6 Birmingham artists inspired by COVID to make incredible art

covid artists
Masks on, but make it art. Photo via Michael Acuff

It’s no secret Birmingham is brimming with talented creatives. And despite the state of the world over the last year, these six local artists have turned uncertainty into creativity—continuing to make art that inspires, educates and uplifts. Get to know them here.

1. Lynn Battle

Lynn first discovered weaving a few years ago while wandering around the Berea College campus during her daughter’s freshman year. Struggling with her only child moving away for college as well as caring for her dying mother, she found fullness and comfort in weaving.

“I prefer to make something that primarily has a use, like to keep a baby warm, dry your dishes or keep the chill away on a cool day. I hope that it is also pleasing to the senses but first of all that it is useful.”

When it comes to her craft, Lynn finds inspiration all around her. Before the pandemic, she was able to get out and about, allowing her to translate her first-hand experiences with the world into her weaving.

“Now I spend most of my time staring out my front door (for inspiration). One would think that would be limiting, but I have been amazed at how much endless beauty can be just outside my door.”

Recently, Lynn acquired a book of interviews of enslaved people who were weavers, which has reignited her inspiration.

“I was inspired by the fact that people who had everything stolen from them—their past, their present and even any hope of a better future—yet they were still able to create. I am inspired by the fact that the creative spirit can bloom even when everything else is stolen from you. That’s what gets me through the days when I don’t feel well enough to exist let alone weave. That’s what brings me back to the loom.”

Find Lynn’s work on her two Instagram accounts: @hood_weaver + @nappyweaver.

Camp McWane

2. Andy Jordan

Pursuing art as a career wasn’t Andy’s initial plan, but at age 29 he made the decision to follow his artistic passions. Although this year has been tremendously difficult for artists, Andy has been able to find inspiration right outside his doorstep. 

“I had a few shows canceled, and lost teaching and painting gigs. However, I am fortunate and privileged to have a backyard. So, I have been painting en plein air. These studies will be enlarged and abstracted for a future body of work.”

Along with being inspired by backyard landscapes, he’s also drawn inspiration from the people who have stepped up to serve and share their voices over the last year.

“As we all process the events that have unfolded over this past year, I’m inspired by those that have given the most, specifically the medical and frontline workers who haven’t had rest since this all began, and those actively fighting for racial justice.”

Find Andy’s work on Instagram at @brother_andy, and stay tuned for future exhibitions.

United Way - Careers

3. Brandi Shah

covid artists
Sawubona/Sala Kahle by Brandi Shah. Photo via Vinegar Projects

Brandi is a physician, teacher, artist and storyteller, but her original art form is writing, specifically poetry. She studied creative writing and poetry in college and has continued her writing practice into adulthood, both privately and through formal writing classes. It wasn’t until last year that she dove into digital storytelling through StoryCenter’s virtual workshops.

“I immediately found it affirming and exhilarating and an open door to ‘visualizing’ my writing for myself and others in a way I couldn’t before. Moving into the digital artist space is the newest version of my artist identity, still very much an exploration and growth opportunity.”

The events and challenges over the last year have not stifled Brandi’s work.

If anything, these experiences have propelled her creative process forward, allowing her to process both internal space and the world around her through writing.

“One specific poem that morphed into a collaborative digital piece with Celeste Amparo Pfau comes to mind, ‘Woman in the Alley,’ which progresses from an individual encounter to the integration of digital news clippings I collected over the last year that address simultaneous, preceding and compounding tragedies that happened/are happening while the COVID pandemic persists.

The news clippings address the racial violence and ongoing delayed liberation for Black, Indigenous and people of color, as well as tragedies of climate change and, of course, the loss of lives and livelihoods due to COVID. All of these represent the oppression, repression and failures of imagination that connect and impact us all.”

covid artists
Video still from Woman in the Alley by Brandi Shah and Celeste Amparo Pfau. Photo via Vinegar Projects

The piece—her first focused on narrative advocacy—is presented alongside interactive prompts allowing viewers to:

  • Identify and reflect on their personal connections to the piece;
  • Learn more about the social issues presented; and then
  • Channel their connections and learnings into personal and community action.

In addition to finding inspiration in the world, Brandi also finds inspiration at home.

“A joyful source of inspiration has been my family, and particularly my children’s singular resilience, kindness and compassion in such trying times that I know they don’t understand completely, yet they follow this heart compass that embodies youth. This has been sustaining even in the darkest parts of the past year.”

