"2020 was a year of reframing my art in my own mind, from a series of back to back projects to a continuously evolving process of artmaking and emotional documentation and growth."
Theodora Earthwurms (they/she) is an exceptionally talented multimedia artist who I discovered through their involvement in Dorchester Art Project. I am very excited to share their insights on art and how their creative process has been shaped by the pandemic.
DECADENT: Let's start with a little background. Where are you from?
THEODORA: I’m from Massachusetts. I grew up as a homeschooler in Plymouth, MA, went to community college in Quincy at 16, and eventually graduated and moved to Boston in 2018. I’ve lived in a few areas of Allston and Somerville since then.
DECADENT: What are you listening to right now?
THEODORA: In a literal sense, at this very moment - the sound of my cat meowing at me and the air purifier in my room humming.
In regards to music, I’ve been listening to a lot of Pinegrove and Mazzy Star this winter.
DECADENT: I discovered you and your work through Dorchester Art Project. Can you tell me a little about your involvement with DAP?
THEODORA: I first found out about Dorchester Art Project after I started tabling at the Brain Arts Market (then called the Black Market Flea) in 2017. I was a vendor there on and off from 2017-2020, selling my artwork on t-shirts, lighters, canvases, and prints.
I learned about the community center in Dorchester via a flyer at one of those events.
At the time, I already really valued the Market as a venue for me to sell handmade and DIY artwork and clothing as a low-income queer artist. Although I was still living on the South Shore at the time I made a mental note of the acquisition of the community space.
In 2018, I moved to Boston. In 2020, I realized that if I wanted to continue to make work at a high volume without a school or library space to work in, I needed a covid-safe and affordable studio.
I had been furloughed from my job in March and began collecting pandemic unemployment. All of my free time led me to want to expand my artistic practice with more intention.
I had a very small bedroom in the apartment I was renting, and I was quarantined with roommates and pets, so setting up a more permanent painting situation in the common area of the apartment wasn’t ideal.
I reached out to Dorchester Art Project, and I’ve now rented a work space there for about six months. Since I’ve been a tenant they’ve also opened the DAP Store in the downstairs storefront space.
It’s a wonderful space located in Fields Corner that sells art and secondhand items by local artists, majority BIPOC and/or LGBTQIA+, with proceeds benefiting the artist and the space.
I sell my work there as well, and on the store website.
I’ve been renting all during covid-19, so I haven’t met everyone yet, but the people I have met via DAP are all super talented and interesting creatives, activists, and/or entrepreneurs.
It’s an exciting community to be a part of.
DECADENT: How has quarantine affected/altered your creative process, especially in regard to the way you cultivate your sources of inspiration?
THEODORA: Quarantine has absolutely changed the way I tackle feeling uninspired.
Before quarantine, I used to turn to the art/art gallery world for inspiration. Sometimes that meant visiting galleries with friends who were also artists or creatives, going to gallery shows and art openings, visiting museums and libraries to increase my knowledge of art and the art world, and anything else that helped me get into a mindset of feeling excited to create.
Since social distancing guidelines and public safety precautions don’t allow for a lot of these experiences anymore, at least not in the same ways, I’ve been finding myself spending more time listening to podcasts or watching YouTube videos to channel inspiration from home.
I’ve been spending a lot of time focused more inwardly as well, trying to find inspiration in identifying subconscious patterns in my own work and themes I want to expand on with more intention.
Since I've begun viewing my work as an evolving process rather than a series of individual projects, I’ve found it easier to stay focused on progress.
DECADENT: You said that your life experiences shape your work. Can you give an example of the way in which you relate to your life experiences as an artist? In other words, do you have to seek out experiences in order to produce art or do your experiences take shape for you as you begin the creative process? Or is it something else entirely for you?
THEODORA: I like to think of my art as a special insight into my emotional processes at the time of creation. Even if the work is not directly representational in regard to an event, the overall tone of the artwork is usually intended to capture the way I was feeling at that time.
I let myself ruminate on things or sit with my feelings and then select colors and subject matter that appeal to this mood. This visual aid is useful to me in the same way a journal might be useful, to reflect on my experiences and my reactions to those experiences objectively.
This might mean something as complex as a collage made while reflecting on disordered eating patterns, mental illness, or gender, or as mundane as drawing my roommates in the kitchen during quarantine.
