Each of the 30 Wish You Were Here paintings is:
Wish You Were Here
Completed during Covid-19 spring, 2021
Acrylic on wood panel
Approx 7 1/2 x 12 inches
From the press release for Wish You Were Here at Tanja Grunert, Hudson, November 13 – December 19, 2021:
The series of small paintings, Wish You Were Here, is Umsted’s response to Covid-19. Throughout the 20th century travel postcards have been a way to represent a novel, exciting experience while also connecting with friends and family at home. During the Covid lockdown and general restrictions, most travel and personal interaction was prohibited. These 7 1/2 x 12 inch paintings on wood are responses to the frustrations of those restrictions. Reconstructed postcards, maintaining their originals’ poignancy and beauty, are now sent to the artist. They are from people through history and throughout the Western hemisphere telling Umsted about their travels and good times while the artist is stuck home alone. The text of each card ends with the ultimate traveler cliche: “Wish you were here.” A catalog, Wish You Were Here, will accompany this facet of the exhibition.
The exhibition will also include sculptures from Umsted’s Ghost Boat series. From approximately two feet to eight feet long, these black floor works represent ruins and burnt landscapes. They embody the transitory within life and time. From burnt-out European cities to California fires, we as humans keep moving through all the turmoil.
Catalog essay by Cat Tyc:
The immediate reaction I have in looking at these paintings in formation, this block, is how they are a kind of brigade but not an army.
I liked how you described them…… ‘a litter’.
These paintings conjure the urgency within the isolation of quarantine as someone who also spent the majority of it in complete isolation outside of my dog, the grocery store clerks of Hudson and Greenport and the world on Zoom.
Like most artists, I struggled with the occasional peace it brought too.
Rarely had I ever known when total isolation and priority on my work had been allowed despite what the world says is now acceptable for a woman — this is still something most decadent and sublime — and with that, comes great compromise.
This is something I think you know and I see it in these paintings.
This agreement with the sacrifice.
This series conveys being in harmony with that moment in time.
In thinking about this, I realize that I do have a poem for you even though initially I told you I didn’t think I would have.
13 WAYS TO LOOK AT A PANDEMIC
In the green womb of June – stuck in a malaise called
Mondaze which is a problem because she came here to play
The expectant gaze as she sits at the window
& knows she is never going anywhere again
Sun reflections on a stuffed carrot
Stale and disinfected
The garbage and its recycling aftermath
A basket of toys for another being’s fun
A suitcase for nowhere
A closet full of useful things
A pile of old clothes for a body from another time
The magnificent stockpiled refrigerator
Empty egg cartons waiting for a souffle
Books waiting to be read or returned to a library
That may never open
Tea, so much tea
The French press is her mate
As her friend Kate would say
The chalice of a new day
Snacks like her life depends on it
Pasta more snacks and soup
A dirty oven or two
In gorgeous silence
For the dinner parties that never were
While the printer stands alone.
This poem was my own way of keeping track of my existence when all other mirroring seemed to have disappeared in quarantine.
When all interaction disappeared and there was no one to call me by name out loud or ask me how I was besides the occasional Zoom or phone call, the belongings that my dog and I spent our days and nights with became the only proof that we existed and I wanted to remember their role in holding me steady.
I did not want to forget their service.
When I came to visit you, I told you how important mail became to me during the deepest parts of quarantine as a reminder that someone — out there — thought of me and cared enough to watercolor a picture and write down my address with their actual hand. It held such a different meaning than a text and I liked that.
I kept hoping for a sort of postal renaissance to revert to a way of letting someone know you were on your mind and that you mattered.
There is also so much to say about the hand.
I am fascinated by the way you re-enact each of your postcard subjects’ handwriting: to re-write what they originally wrote on the postcards you chose to recreate.
Your process takes a form of translation in the way you re-enact how they would write your name and your address.
I am fascinated by it as someone who prided herself on her penmanship and has now come to lose my signature entirely (whenever I am asked to scrawl my name on a digital receipt, I pause to notice how disconnected I am from my hands).
So many bodies are in this fleet of postcards.
Reminding us that we exist but that we will not always.
I think that this is why we collect, to remember that we are alive.
But also ironically this is why we purge, to remember who we are in the present.
The sentiment, “Wish You Were Here”, holds that weight, that binary of wanting to say it all in as few words as possible.
To take up the least space on the card with the deepest impact.
I had a dear friend who is no longer with us and often I look at the postcards he sent me over the years from his travels with the strange mostly one lines he would send to speak to why he sent that card then and from where.
The update, this desire to report, is such a fascinating curation that can sometimes entail a shared identifier between correspondent and reader, or not.
Simply, a choice to list a few words, state all is well (whether or not that is even true).
One stands out to me in its bluntness from the travelers in Montreal who state that they must move on to Ottawa because ‘the pocketbook is growing thinner’.
My personal favorite: “All the fun I want. Wish you were here.”
We both agree that this is someone we would want to hang out with.
I am so curious to see what becomes of this tiny flock of missives.
Together, they stand so fiercely together — an acknowledgment of you in your solitude but also it feels like they have so much more to do — this army of communication.
Their work is not done.
I want so much for whoever attains these postcards to make a pact to write at least one real postcard to another holder of the fleet.
Is that crazy?