Engrossed in a commission for Wayne Memorial Hospital this spring, Hawley artist Juan Espino considered an invitation to produce a painting reflecting the COVID-19 Pandemic with some dismay. “I didn’t really have a subject,” he explained, noting he had been busy with the large mural unveiled at the hospital’s centennial celebration in September.
The invitation came from Musee Internacional d’Arte Naif in Quebec, Canada, where Espino had a large exhibit in 2010. Named Artist of the Year as part of the 100th anniversary of the death of Henri Rousseau -- the father of the Naïve style of art he specializes in, Espino showed 15 paintings, almost all of which depicted scenes of Wayne County.
On the day he received the invitation, he was one of millions of people who watched as the USNS Comfort pulled into New York Harbor. Inspired by what he saw, some earlier work he had done in New York and some encouragement from his wife, Mildred, he painted “Beacon of Hope.”
It features the USNS Comfort with the Statue of Liberty in the background and all the beacons of hope in a difficult year – doctors, nurses, firefighters, paramedics and police officers along with protestors and even politicians in the harbor and on the dock. Espino’s painting joins 149 others from around the world showing these Naif artists’ view of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 as part of a virtual exhibit.
Naïve Art is known for its simplicity and its vibrant colors, both of which seem to contradict the complex and morose challenges of 2020.
Although Espino, whose Looking Glass Art Gallery is located in the Hawley Silk Mill, chose New York City as his subject for the COVID-19 exhibit, his typical choice would be the historic architecture of Wayne County. It is that and the beautiful landscapes, especially in winter, that inspires him to paint.
Wayne County has a talented and growing group of artists whose work greatly enriches the community and enhances the quality of life in more than esoteric terms. The work of artists like Juan Espino, whose canvas recreates the community’s unique architectural gems and shares them with the broader public, widen the stage.
For instance, when Espino and some of his friends traveled to Quebec for the opening reception, the event included remarks by the American and Mexican Consuls, the Mayor of Quebec and other dignitaries with an image of the Stourbridge Line Rail Excursion and Honesdale front and center in one of his paintings.