Great American Paint In calls on artists to capture pandemic life

Art collectors Bill and Mary Weinaug, who own Gallery CERO on Wekiva Island in Florida, were stuck at home due to the COVID-19 restrictions, reflecting on the pandemic and how it has impacted artists and the art world.

“Art has come out of some of the darkest times in human history, acting as a beacon of hope and the 2020 pandemic is no different,” Bill Weinaug said. “We are shut down due to the pandemic and not sure how long things will be closed. But we knew we needed to stay relevant.”

With this in mind, the Weinaugs created The Great American Paint In, a way for artists to share their experience during the pandemic through their work to inspire other artists, collectors and the community.

The idea is to collect these works on its website and create a marketplace for the pieces and the artists.

“We have collected some incredible art and some incredible stories and we will continue to do so,” Bill Weinaug said. “Seeing the pieces these artists are producing during this time of isolation is incredible.”

Pieces can be any form, medium or size but must convey the emotions and viewpoints of the artists from their corners of the world during this experience, and they must write something to go along with their pieces.

The site continues to grow with new artists coming on board with new work each week.

“If you look back at the Spanish Flu pandemic, it was a pretty significant event, but we didn’t capture it through the eyes of artists,” Bill Weinaug said. “This is something I think we need to do and collect incredible art and incredible stories.”

He hopes to collect art from an artist from each of the 50 states and show how everyone in the U.S. went through this together. Currently, four Connecticut artists have been invited to submit work.

Ridgefield artist Randi Jane Davis, was selected, choosing a painting that depicted a lazy Sunday morning in the village.

“I yearn for us to be at a place when we can live that way again,” she said. “I think it is important to paint and express our wants. The visualization of that gives me hope for the future.”

Davis took to painting later in life, starting in her early fifties, studying landscape painting and plein air with David Dunlop and John Osborne, and then with Jesus Emmanuel Villarreal from the Florence Academy of Art.

“I have focused on New York City street scenes that tell a narrative and most recently added narrative paintings of Siem Reap, Cambodia,” she said. “This year, I was lucky to have a residency with a British Gallery in Cambodia. I am planning on going back when it makes sense.”

Tony D’Amico of Fairfield has been working as a professional artist for nearly 12 years, transitioning from a career in the corporate world of advertising and marketing for such companies as Playtex and PepsiCo.

“That experience provided the opportunity for me to start my own promotional marketing agency, Creative Alliance based in Southport,” he said. “I eventually sold the company to Publicis, a large multinational marketing and communications company. I was under contract to work for them for a few years when I started taking some painting classes and realized that I’d rather create art for myself versus promoting clients’ products. When my contract finished and with the encouragement of my wife, I decided to pursue a career as a full-time artist.”

As a painter, D’Amico works primarily in oil and focuses on a number of different subjects in a traditional representational style. However, he is best known primarily for his New York City scenes, which he admitted is his favorite genre.

“I first learned about The Great American Paint In through a Facebook friend and fellow artist, Mikel Wintermantel, who suggested that I check out the website as they were assembling a group of professional artists to share their world pandemic experience through their art,” he said. “I submitted a seascape painting to the show that has been a favorite of mine in my personal collection.”

Titled, “Sunrise at Seaview,” it depicts a favorite memory of D’Amico walking along the beach in Madison, Conn., at dawn.

“To me, this painting best reflects our current situation,” he said. “In the moments before sunrise it might seem dark and foreboding. At closer observation, the colors of the dawning day begin to appear, signifying hope and optimism. My statement presented with the painting is how I prefer to view our current situation… with faith and perseverance, we look forward to brighter days ahead.”

Thomas Adkins of Southbury, who also has a studio in Maine, was one of the first to be featured on the site.

“My piece is of the coast of Maine, and it’s an early morning sunrise of a lobster boat, which is an icon of the harbor,” Adkins said. “Being the fact that I miss going up there, I put this together based on a variety of studies I have done on location at the site.”

Erin Nazzaro from Redding is the fourth Connecticut artist with work in the collection.

“Images of birds have long been among my favorite subjects in my work. There is something about this particular bird that I painted in the past couple of months that somehow calms me. So, I titled it ‘PEACE,’” she said. “It is a hopeful painting. It would be very gratifying to me if viewers might be inspired by it … and feel a bit more optimistic about good things to come.”

Once the project is complete, the Weinaugs will compile the works in a tabletop art history book.

“I’m guessing about 350 artists will be included in the book, but it could be more than that,” Bill Weinaug said. “Each piece we add to the collection is a new facet in the story of this pandemic. That’s what we hope to document.”

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