Local artist Kevin McEvoy first met the subject of his realistic oil painting inside Cyrus: Chai & Coffee Company in Bay Shore.
An Islip resident, McEvoy occasionally grabbed a coffee at the shop, captivated by the variety of people that stopped by.
“On any given morning, you’d see a town politician seated next to an abstract artist, then the next person over would be a dock builder or a cop,” McEvoy said.
Abstract artist Joshua Bellinger, of Bay Shore, who has pursued local theater since he was young, said he’s accustomed to taking the lead on odd projects. But he was initially surprised by the seriousness of McEvoy’s pitch: to paint a portrait of Bellinger in front of his own abstract work.
“I was suspicious and wary at first, because that’s just my nature,” Bellinger said, “but once I took the time to investigate, I was all for it, completely gung-ho about the project.”
McEvoy, a lover of both classical and abstract art, wanted to incorporate both styles into the piece. The pair bonded as they discussed art and planned painting sessions where Bellinger would model.
After roughly 10 painting sessions which lasted two to three hours each, the work was completed in 2019.
The piece had been budding inside of McEvoy for several years, he said, but he didn’t begin it until 2018, after he was approached by the curator of the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook and invited to be part of the 2019 exhibit “Face to Face: Artists Painting Artists.”
McEvoy – who has been making art since the mere age of 2 – said the piece was displayed in the Long Island Museum exhibition.
Earlier this year, the painting was selected for the BP Portrait Award exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and later disqualified. McEvoy traveled to London, United Kingdom, with the painting, but left shortly thereafter as safety concerns rose amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He hoped he’d get it shipped back from the gallery.
As soon as he arrived back to New York, McEvoy discovered the work was selected to be featured in the Heckscher Museum of Art’s Long Island Biennial, a juried exhibition spotlighting contemporary artists from Suffolk and Nassau counties.
But the painting was still in the European gallery, which had shut down as a result of the pandemic.
“Nobody picked up the phone, nobody returned emails,” McEvoy recalled. Finally – just two days before the biennial opened – he received the painting. He scrambled to get the painting to the Huntington museum and was able to hang it up in time for the unveiling earlier this month.
McEvoy, who studied art in Chile and Florence, Italy, for roughly six years, said the painting merges abstract and representational art.
“There is this great desire for paintings that show the human spirit,” McEvoy said, “paintings that show us: normal people that take trains and go out on walks. And that is something that’s part of our identity.
Bellinger, whose work can be found on his Instagram account @drawnbyjoshb, was grateful for the opportunity to work with McEvoy.
“It really is beyond a dream to be able to work with him,” Bellinger said. “If he ever hit me up again with another idea, I’d go do whatever he needed me to do in a heartbeat.”