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My Time in Quarantine

By December 22, 2023December 24th, 2023Art, Travel

In March of this year, Abid and I headed to Menorca, Spain to attend Quarantine, the travel art event dubbed “the unworkshop”.  It was the first of its kind and we were kinda their guinea pigs, mostly happy little guinea pigs.

We knew of the instigators of this experience from a previous venture, Menorca Pulsar, which we almost attended in 2022, but instead, they lost their lease on the property. Being the creatives that they are, they took the opportunity to reimagine their business. Since we were on the mailing list, we were among the first to hear all about it.

The marketing and media for Quarantine was mysterious, provocative and hella cool! It evoked the histories of the place where the event would be held, an old, for-real quarantine island from the 1600s! It is a place with rich history, where a lot of people died, prisoners lived in service, and guards held the people on the inside in, and on the outside out. Add to this an impressive list of artist mentors and we couldn’t resist.

Quarantine: the Cage that Became a Bird

“Muse Hacking”

We Knew more about what it wasn’t than what it was.

We knew that we’d be quarantined for 10+ hours daily, without phones and spend time painting, gathering for presentations and eating. What we didn’t know was:

  • The place is beautiful: views, architecture, grounds, interiors, gardens, etc.
  • We were well taken care of: fed, given coffee and beer all day, listened to and accommodate for.
  • Mentorship was a wildcard.
  • That non-stop immersion could be so much fun.
  • Quarantine is a class act.

Calles Fonts

We arrived in Menorca after a long series of flights on Sunday morning, the day before the event began. We chose to stay in a local AirBnb because it was closer to Calles Fonts, but in hindsight, I would have stayed in one of the sanctioned hotels, specifically the Artiem, as we ended up walking to their brunch and back, 5 of 7 mornings. The town all but shuts down from 5pm – 8am on weekdays and everything, besides restaurants are closed on Sundays.

On the one hand, a separate residence allowed for some much needed downtime, but on the other less time in the socially immersive environment of the community. By the time we checked in, we pretty much only had time to go for a walk, spot Lazaretto Island, just off of the shore, and  sit down for a bite to eat and a bottle of wine. We hit the sack early, as we were wiped from travel and the first of 3 ferries to Lazaretto departed at 8am the next morning.

Quarantined

The first day of Quarantine was like the first day of school. We were giddy with excitement and high expectations for what the whole experience would entail. The ferry ride was quick—less than 10 minutes and full of conversation. Just uphill from the dock was a welcome station where we picked up our goodie bags, complete with a branded sketch book, coffee mug, beer cup and apron. We donned a signature ring (our ID as Quarantiners) and made our way to the main presentation space, taking in the grandeur of the island.

Lazaretto of Mahon consists of stone architecture, with dividing walls everywhere—some with iron-barred gates and windows—, surrounded by twisted trees. Deepest within the beautifully renovated 19th century Italian architecture, the main presentation space is breathtaking. The gothic architecture had been recently renovated with a sleek concrete floor and LED lighting strips to accentuate the arches and ceilings. With name tags in place, we sipped coffee and circulated the room learning where folks were from and which artist group they were in. Everyone that I met was open and friendly with the look of anticipation that mirrored my own.

The absence of cell phones, on all but the final day of the week-long networking opportunity,
keeps one focused in the present moment.

And then the theatrics began! A few of the event creators, local artists themselves, were talented in more ways than one. While one began to speak in the Voice of the Island, another mimed and beckoned us to follow for a tour of the land. On this tour we learned of the island’s rich history, the purpose of spaces within and even experienced a coopted ritual, harkening back to the anointment of new arrivals. Most participants played along, though some were too cool, too shy, or lacked the imagination required to immerse in the theatrics. With a bit of ash on foreheads, we headed back to the main hall for the first day’s presentation.

Nicolas Uribe Presents

After a quick on-stage introduction, Nicholas Uribe kicked things off as the first morning presenter. It was immediately apparent to me why he was selected to go first. He’s seriously among the most likable people that I’ve ever met, and this held true throughout a week of casual encounters. His ability to share from a place of authentic interest in art and people is engaging and fun. His very well put together presentation steered clear of any type of personal bio and included zero images of his own work.

The work that he did show, was from the “outsiders”, a term that he explained why he dislikes. His message, as I understood it, took art off of any pedestal by demonstrating how intrinsic it is to our lives… Why do we put it on a pedestal in the first place? Why do we make it so precious? Why do we covet it so? Why do we even do it, at all? These questions were raised and then we were sent off for the next segment of the morning with a burning desire to find the answers for ourselves.