Find Brandi’s first exhibition at Vinegar Contemporary until March 27.

Healthier people are happier people - BlueCross BlueShield of Alabama

4. Steven Mark Finley Jr. 

With a BFA from the University of Montevallo, Steven’s art practice began in grade school. His work has evolved over the years to become an homage to reflection and self-preservation, especially in 2020.

“2020 forced the world to turn inward on itself, so with a lot of time spent alone the work became heavily influenced by the fluidity of gender and sexuality. As a black queer painter, it is imperative that I share my own stories for the relief of myself and other men out there with similar stories revolving around identity & sexuality.”

Steven has found inspiration for his work through his own life experiences. And, despite the setbacks of last year, he’s been able to move forward, allowing himself to blossom and take true ownership of who he is, unapologetically.

Steven currently works out of Woodlawn’s new space for creatives, Commonplace. You can find his work on Instagram at @stevenmarkstudio.

5. Sarah Adkins-Jablonsky

covid artists
“Coexistence” by Sarah Adkins-Jablonsky and Tristan Young Photo via Sarah Adkins-Jablonsky

Sarah’s longtime dream of becoming a physician is what initially led her to study science at UAB. And after taking one art elective, she decided to obtain a degree from UAB’s Department of Art and Art History. She was awarded a science fellowship from the National Science Foundation to pursue her Ph.D. in the UAB Department of Biology. Her graduate research focuses on how art made from bacteria helps students ultimately identify as scientists.

“My artwork—and the artwork I teach to students—called “agar art”, uses bacterial cultures to create painterly images in Petri dishes. Artwork like agar art, especially in tandem with teaching and research, helps build the bridges needed to understand and relate to both the macro and microscopic world around us.”

Over the last year, she’s taken advantage of technological tools to advance her work. From collaborating with local Alabama artist Tristan Young to create a COVID-19 agar art piece “Coexistence” (a finalist for the 2020 ASM Agar Art Contest and pictured above) to connecting with Argentina-based artist Julia Carosi and using her scientific data of brain waves to make agar art—Sarah views tools like Zoom, FaceTime and email as lifelines to fostering relationships and creating art.

covid artists
Follow Your Heart. Photo via Sarah Adkins-Jablonsky
Recently, she’s found inspiration in Brandi Shah’s “Sawubona / Sala Kahle” exhibit at Vinegar Contemporary. 

“Writer and storyteller Brandi Shah created immersive interdisciplinary experiences that documented a beautiful assortment of vulnerable stories. Shah is also a physician, which helps me to see how artwork can inform not only science or medical education, but also how art can help patients process their own stories. Now en route to medical school, I cannot wait to find new ways to use my own art education in medicine and patient care.”

Beyond furthering her practice, Sarah hopes to make a lasting impact on people around the world.

“I want my impact to transcend the physical art I make. As a way to help my neighbors around the world, I donate portions of my art profits to organizations that support education and environmental justice… It is my hope that this small act continues to let my artwork outlive me.”

You can find Sarah and her agar art on Instagram + Twitter at @admiraladkins, and find photos from her recent Ground Floor Contemporary Phase Transitions exhibition, “Follow Your Heart,” on Instagram at @groundfloorcontemporary.

Southern Ketamine and Wellness

6. Michael Acuff

Michael has been making art since before he was walking or talking. His mom, an artist and teacher, had crayons and paint in his hands before he can remember. With a BFA in painting from Auburn University, he works predominantly with acrylic paint on canvas or paper—according to Michael, “a dynamic developed over a lifetime seeking for immediacy that can be taken seriously.”

His art is a reflection of and reaction to his surroundings. And this year, after the initial state of shock and panic subsided, he experienced an overwhelming jolt to his artistic routine.

“After a month or two of acclimation, I found myself very inspired and overflowing with ideas and had a very productive time. This period also shed light on what was important to me and what type of people I need to surround myself with. The change in perspective gave me an energy I hadn’t felt in some time.”

Throughout this time of uncertainty, Michael’s drawn inspiration from a multitude of sources. 

“I have found endless inspiration in music, my friends/colleagues, movies and witnessing people unite in solidarity for the greater good over the powers that be. Also, daily inspiration comes from my loving and extremely talented girlfriend and our handful of a dog. He teaches me patience.”

Find his work on Instagram at @michael_acuff.

Know of more local artists creating inspiring work right now? Share it with us on social at @BhamNow on Facebook and Instagram, or @Now_Bham on Twitter.

Hannah Chambley
Hannah Chambley
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