WITH KEVIN MCEVOY
Where are you painting from and what have you been doing to keep busy?
Before the pandemic hit, I was hit by a debilitating first wave. Due to events beyond my control, I was forced to walk away from the beautiful painting and drawing studios with twenty three foot tall, north light windows which I myself had designed and built over the previous ten years. I had put so much work into building these studios, it was very difficult to conceive how I could move forward. I decided to move abroad. But another wave was soon to crash, and with the onset of the pandemic, I was faced with only one option: paint in my home, with my family about me, as I worked.
At first, I was really frustrated, and wished for the solitude of my previous space. But as time went by, I realized that success lay in embracing where I am, when I am. And with that setup and with my three sons milling about, my work has, in my estimation, evolved to a higher plane; one less academic and more intimate, where I embrace my surroundings and paint those I know, rather than posing models who are near strangers. I’ve never been more excited to paint.
In returning home to New York earlier than expected, I was primed for the “paint with the family about” studio. I set up in my dining room, beside a modest, east window. The light in the afternoons and evenings daily surprises me. It is filled with shifting and beautiful color, and the ambient light is fantastic. I’m mixing colors I’ve never mixed before, seeing things in a fresh way. I don’t miss my north light studio anymore. This quarantine has been, in reality, a true gift to me.
How did you find inspiration from your surroundings for it?
This piece was begun in February, during the first four weeks of the European pandemic, as I was with my family in London, while Italy was shut down. The studio in which I was painting is located in a specific area of London, Westminster, that has quite a number of northern Italians, and we all hung out side by side in the cafés. As head of my family, I wondered how I was going to navigate all of this, ensuring my wife and sons would be safe. It felt like a slow motion suspense film... who was going to get the virus next? Italy just shut down, so when were they going to shut down England? Would we be able to return home? Did we want to return home?
My painting was already well along, and the sky beyond the window was uniformly grey, as London winters tend to go. On one of these days, I was walking with my sons in a cemetery that was also a park, and I passed many small tombstones, reading about children that had died during the plagues that ravaged England in centuries past. As I made my way along the paths, the February sky was so bleak it was hard to look up. And then something surprising happened. The dark grey clouds parted slightly and a sliver of gold illuminated a small corner of the cloud bank. I’ll never forget how precious that small, golden color was to me, in that hour. My heart flooded with hope. My life was in God’s hands, my family was here for a reason, and even my pain was authored by One who cares for me deeply.
Thinking of the word chiaroscuro, in Caravaggio’s hands, I realized that the more abysmal the “scuro”, the more it could potentially serve to heighten the “chiaro”. Great composers know this with music, and they use minor chords to give us the major lift, like Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Number 2 in C Minor, Adagio.
I watched as the clouds shifted and sealed the hole in their covering, and the light disappeared. But I saw what I needed to see that day and raced back to my painting studio, and placed a fat impasto of flake white, touched with Naples yellow, on the corner of the cloud. As Emily Dickinson wrote, “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers - That perches in the soul - And sings the tune without the words - And never stops - at all.
Here is a free link Lang Lang’s performance of Rachmaninoff, that I listened to while painting this piece.
To remember that I’m not in control. I can’t control what happens to me, but I can control how I respond. There’s great freedom in that.
What is one of your favorite pieces in the collection from a fellow artist?
I love Marc Dalessio’s painting of the yellow fields and that glorious tree in Portugal. Honestly, Marc is one of my favorite painters working today. For me, his work has this sincerity of statement, in that he gets out of the way, and has this way of transporting us into not only the rapture of the visual experience, but we also feel the hot sun striking the back of our neck, and can smell the earth around us.
His painting glows with light and color, and is a tremendous piece. And I love that it was painted in this difficult time. It reminds me of the immutability of nature, the constancy of beauty. It’s as if Marc painted Emerson’s words, “In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrow. Nature says,— he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad with me."