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First artist to take part in Columbia COVID-19 artist residency reflects on the experience

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Kym Day’s The Girls Who Hang With Cattle

Artist Kym Day’s work has got a Texas feel to it. She moved to Greenville when she was 11 years old, but she’s originally from the Lone Star town of McKinney, and you can’t help but think she carries the memories of her home state’s wide-open spaces with her to this day.

Her paintings are full of vibrant colors and surreal imagery, but there are recurring themes. Her subjects are often cowboys or horses, and vast landscapes of plains or mountains are often in the background of her paintings. Horses often crop up in her sculptures, as well, as do wolves and lions.

Day often uses the natural world as a touchstone, but lately, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have begun to creep into her creations.

“I have a couple of my subjects wearing surgical masks,” Days says, “and one was a horse wearing latex gloves on its nose.”

“It’s kind of surreal, dreamlike images,” she continues. “It’s not focusing on the loneliness of quarantine, it’s made up a lot of more surreal imagery of the mind, coupled with dreams of a past or future where we aren’t in quarantine. But it’s definitely become present in the work.”

Day has spent most of the last month doing this work in Columbia at the 701 Center For Contemporary Art. Her residency began on April 25, and it’s the first of several four-to-six week residencies that the CCA is offering to help artists affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to a stipend and reimbursement for materials, Day was given the chance to stay in a loft apartment on-site.

“I’ve done one other residency program in Highlands, North Carolina,” Day says, “but the whole package is so much better than what I’ve heard of in other regional residency programs. It really helped me out, because I wasn’t able to access my regular studio because of the pandemic, so this couldn’t have come at a better time for me personally.”

In fact, it isn’t just that Day wouldn’t have had a place to work without the residency — she wouldn’t have had a set place to live, either.

“I had just moved to Atlanta and gotten a new studio there,” she explains, “and my housing lease ended after the pandemic kicked in. So instead of renewing my lease and sitting at home, I went back to my family in Greenville. I didn’t have access to a studio, and I still have to find a new place to live after I leave here. I was all over the place.”


Kym Day’s Jolene

Most residencies involve the artist interacting with the general public in some way, whether it’s through open studio sessions or workshops. But because of social distancing, Day has worked in isolation, which she says has its pros and cons.

“My only interaction with people who would normally be visiting was online through social media,” the artist offers

And Day says that social media simply doesn’t provide the sense of connection that audience interaction does.

“I just wrapped up a social media takeover on the 701 CCA Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and really it was hard to feel like I was really engaging an audience,” she relates. “At the other residency, the public could meander around and watch me work.”

On the other hand, working alone, with all the materials she needs, has been a liberating experience.

“It’s been really nice being alone with no distractions, and I’ve also gotten an amazing stipend and reimbursement for materials,” she says. “I just jumped into a huge project that normally I’d be hesitant to start because of space confines, and also the materials reimbursement allowed me to purchase a lot of supplies that I needed that I’d put off.”

In fact, Day says that her residency, set to end on May 20, has given her more confidence about how she creates her work.

“Someone asked me the other day if my work stresses me out,” she offer, “and I think I’ve arrived at a process where I don’t get frustrated working now. I think l learned that I work really efficiently, and I guess I’ve confirmed that I can paint as fast as I always thought I could, because I have no distractions here.”

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