Image © Quarantine

Off to Meet My Mentor for a Week – Vincent Desidario

With our newly shaken-up ideas about art suspended inside of our snow globe minds, everyone dispersed to their designated mentor’s space. Amidst the large campus of beautifully renovated 19th century Italian architecture, I found my group of 18 on the 2nd floor above the main presentation space. 

Vincent Desidario was my chosen mentor. I liked him because… omg his work! and because of his reputation as a brilliant teacher.

I was soooo glad I did. I mean the mentors at Quarantine all had a lot to offer, but, dare I say that Vincent had the most to offer, not only because of his years doing this, but because of the depth at which he’s immersed himself. And, even more importantly, he was exceedingly generous in sharing.

He immediately jumped into sharing his technique, the historical basis for it and his enigmatically brilliant self. We weren’t there to learn the basics, as we all arrived with the pre-requisites of drawing and painting skills, for the most part, so he was free to take us deeper.

—Lunch Break—

Everyone had the option to arrive to lunch at their leisure, given the 1.5 hour break. It was held in an area where the wealthier of the quarantined once had their quarters. For the duration, there were tables in the courtyard, in the building and in the back, overlooking the bay. This was also where dinner was held, daily. It was springtime and although the weather varied from cool to cooler, it never rained. The climate isn’t too different from that of Southern California. The catering service started off with a bang, but as the week went on, it was less and less satisfying, though there was always ample food, complimentary Spanish wine and dessert. We gathered at tables with new people on the daily. Getting to know folks of all ages, all practice backgrounds and from all over the world.

Mentor Sessions with Vinny, On the Daily

On this first day, we barely had time to find our places and listen to a short intro lecture from Vincent before we headed out for lunch. But, on the usual day, we had about 3 hours between the presentation and lunch. And then 3 more after lunch and before the afternoon panel.

We’d flow between lectures and demos and working. Vincent rotated through the room and helped as people struggled and supported those who shown. I personally was careful to follow directions for the initial project, but some found their own way to their comfort zones. It’s not that struggling is my thing, but learning is, growing is. I also like to be noticed. 🙂

On the final days, we had more time to paint than to listen. Vincent was talked-out and I have pages and pages of notes to show for it—not to mention my overflowing brain with some useful and some heady intellectual academic concepts. There was a lot to say, but he also needed to save himself for the final day of back to back critiques.

In the end, it wasn’t my work on the piece that I followed directions on, or the one where I tried his weird medium of bitumen, but the one where I just painted, applying what I’d learned to the skills I’d arrived with that got me the praise I was hoping for. I worked directly from the photograph (my comfort zone), but more quickly and loosely, like I would from a live model. It went well. I was so very tickled by the surprise on Vincent’s face when he saw what I was up to. It’s moments like that that give me the strength to carry on.

Blog Post about my time with Vincent Desidario
—coming soon—

Henrik Uldalen Presents

The next day, Henrik Ulalden shared about his journey to finding himself as an artist. He spoke vulnerably about how at times, simply getting out of bed can be a struggle for him. “The remedy”, he said  “is to follow your bliss”. It’s not that he was saying that we shouldn’t work hard, but that if it’s too much of a schlog, it’s the fastest way to creating your own prison. He began setting up small projects for himself to get the juices flowing and help him find his joy.

He spends a single hour in the morning that’s not for anyone but himself— before moving on to bigger and more challenging work. To demonstrate this, he did a lovely painting of a face on glass that later, he smashed while his students smashed their own. I found it an inspiration. Take control of your own process, to do what best serves you, despite what a world bent on productivity would lop off despite itself.

Image © Quarantine

A Vastly Different Experience for Others

Over lunch on the second day, I was sharing with my husband, while pearched in my dining chair (teetering on my toes and sitting on my heals) wide eyed and almost shouting. I talked about what I was learning, trying to understand and disagreeing with in our session. It was then that I learned that things weren’t quite as stimulating for everyone.

He had signed up for Jeremy Mann and wasn’t getting what he’d expected. First and foremost, because he wasn’t getting Jeremy Mann. Instead Jeremy mentored with his wife, Nadezda, and she seemed to be running most of the programming.

Their assignments included drawing blind contours, doodling sound and taking pictures of each other. He felt like it was more of a kid’s art therapy class.. and even though there’s nothing wrong with that, again, it wasn’t what he signed up for. Abid wasn’t alone in being disappointed. Jeremy’s work was what brought them there and they were learning nothing of how he thought or the techniques of his work, outside of a personal history presentation, the same one he would share with the whole lot of us, when it was his turn to present.

