Deep in a far corner of Stony Brook University’s South P lot, as commuter students frantically bustled around him, Kevin McEvoy sat alone in his car and prayed to God that he would learn the art that he knew his hands were made for.
“I would pray, ‘You care about me and I care about this, so consequently I think you care about this’,” he said. “I would always pray, ‘God whoever you are up in heaven just please connect me to this thing you made me for. Please connect me to the world of drawing, painting and art’.”
He remembers his undergraduate days clearly as he works in his studio. The main lights in the room are off so only sunlight peers gently through the windows. The lights above each individual easel illuminate each student’s work. Italian music dances through the room, creating an authentic feeling as McEvoy walks around with his sleeves rolled up to his elbow, observing each student’s work. His tawny brown hair is slightly tousled on top of his head and his warm eyes look over each easel with pride.
As an undergraduate student at Stony Brook University, McEvoy felt like he was lost at sea. He was interested in courses the art department offered, but felt like he was made for something different. In a representational art class taught by Bill Oberst, McEvoy found a mentor who brought him closer to the art he wanted to do. According to Oberst, McEvoy showed enormous potential, coming to class early and working hours after the class ended.
Taking his talents across the Atlantic, McEvoy set his sights to Italy to sharpen his skills in classical art through a program at the Lorenzo de Medici school in Florence. But after attending just a few classes, he soon realized this was not the program he had dreamed of back home. This class taught Long Island-styled art
“I was like, ‘You guys are doing our art poorly. I came here to learn how to do your art, not to see you guys do Jackson Pollock’,” McEvoy said. If I wanted that I could have driven 30 miles on Long Island.”
McEvoy packed up his paint brushes and looked for inspiration and guidance elsewhere. He searched Florence block by block in hopes of finding artists open to teaching him the ways of the classical greats.
“I walked to every artist studio and I knocked on their door and I begged them,” McEvoy said. “Some of them wouldn’t even open their door, they looked and they shut it. Others would open the door, show me around, but their work wasn’t in view of the kind of life I was looking for.”
He married his wife, Margaret McEvoy, at 23-years-old. She was the driving force behind
“There were many, many times that I wanted to give up,” he said. “‘She was like ‘You can’t! You can’t! You gotta keep going’. She is more supportive of me than I am when I need it the most.”
After a draining and discouraging search, McEvoy finally found his answer behind 20-foot gothic cathedral doors looming over him. Behind those doors stood a smaller door, a door that would open to what McEvoy describes as a dream that
“It was like a Lewis Carol’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’,” McEvoy said.
He was greeted by a man who introduced the cathedral as Charles H. Cecil Studios, one of the most elite and prestigious art schools in Italy.
The man welcomed him into the cathedral, which was adorned with the most beautiful paintings he had ever seen in his life.
“Everywhere I walked through this deconsecrated cathedral, there was an art studio,” McEvoy said. “Everyone was smoking at the easels while painting all these decrepit haggardly models from the streets of Italy posing and beautiful women, stunning young models and huge canvases, some 10 feet tall.”
McEvoy was hooked.
“How do I become a part of this school?” McEvoy asked, jaw dropping as he retold the story years later. “You can’t. It’s a four-year waiting list,” the man answered.
Everyone there was connected and elite. But McEvoy was determined to become a part of this phenomenon. McEvoy gathered his sketches and set forth to meet the master of this studio, Charles Cecil himself.
He was expecting an Italian with no patience for common Americans and was prepared to be let down. McEvoy walked into the master painter Cecil’s studio. Cecil was painting a woman as McEvoy entered the room. She dressed herself and walked off.
It turns out, the mysterious Cecil was not a high-brow Italian artist, but actually a guy from Boston, Massachusetts. McEvoy pulled out his drawings and showed him.
‘You know there is a two to four year waiting list to my school,’ he said to McEvoy. ‘You know it is really expensive to get in here.
“Honestly I was going to start crying, he goes, ‘You can enroll today but you probably have no money to pay for anything, so how are you at sweeping and moving easels’?”
Determined to do anything to delve into this artistic wonderland, McEvoy answered, “I will sweep your entire studio, I will clean bathrooms, I will do everything,” McEvoy said.
Cecil enrolled McEvoy as a full- time student, where he worked extensively among the world’s elite, including heads of the English government and wealthy aristocrats from around the globe. Among the students was a woman who lived in the castle from
“I had so many dead ends so to arrive at this moment was incredible,” McEvoy said.
