Culture » Visual Arts

Painter Emily Sullivan opens new art show, Distance, Presence, at The Machine Shop


  • Emily Sullivan
When the key word in your business model is “collaborative,” it can be fairly difficult for a place like The Machine Shop, a downtown coworking space for creatives, to thrive right now. Social distancing rules have created challenges for the business and its participating members, including its resident artists. When the social distancing orders hit, artist Emily Sullivan was in the middle of her residency.

“When everything first shut down, I moved from my residency at The Machine Shop to working at home for a few weeks,” says Sullivan. “I have a background in plein air painting, so luckily I have some experience making my painting setup portable.”

Sullivan’s new virtual exhibit, Distance, Presence, explores those themes, featuring a dramatic canvas piece depicting billowing clouds, and smaller paintings that explore the creation of memories. Fittingly, there will also be a collection of work Sullivan refers to as “pandemic paintings.”

“The 10 paintings show different skyscapes against a ‘horizon’ stripe that starts as an alarming red color and gradually transitions to a warm, hopeful, yellow-orange,” she says. “So even though the pandemic interrupted my residency, it inspired a new series of work I wouldn’t have otherwise made and forced me to be flexible with where and how I worked.”

Sullivan grew up in Cincinnati, but she achieved her master of fine arts degree here in Colorado and has settled in Colorado Springs, where she is an adjunct professor at Pikes Peak Community College and has a studio at Cottonwood Center for the Arts. While she, like most artists, would love a live opening, she also notes there are positives to virtual shows.

“[I]t will be so great to share my work with friends and family around the country in a more intentional way than I would have in the past. You can really reach a wide audience with a virtual show. That being said, there is nothing that can replace the magic of viewing art in person. In particular, I had hoped viewers could stand in front of my large painting and really feel engulfed by it,” she says.

While it is tempting to assume that the word “distance” can be directly attributed to social distancing and the pandemic, Sullivan conceived of the show long before social distancing became a buzzword.

“I titled the show Distance, Presence originally because the work is about the time my husband and I spend together and apart due to his work in the military. ... When words like ‘social distancing’ started being used in March, and everyone was — and many still are — stuck at home alone or around the same people, I thought it was interesting that the two were happening at the same time. We are both distanced from other people, and also extremely present to ourselves and our spouses, kids, roommates, etc.”

Viewers can check out Sullivan’s work online at The Machine Shop’s website. There will be a pre-recorded video of the gallery and live, virtual updates on Facebook and Instagram. Virtual attendees can also purchase Sullivan’s work through the website. Co-owner and manager of The Machine Shop Valerie Lloyd says the workspace also plans to offer private tours sometime in June or July, but the shop is currently closed to the public, with members rotating who will use the space to maintain just 50 percent of capacity.

Virtual show June 5, 6-9 p.m. at

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