A&E

How Artist Sefla Joseph Creates Connections in the Time of Covid-19

Watsonville artist hopes to inspire students to create in the face of ambiguity

Watsonville artist Sefla Joseph works on a painting at her home as part of her ongoing online classes during the coronavirus pandemic. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

Searching for joy in the ongoing pandemic calls for a certain focus amid the cascade of negative numbers such as death tolls, cases and recoveries. 

Such is the case for Watsonville artist Sefla Joseph, who has had to reinvent her studio art classes and take them to the computer screen.

Now, from her Watsonville home, Joseph has welcomed about a half-dozen students for one hour sessions to share her skills with brushes, oils and canvas. 

“I was teaching classes in abstract figurative painting to groups in my studio,” she says. “Since Covid, I now work one-on-one for one hour sessions on Zoom. For some of these classes, I collaborate with artist Evelyn Markasky. She brings the wonderful art of contour drawing to these sessions.”

The online classes, “Deliberately Irrational,” operate through the online painting group art73.org.

“Working with painters on Zoom has held surprises for me,” Joseph says. “The first was: I discovered I love teaching private sessions online. I think it is the intimate nature of the painting and drawing experience between myself as a mentor/teacher and the painter that is supported in a most unexpected way on Zoom. I certainly could not explain why this works, but this is how it feels to me.”

Joseph says Zoom classes are a near-perfect fit for “intimate contact” with her students.

“I believe in the process of creativity,” she says. “While in the process of creating a piece of art, one steps out of time, and there is only the moment. This moment is so rich because it is full of possibilities, and the painter and I enter into this process of ‘What if?’: ‘What if I tried this? What if I let something go?’ There is an intimacy happening with another human being that feeds the soul through this act of creation.”

Joseph, 78, whose work has been displayed in countless exhibits around the county, from the R. Blitzer Gallery on the Westside of Santa Cruz to Pajaro Valley Arts in Watsonville, says she has been an artist “all my life.” She has shown her work in the annual Open Studios Art Tour for 20 years and has taught classes and workshops locally, in the Bay Area and internationally. Her exhibits have also spanned the globe. 

“My passion is teaching and helping my students to find their authentic voice,” she says. “The silver lining of these times has been that I am having opportunities to know my students in a different way, and as a result, I can also support their work in a deeper way.”

Joseph, who was born in Montréal, says she is hoping to have a virtual show with completed works by students online in the near future.

“This time of Covid has put me into a state of gestation, and many ideas are percolating,” she says. “I began to work with contour drawing, thanks to Evelyn’s inspiration. I find the contours relaxing, fun, and interesting in unexpected ways. Now I am finally painting again, and the work is definitely reflecting how I am feeling at this time. My palette has changed: It is full of many shades of grays, blacks, and umbers, and juxtaposed with brushstrokes of unexpected colors. Even the layering process that I use is expressing itself in a deeper way. It feels authentic and holds a truth for me.”

Joseph says she feels that creativity, like her painting, helps people build coping skills and resilience in a trying time.

“I believe we are bearing witness to an extraordinary moment in the world, and our challenge is to find our footing in this process,” she says. “It is our individual and collective creativity that will see us through these times. This is our time to ripen, as Buffy St. Marie says.”

Through her classes, Joseph she hopes her students will “learn to imagine possibilities and create in the face of ambiguity … and perhaps see the world in a different way.”

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