As with working visual artists of various stripes nationwide, painter Tara O’Neill’s personal and professional worlds were thrown into a tailspin by the Coronavirus Pandemic.
During the spring and summer, art shows, festivals and fairs were canceled, which meant lost sales, fewer eyes viewing their work and a severing of that face-to-face, soul-sustaining interaction with fellow artists and art lovers that are so vital to both.
Anxiety on many fronts was the order of the day.
“I lost my last twelve or thirteen shows, including the Marco Farmers’ Market,” said O’Neill. “They all shut down.” An April solo exhibit at the Naples Depot Museum was also canceled.
The upheaval that began in March when exploding COVID-19 infection rates led to government-mandated limits on social gatherings that occurred just two months after O’Neill and her husband, George Vellis, move into their new home in Goodland.
In the midst of the tumult, however, the painter hit upon a new way to approach her passion and vocation, while also being reinvigorated creatively: adding a stand-alone studio in the side–yard of the Coconut Avenue property.
The small, soon-to-be–finished structure will not just serve as a work–space, but as a gallery too, a place where visitors can not only view, but also purchase O’Neill’s creations.
“I was like, ‘I can’t do shows and now that it’s summer, everything’s done anyway.’ This,” she said gesturing to her left while sitting on her sun porch, “was the answer, a studio that’s a public place where people can come. They can still buy online, or they can see what’s there and come down and see it in person.”
After O’Neill and Vellis moved into the house in January, she quickly found it didn’t offer enough room for her to paint and store completed artwork and art supplies. She’d initially thought that with two bedrooms and an office, she’d be in good shape. However, that was not the case.
“It sort of astonished me how many materials I have,” O’Neill said recently. “I have things stacked floor-to-ceiling in the guestroom, in the utility room, in the office; I can’t work like this.”
So, she staked out a corner of the spacious, screened-in front porch as her painting space. However, that arrangement also had a downside.
“That was fine, but that’s because it was still winter and it doesn’t rain and it’s cooler, recalled O’Neill, chuckling heartily at the memory. “But when the weather started getting hot, it was, ‘I hate it. I don’t want to be out there. This is terrible.’”
Before moving into their Goodland abode, the couple had lived in a Daytona era home they owned on Marco Island. That home, which they’ve since sold, had three bedrooms and a garage, plenty of room for O’Neill to store her supplies, paint and even have prospective buyers visit by appointment to see her work.
However, that was before the move and the onset of concerns about social distancing and maintaining other COVID-related safety protocols, something that remains very much on her mind.
“I’m not going to stop being safe until I feel comfortable being safe,” said O’Neill. “I thought that if I built this studio, I would have a place where I could comfortably welcome people. It would be easy to keep clean. It would be easy to limit the number of people. And I think Goodland needs an art studio. Matlacha can’t have an exclusive on being a groovy art town and there are so many artists here.”
The house and studio occupy the site of a cottage that she owned for 20 years before it was heavily damaged in 2017’s Hurricane Irma and then had to be razed. The new home is one foot above Collier County’s designated flood stage and it reflects she describes as “Coastal Tank.”
As for the studio’s exterior, the walls are currently bare, but O’Neill has considered applying her artistic flair in that area. Candy stripes have crossed her mind. So has adorning them with outlines of giant puzzle pieces, with some pieces in their proper place, creating the look of a partially completed puzzle.
She also plans to continue branching out from the Southwest Florida-themed nature scenes that have become a calling card, and popular with collectors and non-collectors alike. Over the last 2 years, inspiration led her to create a group of kinetically themed paintings, entitled “Bodies in Motion.” Those works are on display at the Naples Depot Museum through mid-November.
Not heeding artistic callings could lead to her “painting going flat,” said O’Neill. She also has thoughts of dabbling a bit in assemblage, the blending of dissimilar objects to create a unified work.
“There’s some anxiety here having a new studio and talking about work that you haven’t actualized,” she said. “But I just know everything’s going to be fine.”