I don’t think I seek experiences for my art or try to express any message with it. I think I’m motivated to capture and document these emotions more than I am motivated to express them to others in any particular way.
You might not look at my work and understand the exact event I’m unpacking, but you might look at it, or look at it in relation to my other work from the same time period or in the same series, and see the way I felt.
Maybe that makes you feel something too, and there’s a connection made there.
That’s my objective. I really respect artists who can do that.
DECADENT: You listed a few artists as sources of inspiration. I can definitely see David Shrigley’s influence on your work with the text/captions that he incorporates into his work. Can you say a little more about what it means to use both text and image in producing a work of art?
THEODORA: I really enjoy using text in my work.
I think it’s funny, for the longest time I had this belief that incorporating text into artwork made it too contemporary or not polished enough, which is why I love artists like Shrigley, who prove that that isn’t true even in the mainstream gallery world.
There are other artists who do this who have influenced me, like Roy Lichtenstein and Lynda Barry. But to expand our definition a bit, in the age of Instagram artists and digital collage, I think text is sometimes even critical in order to give context to an image.
Text is carefully selected by the OP to frame the image in the right aesthetic lens, making a blurry photo artistic or a bad edit ironic, similar to the way a curator would provide context with the gallery text at an exhibition.
Text makes an image contemporary in feel because in contemporary life, text is all around us. Even a still life composition typically includes branding or packaging somewhere - the apple has a sticker on it, or there’s a bottle of Dasani in the background, for example.
I like text because it commands attention and provides an element of realism to my work.
When I’m intentionally placing text in a piece as a caption or a speech bubble, I find it’s a great vehicle for setting the tone of the image or for stating something directly. Sometimes however, I’ll use the text as more of a pattern, incorporating entire paragraphs of text from an article or a letter, either indirectly, or not at all, related to the subject. The compositional importance of the text here is only to provide texture and a sense of discord within the piece.
Text is a pretty versatile tool in this way for eliciting an intended response from the viewer.
I’m all for it.
DECADENT: You said that 2020 gave you a lot more time to focus. What exactly did you find yourself drawn to do with all that time?
THEODORA: I spent the majority of 2020 making art and trying to keep my shit together.
As I mentioned before, my biggest source of inspiration recently is introspection, and if anything can be said about my lockdown and quarantine experience of the past year, it provided time for that.
I spent 2020 as many others did, realigning my priorities and working hard for the things I hesitated in reaching for pre-pandemic, such as learning new mediums like resin casting, dedicating time to honing mediums I was already familiar with like acrylic paint and india ink, and approaching large-scale projects such as a clothing line and illustration collection.
I’ve also been taking time to slow myself down and take my time with my mental health, identifying and addressing my needs and organizing my workflow during the unexpected break from the pressures of capitalism I was lucky enough to experience on Pandemic Unemployment.
Making art has become much more enjoyable for me - although it has always been my core passion, I was putting too much pressure on myself before to be perfect to allow me to enjoy the process.
In slowing down and becoming reacquainted with finding happiness in doing the work itself rather than focusing on perfecting the outcome, I’m finding myself not only happier, but also improving more quickly as I begin to procrastinate less and really take the time to weigh the areas in which I have strengths and the areas in which I want to grow.
2020 was a year of reframing my art in my own mind, from a series of back to back projects to a continuously evolving process of artmaking and emotional documentation and growth.
DECADENT: Culd you also give us a short blurb about your podcast?
THEODORA: My friend Brian Huntress (@brianhuntresss) and I recently created the Boston Art Podcast, available to stream on YouTube and Spotify.
We are both low income nonbinary and queer artists between the ages of 23 and 25 in the Boston area, and we plan to use our podcast to document our thoughts about what it’s like to exist here during a pandemic.
All of our episodes are single take recordings of our own stream-of-consciousness conversations regarding art and artmaking. Check it out to hear us talk about exhibitions we attended or viewed online, artists we’re inspired by or know, our experiences in school or working on commission, and anything else that comes to mind.
We also have a handful of interviews we’re hoping to release soon on YouTube with artists we’ve met working in the Boston area.
Follow us on Instagram @thebostonartpodcast to stay up to date on what we do with this, as this project is still very much in bloom.
Thank you for this brilliant interview, Theodora!