When Nick Moncy first saw the French painting in an art history class at the University of Pennsylvania, he glanced over it and didn’t think about it again.
Fast forward a few years and one pandemic later, Moncy began to see glimpses of the painting as he looked around the city, “marveling at scenes of ordinary life,” he said. A Google search reminded him of the name of the painting by George Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, and immediately, he knew he wanted to recreate it. But Moncy, a Haitian American who grew up in Miami before moving to Philadelphia to attend Penn, is no Francophile. The work of art — current title is “A Sunday Afternoon at Clark Park” — will be built from sketches of different West Philadelphians spending time at the park, where Moncy himself runs, hangs out with friends, people-watches and sketches.
“It really is like a community hub, it’s constantly being used. In a way, it’s very life-giving,” said Moncy. “It’s a very energy-filled place, used for farmers markets, Shakespeare in the Park. It has so many different uses and so many different purposes.”
Given the diversity of the park and the unique individuals there, he knew he wanted to paint a variety of real people spending time there.
So he posted about his idea on the popular West Willy Facebook neighborhood page. Quickly, he realized the idea resonated.
“I think a lot of people are super excited to be represented,” Moncy said.
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The project represents a departure for Moncy. He studied fine art at UPenn and graduated from the Ivy League school in 2019. It was there where he delved into traditional styles like drawing and painting, before exploring digital art forms, like graphic design, photography, video and animation.
As a freelancer and independent artist, Moncy mainly focuses on producing digital artwork for clients, but after being in quarantine for so many months due to coronavirus, something within Moncy shifted.
“I think like, this time during quarantine, this reflective time, really has me longing for the older form of creating. I really felt like returning to drawing because it’s just so foundational,” Moncy said. “Drawing is really like, focused and intensive and, in a way, sort of healing.”
He saw recreating the pointillist classic as a chance to return to those roots, especially after what Moncy describes as a “sort of dark period” for him.
The coronavirus has hit Miami hard. As a result, Moncy hasn’t been able to see his family since January. In June, his grandfather passed away — and it was the first familial death he experienced. Then there were the protests against police brutality, and for Black lives, which erupted from the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others. All of that made for a painful, contemplative few months for the Black artist.
“I was just thinking about my mortality quite a bit and asking myself like, ‘How do I go on?’ It just feels like the world doesn’t want me there,” he said. Focusing on his artwork has been a way for him to address these thoughts and feelings.
“Creating in this time means just moving forward, even though you can’t see what’s, like, two feet ahead of you,” he said.
Moncy hasn’t settled on a final form for his recreation of Seurat’s scene. While he hasn’t completely eliminated the idea of doing a physical canvas painting, he is leaning toward doing a digital painting that utilizes the pointillism style used in the original painting — mainly because painting supplies are expensive.
But if he can get support from a grant or another way, he’ll go that traditional route.
Regardless of medium, traditional or digital, there’s no doubt that the 2020 version will be aesthetically different from the original from 1884.
Not only will the people in the painting represent the makeup of Philadelphia and the culture of Clark Park, but because of the pandemic, people will also be wearing masks.
“The first person I sketched was wearing a mask and I was like, ‘Okay, interesting.’ This will be something like topical,” Moncy said.
The artist said the response to the project has so far been “overwhelmingly positive,”
That positivity bodes well for Moncy. While in college, the artist had to take some leaves of absence for medical reasons. As a result, he didn’t have the time to “develop a robust resume” the way some of his peers were able to, he said. This project, he hopes, will put him on a path forward. “Instead of looking for avenues, this is an opportunity for me to create my own,” Moncy said.