More than health care professionals: front-line responders reflect with their art

Rachel Patz, Staff Writer

As pandemic life approaches the one-year mark, many healthcare workers are continuing to feel burnt out and distraught. In an effort to cope with the harsh, day-to-day reality of their jobs, many individuals have turned to art as a means of self-therapy and as a way to give back to their community and colleagues in the medical field.

Family physician Dr. Chip Thomas is one such figure. Since the 1980s, Thomas has run a family practice for the Navajo Nation, America’s largest reservation, treating multiple generations in the region.

An avid photographer, Thomas has been publicly displaying his art on the reservation for years in an attempt to give back to the community. When COVID-19 struck, Thomas began using his art as a means of championing public safety and, in November of last year, he founded an online journal called Pandemic Chronicles, Vol. 1.

Displaying art from Thomas as well as six other artists, the magazine features art from a diverse array of artists with various disciplinary backgrounds. The collection also bears witness to the pandemic’s impact on underrepresented communities, as well as the effects of white supremacy and state violence.

The Last Shift. Oil on Wood panel by C. Michael Gibson 2020.

Dr. C. Michael Gibson is another medical worker who has found a way to fuse his artistic passion with COVID-19 awareness. Holding the titles of researcher, educator and interventional cardiologist, among others, Gibson had long turned to painting as a way of clearing his head and releasing inner trauma. Beginning last March, Gibson’s art started to focus on more serious issues.

On March 28, 2020, Gibson shared a painting entitled “The Last Shift” on his Twitter feed, depicting a line of faceless, murky humanoid forms in a line wending its way to the horizon. Using his Twitter bio to dedicate the piece to “all of our courageous #CoronaHeroes who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Gibson explained that the painting was meant to help viewers ponder existential questions the pandemic had evoked. The painting was later auctioned off for $25,000 to help support healthcare workers.

“The Last Shift” is only one of Gibson’s many works. An extensive list of his paintings, many of which are COVID-19 related, can be found on his Twitter profile.

“Portrait of Grant Hertz” (Tessa Moeller)

Perhaps one of the most influential artists during the pandemic is Tessa Moeller. At the beginning of the pandemic, Moeller was working in a trauma burn unit in Miami.

Moeller was taught to paint by her father, but when she was overwhelmed by the uncertainty surrounding her job, she began to paint raw, honest portraits of her fellow nurses and coworkers. Her work has since expanded into a full-fledged art series reflecting on the work of healthcare workers during COVID-19.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Moeller explained what she hopes to achieve through her artwork, saying, “I hope to convey … the strength and bravery of my fellow workers who show up every day to face the unknown. I hope to capture the beauty within the chaos.”

“Beauty within the chaos” is an apt reflection of the art created during this global health crisis, and lends further appreciation and resonation with the art created by front line workers.

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