Mind you, there were a number of Nicholas Uribe’s mentees that were meeting in the “halls” to talk about taking back control of their Quarantine, as well. On day one, he turned expectations on their head when he announced that he’d be leading a plein air week, having never really done any plein air. Folks were unprepared for being outside (though provided with sunscreen) and were far away from their star mentor for most of the days.

Nicholas’ group did address him and some adjustments were made, but Jeremy’s group just had to grin and bear it… or beg to be extracted. Abid joined us for the last few days.

Some didn’t have to deal with any of this drama, as they’d signed up for the studio artist option. For them, it was unguided studio time, for a reduced price. They could paint from a live model, or work on their own. These folks had access to all of the other presentations and amenities, they just did not have a chosen mentor.

The Panel Discussions

Before dinner we’d gather to hear from the group of mentors, seated on stage, for a moderated panel discussion. On this first day they talked about working with galleries, each taking the time to share about their experiences, some about finding one to work with, others about how they’re useless. It was funny at times, charged at others.

A lively argument broke out, in which Vincent was the heavyweight. There’s something both enlivening and cringeworthy of someone who is so unapologetic about his perspective, especially when face to face with a millennial. Luckily Nicolas was there to crack perfectly timed jokes to ease the tension.

Panel discussions were a thing on the first 3 days or so and took on many topics such as: your inner child and taking time away. There was time built in for Q&A which offered an opportunity to ask serious questions and hear responses from the other mentors that might not be part of the casual conversation struck up by the bonfire.

© Laura Tomàs

Nadezda & Jeremy Mann Present

Though they presented on two separate days, Nadezda and Jeremy mentored as a team.

Nadezda

She lead us down her creative life’s journey in a slide show. Her upbringing encouraged a deep dive into creativity, play and fantasy. She had been building a whimsical world through her work, ever since. She stopped at nothing to explore the places that ideas come from, sometimes silly, dark, and just plain weird. She led us through some of the exercises that have helped her stay connected to her subconscious and the more playful side of creativity. Her work was interesting yet far outside the box that we call “representational” and definitely on the fringes for her audience.

Jeremy Mann

A serious fella, in contrast to his wife, Jeremy shared about the environment of constant creativity that they’ve cultivated at home. They’ve banished mobile devices to optimize their days for talking about, preparing for and making art. He shared about art school, getting traction in the art world with his cityscapes, photoshoots for references and building contraptions for unique mark making. As the type of artist that’s constantly shifting genres in his subject matter to stay interested and challenged, he’d recently shifted into film making.

Image © Quarantine

Entertainment

Evenings did not disappoint. Sunset was epic and happened over dinner. After that there was a special something arranged each day. There were bonfire socials, a singer songwriter performance, an avant guard concert pianist and—on the final day—the Tekniqs, an incredible Pink Floyd tribute band. My heart soared on that one.

Booze isn’t considered entertainment on its own, but it does often seem to be part of it. Loosening people up to talk to an artist they idolize, staying up late, despite working your ass off all day with little sleep and just general merriment.

On that note, Beer was served all day long, compliments of Estrella Damm, brewed in Barcelona, Spain. I got very used to having one at lunch. They also had a pretty stocked bar and luckily they accepted a very special currency for mixed drinks ;).

Ferries back to the mainland came back around every 20 minutes or so from 8:30 to 10pm and unlike the morning ones, we could chose when to leave.

Emilio Villalba Presents

Emilio presented on his conventional path into making unconventional art. His presentation had a personal touch with loads of gratitude and humility. His early stories were full of personal revelations, inspiration from art history, his first trip to a museum with his dad and the teachers that helped him find his way.

I couldn’t help but sketch him while he presented.

Image © Quarantine

To Sum it Up

Quarantine was a completely unique and worthwhile experience. For me, the whole thing went incredibly well. I also chose well and got lucky that Vincent’s take on “Muse Hacking” exceeded my expectations. There was a reason that Quarantine selected the mentors they did. They were rule breakers and wild cards, there to show us how we can march to the beat of our own drum as artists—a message that has served me well.

We were the first to experience Quarantine and it will never be the same. There’s been a fall edition since and the format has changed for the better, I’m sure, but somehow I can’t imagine it any other way.

My favorite mentors and my favorite take-aways from them were:

  • Nicolas – look for the deeper meaning for yourself. Art is personal.
  • Henrick – do what makes you feel good and want to do this, don’t loose that.
  • Vincent – fucking do better and deeper and you’ll see God in there somewhere.

Quarantine Team – © Quarantine

Thank you, Quarantine!

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