Architecture

A year after the pandemic began, Orlando artists are using their craft to heal

a-year-after-the-pandemic-began-orlando-artists-are-using-their-craft-to-heal

Painter Janas Smith Durkee reflects on the personalities of the deceased as her careful brushstrokes immortalize the images of deceased loved ones struck by COVID-19 on canvas.



A woman is standing in a room: the painter Kate Carney is working on the details of a large canvas at McRae Art Studios in Orlando.


© Patrick Connolly / Orlando Sentinel
The painter Kate Carney works on the details of a large canvas at McRae Art Studios in Orlando.

The portraits she paints of those who have died from the coronavirus were submitted by family members and friends and contained vivid stories about the life and person of the deceased.

“I have conversations with these people,” said Durkee, referring to the people whose portraits she painted.

“Conversation really heals people,” she continued. “You ask them questions about their loved one and they have an opportunity not only to express the grief of losing them, but also the joy of who they were.”



Painter Janas Smith Durkee is working at McRae Art Studios on a project to paint portraits of 100 people who have died of COVID-19, including Ronald and Lillian Mauriello.


© Patrick Connolly / Orlando Sentinel
Painter Janas Smith Durkee is working on a project where he will paint portraits of 100 people who have died of COVID-19, including Ronald and Lillian Mauriello, at McRae Art Studios.

There’s Beverly Ellis Wright of Massachusetts, a spunky social butterfly who once captained her cheerleading team and married her high school sweetheart, a soccer player. One portrait shows Kentucky farmer John Haertzen, a quiet man who went to church and loved his family.

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Durkee also painted Ronald and Lillian Mauriello, a couple who were married for 62 years and died within a week of each other.

“Ronald rarely wanted to leave, like he wanted to get out of here on screen,” she said. “Lillian was a little shy. I stayed in the studio that night and finished them because I didn’t feel like they should be apart. I didn’t want to keep him waiting for her. “

The painter’s goal is to complete 100 portraits by autumn, then show them in an exhibition and put them together in a book. She accepts submissions by email to [email protected] Family members receive a high-resolution picture of the painting, a book, and finally the original painting.

“There is no way of understanding what is going on. You can get angry, you can get sad, you can feel hopeless, you can be scared, ”said Durkee. “It’s not a sad project, it helps me understand things, and I hope it helps family members understand things … it’s art therapy.”



Dorothy Fuldheim in costume: painter Janas Smith Durkee is working on a project in which he paints portraits of 100 people who have died of COVID-19, including Beverly Wright, at McRae Art Studios in Orlando.


© Patrick Connolly / Orlando Sentinel
Painter Janas Smith Durkee is working on a project where he paints portraits of 100 people who have died of COVID-19, including Beverly Wright, at McRae Art Studios in Orlando.

At the McRae Art Studios in Orlando, where Durkee works, 22 professional artists use their craft to process the emotions that came with 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Painter Kate Carney finds some work through commission, but makes a large part of her living selling artwork at festivals and shows that were all but canceled last year.

“When we started closing shows one at a time at the beginning of our peak season, it got very real very quickly,” she said. “I just wanted to paint dark, sad faces. I made a bit of this in charcoal to get it out of my system and then threw away something that was very cathartic. “

Although Carney didn’t have shows to display and sell her work, she found relief in painting vivid reds, yellows, and blues with subjects such as dandelions, water lilies, birds, and dancers.

“As artists, we react very acutely to everything. We’re a bunch of bare nerves, ”she said. “I tried to cheer myself and everyone else up when I could.”

The lack of art festivals for showing work proved difficult, but Carney found a way to get through the last year on assignments and connect with buyers individually. In doing so, she learned not to focus her entire year on certain art events.

“The whole world didn’t fall apart because the shows stopped … we’re used to the feast or the famine,” Carney said. “Adversity makes you stronger.”

The painter colleague Robert Ross, who also works in McRae’s studio, usually paints exterior and architectural scenes as well as some still lifes. While spending more time at home, Ross found new topics to work with.



A person posing on camera: Painter Janas Smith Durkee is working on a project to paint portraits of 100 people who died of COVID-19 at McRae Art Studios in Orlando on Thursday April 8, 2021 are.


© Patrick Connolly / Orlando Sentinel
Painter Janas Smith Durkee is working on a project to paint portraits of 100 people who died of COVID-19 at McRae Art Studios in Orlando on Thursday, April 8, 2021.

“I’ve decided to make my interior my theme, both topical and metaphysical,” he said. “I decided to paint everything around me that I could see – my bathroom, the bedroom, the kitchen, and the living room. I painted on the balcony. “

The painter had two works selected for an online exhibition at the Polk Museum of Art entitled “Hindsight 2020: Art of This Moment”. The collection features 85 works that show the perspectives and emotions of Central Florida associated with the pandemic through images depicting familiar scenes with masks, zoom calls, isolation, racial riots, and social distancing.

“We wanted to offer artists a point of sale, a platform to showcase work at a time when access to exhibition work was restricted,” said Dr. Alex Rich, managing director and chief curator of the museum. “We knew this would be something that would provide that haven, an emotional respite, or an opportunity for artists to do a little bit of thought.”

While Ross, like many other artists, grappled with the lack of festivals, he found new ways to display his work and tried to make the most of the past year.

“I missed the opportunity to get my work on the streets and sell,” he said. “Artists are very good at improvising and adapting.”

Find me on Twitter @PConnPie, Instagram @PConnPie or email me: [email protected]

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