How One CNM Student has Used Art to Create Connections During COVID-19

Through various painted projects, Sarah Lough is building bridges with the Albuquerque community
June 03, 2020

Be on the lookout. 

Over the past several weeks, part-time CNM student Sarah Lough has left beautifully painted river rocks around Albuquerque that are part of a project she’s calling #RocksInIsolation. The rocks are meant to be picked up, kept and enjoyed, and on the back of each one there’s a little note encouraging the finder to respond to Sarah. 

She’s hoping that people will send her any kind of response—a quote, prayer, picture, thought, —via email or even to a P.O. Box she lists, creating a sort of one-time creative loop where she and the finder can be in communication during these difficult times of isolation.

“Things right now are bad for lots of people and the world is not a good place,” Sarah says. “We are all searching for a way to communicate and to connect and I wanted to give people that opportunity.”

The responses Sarah hopes for can be totally anonymous and she’s only signing the rocks with her initials so the finder doesn’t know who she is, either. Names are not what’s important, she says, but instead she hopes that people will see that art can be an important outlet.

“I hope the loop works, and I hope the project shows people that art is for everyone and can be used in many different ways to help,” she says. 

So far Sarah has left 19 rocks in various places including outside a post office up in the heights, down in the valley, and around the UNM area. She leaves the rocks outside for days before placing them and always wears a glove to keep things clean and safe. She has six rocks ready to be placed and many more she’s working on now.

All the rocks come from Albuquerque’s open spaces and each one is cleaned after it's collected. Then she varnishes the rocks with one or two coats, paints them, and then varnishes them again. As pieces of art, Sarah says she has a certain attachment to each one, but she’s challenged herself to let go so that she can create the connection she’s looking for.

“My hope is that I get responses and that I can use those responses in a future project,” she says. 

Rocks by Sarah Lough

In addition to the rocks, Sarah has also worked on another COVID-19 project. 

Just as the pandemic started, she was trying to return from Europe and got stuck there with her dad for several days. She was finally allowed home and immediately self quarantined to be safe. As a way to process the onslaught of the pandemic, and her experience being stuck both in Europe and at home, she turned to painting. At the time she was in CNM’s Painting 2 class with Lynn Johnson and used the narrative self portrait assignment to reflect on her experience. 

The background of the painting is made up of newspaper clippings of COVID-19 stories. Sarah herself is lying down, mask on, and all around her are objects and text that relate to the pandemic like a photo of a Lysol can and the piece of paper she was issued after she was screened in Los Angeles after coming home. The painting was inspired by another painting done by Edward Hughes in 1893.

Sarah’s self portrait (which was also featured in Remarque Print Workshop’s “Showcase for the Present Moment” online show) is more personal than the rock project, but her instructor says she thinks it’s a powerful example of how Sarah used art to cope with and translate the complicated moment we’ve all been living through.

“We often have a tendency as humans to neglect our imaginations and our creativity and Sarah is showing us what’s possible when we engage,” Lynn says.

Sarah says she’s not sure what comes next in terms of art projects, but says she’s thankful she had art and CNM to rely on as she navigated the pandemic.

“All the art is definitely mine, but I don’t think the importance of the CNM Art Department can be understated,” she says. “They did such a good job of helping make art accessible for me and I know they’ll continue to do that for many other people, too.”

Painting by Sarah Lough.