One of Meridy Volz’s recent works, “Keeping Still,” depicts shows a powerful Native American warrior in front of a demonic black cloud in the background—symbolizing COVID-19—and a wall, representing the lockdown.
That painting, along with the work of 90 other Artists Council members, is being featured at the 2022 Artists Council Exhibition, on display at the Galen in Palm Desert through Sunday, March 27.
Living through the pandemic was one of the toughest times of her life, Volz says, leaving her feeling more isolated than ever—even though she’s lived alone in Desert Hot Springs for a decade.
“The weight of loneliness is a slippery slope,” Volz says. “I worried about my mental health. It was the routine of making art for six hours every day that saved me. I would wake up, drink my coffee, then work at my easel.”
In fact, she’s produced more than 200 pieces of art during the pandemic, including 100 portraits of Black figures who have contributed to our culture. About 60 of these have already been sold, with the proceeds going to causes associated Black Lives Matter. She also created a series of pastels dedicated to frontline workers, called Angel Heart,
“It’s a series of portraits that captured a sweet sadness—a vulnerability in them,” Volz says.
Volz is known for her use of intense and bold colors, painting with her fingers and a palette knife. She paints in oils, and draws using soft pastels and oil pastels. Texture and stroke create an impasto surface on the canvas, imparting a vibrant energetic sense of movement; her innovative use of electric color creates the mood.
Fine-art consultant Phyllis Johnson says Volz powerfully brings awareness to the world through her art.
“She gives us an opportunity to balance darkness and light within ourselves,” she said. “This is the authentic path to peace and reconciliation for humanity.”
Originally from Milwaukee, Volz laughs when she says she was born with a crayon in her hand, drawing since she was 3 years old. At 6, she won a scholarship to the Milwaukee Art Center. “Art was my safe place, because I came from an abusive childhood,” she says. “I would lie down on my stomach, lean on my elbows, kick up my legs, and draw.”
She went on to earn a degree in art education from the University of Wisconsin. After gaining recognition as an artist, she wanted to return some of what she had been given.
“I’ve always felt I had to give back,” she said. “I was given a gift that also came with empathy. I also take huge risks. If you’re born with a gift and deny it, you will live to regret it.”
In the 1990s, she gave workshops at San Quentin State Prison. She currently teaches art classes to teenagers at the juvenile hall at Indio and Operation SafeHouse. During the pandemic, her classes have been virtual.
“I play rap music—nothing violent or with references to gangs,” Volz says. “It often works, because you can’t reform kids without giving them something positive. They are all touched by it. At first, some feel they can’t do (art), because they have been abused and neglected, which leads the kids to experience a little success, and art helps their self-esteem and reforms them in a really good way.”
She also teaches life drawing to adults via the Artists Council, and workshops at the Desert Art Center in Palm Springs.
Volz says she emphasizes empathy via her work, and she is quite concerned about the tragedy in Ukraine. She has produced a drawing called “Children of War” pre-COVID-19, and she says her next piece will be in that vein.
Other than when she’s creating art, her happiest moments are spent with her daughter, Alia Voltz, she says. Alia wrote a book, Home Baked, about her mother. In it, she describes Volz as the real deal: “I learned from her how to respond to times of strife, not by backing away from art, burying your head in the sand, and giving in to feelings of doom, but responding by making art or by being creative.”
Alia adds: “I remember when the pandemic first hit, that in the writing community, many of my friends and colleagues said they couldn’t work. I thought, ‘No, now is the time to write.’ I learned how to respond as an activist and an artist from my mom.”
At 74 years old, Meridy Volz shows no signs of slowing down.
“It’s what I was born to do, what I do, and what I will die doing,” Volz says.
The 2022 Artists Council Exhibition will be on display through Saturday, March 27, at the Artists Center at the Galen, 72567 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. For more information, visit www.artistscouncil.com. For more information on Volz, visit www.meridyvolz.art.