding up?
They are doing fine. I was worried about them when the outbreak was severe earlier in the year. People in the city were very nervous during the crisis. But food and basic supplies were available right at their doorstep, at least in the neighbourhood my grandparents live in. So they were able to stay home without too much difficulty.
Tell us about the mural! Was selecting a church a conscious choice on your part?
I was already aware of the local architecture, although my collaborators and I were still deciding on the final location. We figured that we might use either the church, which is no longer in use today and isn't a registered heritage building, or an interior space separate from the church.
Where are you self-isolating at?
I am now in Shanghai, and I'm free to move around in China following a 14-day hotel quarantine. Having travelled to China from the United States, I witnessed first hand the shocking difference in the level of precautionary and safety measures between the two countries.
How has the lockdown affected you personally and the people around you?
I have to adjust my short-term and long-term life plans accordingly. There are lots of phone and video calls. Lots of recipe sharing. But on the bright side, I have plenty of ideas for future artworks. The situation is getting better in China, so I hope the world will recover soon, too.
Italian artist TV Boy believes that art should mirror the times we live in. So, when he heard about a spike in coronavirus cases in Barcelona, a city in which he’s been based since 2004, he rolled up his sleeves and got to work. Through his art, TV Boy captures the severity of ongoing circumstances, but with a touch of lightness that casts the world in a more positive light. Love in the Time of Coronavirus, for example, is a bittersweet note on how love can survive the pandemic.
At what point did the gravity of the situation hit you?
It started with the cancellation of the Mobile World Congress. The virus was supposedly contained in China, but the decision to call off the fair prompted me to come up with Mobile World Virus, featuring the Mona Lisa. It made me think about how technology could be both a help and a kind of virus in itself, too.
Tell us about some of the famous references in your artworks!
I just bring it back to reality. I reimagined the Uncle Sam poster with an “I Want You” slogan because I want people to stay home. I also used the phrase “united we stand, divided we fall” in reverse, because I want people to avoid close contact with strangers in order to protect themselves as well as the frontliners.
Which of your artworks are you most proud of?
The first one is always the best. So, for that reason, I think Mobile World Virus featuring the Mona Lisa with a mask and smartphone would be a solid pick. But I also like Love in the Time of Coronavirus, which is inspired by a Francesco Hayez piece of work, because it is both poetic and romantic.
What is it like being a street artist when there’s no one on the street?
Street art can also be found on digital platforms, because whatever is on the wall could realistically be erased. So, the internet and online channels like Instagram give us artists a platform to share our work. It's a way of allowing the artworks to live a little longer.