An Artist Responds to COVID-19

By Lauri Rose Dunn

Art has the power to move us from reactivity and despair to a place of calmness and resilience. That’s why we need it more than ever now.  A few weeks ago Denver photographer Lauri Rose Dunn started creating a series of mandalas—one for every day of the coronavirus epidemic— making them available online at little cost.  (In challenging times, she believes, art should be accessible to all. ) Dunn takes us from our cramped living quarters into the more spacious realm of nature and the wonderfully intricate patterns found on butterfly wings. This is a good time for us all to focus on the process of cocooning and the promise of rebirth.  

Top: Moduza Procris, a sculpture made of folded photographic images of insect wings. Below: the image that inspired it.

In mid-March, I packed my cargo van and headed for the Scottsdale Arizona Art Fair.  I hadn’t had a show since December and was looking forward to sharing my new work, a series of sculptures based on butterfly wings and a collection of photographic mandalas inspired by the natural world.  

In my two days on the road, I was blissfully disconnected from the TV and dire predictions about the coronavirus. As I began the arduous task of unloading the van and putting up my tent, I learned the fair had been shut down, and I headed back to Denver feeling utterly defeated.  I’d  spent my last dollar on booth fees for this venue and ante-ed up for three other prestigious shows.   Within hours, I received notice that these, too, had been cancelled. So  I put a huge piece of paper down on the floor and started brainstorming about how I would cope, emotionally, financially, and artistically, in the months ahead.  Here’s what I came up with.

  • Since I’d be working from home for the foreseeable future, I’d give up my studio space–at least for the time being.
  • To stay grounded in the creative process, I pledged to create one new mandala every day, for the next thirty days—or for as long as this virus continued to be a threat. 
  • I would make these pieces available as digital downloads for just a few bucks each, so people who need the solace of art can actually afford it. Though some of my sculptures sell for over $8,000, the mandalas would be my gift to those who are struggling, a way of saying, “Here’s something to brighten up your day. You can then decide if you want to purchase a print and hang it on the wall.”

The COVID Collection has gotten a lot of attention on social media and I’ve sold these images to collectors as well as to ordinary people in areas like Italy hard hit by the epidemic and here in the United States.  People often ask how I create such intricate work.  A few years ago when I felt stuck, I started looking for odd things on Ebay and came across a box of dehydrated insects.  I bought them and started to experiment.  I used a flatbed scanner to create an image of the wings, then went into Photoshop and started to manipulate it until I got a kaleidoscopic effect.  This process can take many hours, or an intriguing pattern might emerge right away. There’s just no telling, but the work is all engrossing and has become my spiritual practice.

I’m not part of the Colorado school of landscape photography with its panoramic vistas.  My canvas is much smaller and more intricate.  To me, these insect wings are infinite.  I go into a deep meditation while I’m working on them and the mandalas I create seem to take others to a calmer place as well.

Mandalas have long been used as aids for centering. Mine have no particular philosophy attached to them.  They are a healing dose of nature at a time when people really need it.  

Lauri Rose Dunn is a sculptor and photographer who graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art and lives in Denver.   You can find samples of her work and view a mandala a day from her COVID Collection here

Recommended Reading

Mandala by Jose Arguelles

Mandala Meditation Coloring Book by Sterling Publishing

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