Yellow House is checking in with the artists, writers, performers, and activists who have filled our space with their works and voices.  During a time of crisis, creatives are faced with the same challenges, anxieties, and opportunities as most of us, yet they can offer unique perspectives on how to adjust, evolve, and understand.  As observers and empaths, they can help us see ourselves and the world around us more fully.  And in all honesty, I just wanted to know how our people are doing during this time of threat from virus, social distancing, continued work, and adaptation.  One aspect of community care is to check in our neighbors and we are doing it the way we know how, through a series of intimate glimpses into lives authentically shared.

We begin the HOUSE CALL series with a virtual visit to Thony Aiuppy’s Springfield home and studio.  We had the pleasure to host Thony’s work in an exhibition at Yellow House in late 2018 entitled Piercing the Veil, which was filled with paintings, collages, sculptures, and mixed media works that lifted up images of share croppers, migrant workers, machinists, and southern writers, artists, and activists.  I was aware that once stay at home orders were in place here in Northeast Florida, Thony would remain very busy, maybe busier than ever as he took his teaching at University of North Florida online and shared space with his wife Melissa and three children Blaise, Soren, and Bijou. And their dog Linus and cat Lucie.  A prolific writer and artist, I was also aware that Thony was still creating.

What is one of the most significant ways that this time, marked so deeply by the coronavirus, has changed your daily routine?

Melissa and I have had to drastically change our normal rhythms and routines as we figure out how to work from home and do virtual learning with our three kiddos. This is particularly challenging with Soren as he attends a small special needs school where he regularly has occupational, speech, and physical therapies and a one-on-one teacher. We’ve worked it out where I work the morning chunk and Melissa works the afternoon chunk, alternating who’s managing the kids. In the midst of all of that, we actually feel more connected to our kids and have a sense that we are growing together as a family.

How has this time changed, informed, motivated, or hindered your art or activism? 

As an educator, it’s been difficult to connect with my students once the college began virtual learning. I’ve worked hard to build relationships with my students and be someone they can be safe with and confide in. Seeing them on a Zoom call and not being able to be present as they deal with life issues has been the most frustrating thing of all. I believe that teaching is part of my art and activism practice. Connecting with my students in a one-on-one capacity has been obliterated.

You have continued to connect, virtually, to many of us through the art you have been making.  I have been inspired by the poetry and visual art you have been sharing on social media during this time.  Tell us about your drawing project?

I’ve been working on one hundred portrait drawings. A few weeks ago I was feeling pretty bummed and reached out to friends to send me photos so I could draw them, connect with them even though we’ve been separated during this season of life. Through the process of drawing, I felt like we were touching, chatting, sharing life together. I just came off a season of creating work that removed faces. It’s kind of interesting how I engaged a project where I wanted to capture people’s individual attributes: eyes, mouths, even wrinkles.

Are there works of art, in any form, that have inspired you during this past few weeks?

The Psalms.

What are you learning or experiencing now that you want to take with you into a new future? 

Patience. I’m learning how to be more patient with my children in particular. It’s been hard to switch gears and provide them with adequate attention and help. It’s also been hard to be patient with myself. So I’ve been keeping a journal through this pandemic. Writing out my frustrations, failures, and shortcomings. Looking at them and writing out how I can change or try new things. When there’s five people in a small house, you can get a sense of who you really are. My kids are like little mirrors, reflecting back to me what’s in my heart.

Thony Aiuppy
Artist. Writer. Educator  |  @thony_aiuppy  |

Interviewed by Hope McMath