Kasey Patrick has always had an affinity for art yet hesitated to create her own until she went to college and began using art as an outlet to release tension and anger toward things beyond her control.
Now a recent Michigan State University graduate, Patrick spent part of this past semester, her last as an undergraduate, working on an art piece for which she received $500 in funding as a 2022 CREATE! Micro-Grant recipient. The goal of the CREATE! Micro-Grant initiative is to encourage MSU students to critically engage, through art, with the past, present, and future of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
As a double major in English and Psychology, Patrick sought to use the micro-grant funding to create a piece exploring the socio-political implications of the pandemic and the impact it has had on mental health. This was done through the creative reinterpretation of several events that led up to and took place during the pandemic, such as the 2016 presidential election, Black Lives Matter movement, and the fight for women’s reproductive rights.
Patrick’s final piece, titled Paradox Spirits, is a three-part, mixed media collage that travels from pre-pandemic through the height of the pandemic and to the present day. It explores the political, social, and emotional states surrounding the pandemic and its impact on students’ mental health. Throughout the work, Patrick evaluates the systematic issues within our healthcare system revealed by the pandemic.
“The work is a combination of all the artistic outlets that have helped me process my grief, fear, and any other emotions that I encountered before the pandemic began,” Patrick said. “I dove into the educational impacts the pandemic brought upon students from before COVID hit, at the height of the pandemic, and its projected aftermath. While the internet and ‘Zoom university’ were barriers to success at the university level, the psychological impact was noticeable on a much greater level.”
“The work is a combination of all the artistic outlets that have helped me process my grief, fear, and any other emotions that I encountered before the pandemic began.”
From DeWitt, Michigan, Patrick went through most of her college education during the COVID-19 pandemic, which proved to be challenging, both academically and mentally. She attended Purdue University her first year and a half of college, then, because of the lack of stability brought on by the pandemic, moved back home and transferred to MSU her junior year.
“I was drawn to MSU initially because of the feeling of home,” said Patrick, who graduated from MSU in December, “but it was the willingness between all members of campus to help one another that brought me back to campus.”
Materials and Inspiration
Patrick’s CREATE! Micro-Grant piece utilizes different colors, materials, and techniques to evoke individual emotional responses from viewers. The structure allowed her to convey the passage of time throughout the political landscape of the pandemic.
On one canvas, there is a collage that represents pre-COVID, focusing on the 2016 election to introduce the political landscape and foreshadow the coming events. A second canvas depicts the pandemic and Trump’s presidency while focusing on systematic racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. The third canvas illustrates where we are today.
“The last one is slightly unsettled; it feels unfinished in a sense, given that nothing has a conclusion,” Patrick said. “Women’srights have been a big topic of conversation within this portion. Then a display of other forms of hate crimes, obesity within the U.S., and the lack of resolution.”
Patrick uses a variety of materials in each piece — everything from newspaper and magazine clippings to paint, charcoal, and googly eyes — to deal with themes of emotion.
“The emotions and struggles faced by Michigan State University students are found underneath all the events transpiring in our day-to-day lives, captured literally within the artwork.”
All materials were chosen intentionally for their ability to strengthen the themes within the work. For example, the newspaper, magazines, and textbooks used for the college were sourced from the late Bernard Finifter, who was an Associate Professor Emeritus in MSU’s Department of Sociology.
“This professor studied individual and societal changes with political environments,” Patrick said. “The connection to MSU within the piece was nice to help attach further history and ties with MSU. Along with this, I used the pieces that primarily pre-dated the pandemic. This was a unique challenge because it helped me address how the country was unprepared to deal with an issue of this type.”
Patrick says she gets most of her inspiration from other people and so it was essential to include them in the creation process as much as possible. Throughout her work, she sought to nurture connections and build community by asking for input from her peers.
To identify a color palette for Paradox Spirits, Patrick asked what colors her peers associated with each ‘era’ of the pandemic. The colors and subsequent moods they identified were featured in the background of the work.
“The emotions and struggles faced by Michigan State University students are found underneath all the events transpiring in our day-to-day lives, captured literally within the artwork,” Patrick said. “This is why the background of the collage is crucial; it explains the ups and downs of different people with different perceptions of the world and why others may feel differently about one time period than another.”
Art as an Outlet
Participating in the CREATE! Micro-Grant offered Patrick an outlet to process all the uncertainty, grief, and fear she experienced during the pandemic. Through her work, she learned to find catharsis, enjoyment, and inspiration from things beyond her control.
“I didn’t need to be perfect to anyone. The mistakes I made were easily corrected, and every choice was intentional, whether it appears that way or not,” she said. “It was truly freeing to tear pages out of a book, to write on top of completed pages, and to throw paint against a canvas without a template to follow.”
“It was truly freeing to tear pages out of a book, to write on top of completed pages, and to throw paint against a canvas without a template to follow.”
Patrick hopes her work provides an avenue to share this healing with others, replacing the pandemic’s era of isolation and anger with human connection, conversation, and acceptance.
“I want individuals to feel whatever they draw from the piece,” she said. “While there are several focal points on display throughout, I displayed in color the emotions of those around me to emphasize our different emotional takeaways based upon life experiences. Every time I look at the piece, even though each section and size were done with deliberation, I still feel a different way.”
Patrick’s Paradox Spirits artwork can be viewed in the 2022 CREATE! Micro-Grant virtual exhibit along with all the other projects that were created in 2022 with CREATE! Micro-Grant funding.