His dreams as a young boy on Long Island were finally coming to life in front of his eyes in Italy. Growing up, McEvoy was surrounded by heavy labor, coming from a family that predominantly worked in construction. While the fine arts may seem to be foreign to the world of a manual laborer, McEvoy said it hits close to home with his Irish roots.
“These men are physical workers, but then they go off to pubs and they play this unbelievable music and recite poetry,” he said of traditional Irish men. “So there was no contradiction between heavy labor and
“Irish culture is a culture that really emphasizes the spoken work, the written word and music,”
While his parents were supportive of his pursuing fine arts during his college years, they did not know how to connect his passion to a career.
To save money for school, McEvoy worked 12-hour days while taking classes as an undergraduate. However, one day while working, he pushed spackle the wrong way, sending a shooting pain from his thumb to
“It looked like somebody shoved an egg into the corner of my hand,” he said, pointing to where his hand had been swollen.
For the pain, McEvoy saw a specialist who told him he could never do heavy labor again.
“You’re 21, go reinvent yourself,” McEvoy said recalling the conversation he had with the specialist. ”You’re too young to feel like you are stuck in manual labor.” At that point, he thought he would lose the ability to make the art that
“I thought I wouldn’t be able to hold a pencil, but I can paint for like 20 hours straight without any pain whatsoever,” he said. “But the second I start picking up spackling tools or shoveling, my hands start swelling up and doctors still can’t explain why it is that way.”
It seemed as if there was divine intervention in McEvoy’s life
Having lived in Central Islip as a kid, McEvoy is no stranger to tough characters. As McEvoy drove past the Riverhead jail on his way to the Hamptons in his adult career, he looked at the building’s walls lined with barbed-wire and wondered how to bring the art he loved to the inside.
“Many of them have the most painful stories and they are cut off from art,” McEvoy said. There is no funding on earth that will ever get art to them.” Wanting to give the inmates access to the beauty he knew he had to share, he called the front desk of the jail and offered free classical art lessons. For a year and a half, he taught
“I was working with the worst criminals in society, and they were drawing, painting and creating beautiful art,” McEvoy said, “Art needs to go to the people.”
The people he loves most, his sons, are following in his footsteps and showing great potential in art at a young age. His oldest, an 8-year-old, just began painting.
However as much McEvoy loves art, he does not want to impose it on his sons.
“I don’t want to be the Jackson Five father,” he said. “I’m really careful to tell them if you want to be a truck driver I will love you just as much and if you want to be a physicist, I will be just
As for his wife, Margaret, who has been with him through this journey, she says this is not a life she would recommend, but she would not have it any other way.
“When people ask me what my husband does and I answer ‘artist,’ they ask, so what does he really do?” Margaret said.
She said if he had another random career, it would have been easier to tell him it was not working out. But because he had always been so dedicated, and ambitious, she looked at life with her husband as an adventure; an adventure that brings new struggles and challenges every day, but one she would never trade for
Today, McEvoy is the director and president of the Atelier at Flowerfield in St. James, Long Island. The open studio is bustling with students of all ages, from all different walks of life.
Stony Brook University Hospital surgeon Vimala Sivararman operates a different set of tools than usual when she enters the studio. With a splinted hand, she holds a stick of charcoal in one hand and her finished drawing of a hand in the other.
“I have always wanted to learn the art properly but due to other career paths I was never able to learn art the proper way,” Sivararman said. “But art was always there in my heart. I would do it when my mind and my heart needed a relief or relaxation or healing.”
Sivararman said McEvoy saw the potential she had as an artist and he encouraged her to keep moving forward with her talents.
Student James Englebert is a former city cop turned chaplain. He is taking three of McEvoy’s classes right now as he currently tries to find a job. Engelbert accredits his outlook of the world to his movements on the canvas.
“You look at life differently rather than taking life for granted,” Englebert said. “And when you take a look a little longer, you realize, no, I
He describes art as a gateway to something within the subject and within the artist themselves.
“Any time people tap into what’s inside of them,” Englebert said. “It’s usually good because it helps them see their neighbor differently, not enough people see and we’re just flying by.”
Today, McEvoy makes sure to say “thank you” to an old friend as his life flies by, remembering the ways that God has helped him. He usually prays in a parked car before heading to work.
“I thank God all the time,” he said. “How terrible is it that we only go to God to ask him for something, and then we leave him alone. So I just thank God, ‘Thank you for this career that that you gave me. All of this, it’s just such a gift.’”