Hampton Bays Artist Carolyn Munaco Kickstarts Riverhead Exhibition

Artist Carolyn Munaco at work in her home studio in Hampton Bays.
Artist Carolyn Munaco at work in her home studio in Hampton Bays. Photo credit: Katie Waring

Growing up in Hampton Bays, Carolyn Munaco always had two passions: the beach and art.

As a child, Munaco lived within walking distance of Shinnecock Bay—she could stroll through her parents’ backyard and across Lynn Avenue and arrive on the beach in a matter of minutes.

“My parents always told me when I was a kid that I was born on the beach,” Munaco said Thursday at her home studio. “And I believed them.”

That is, until she reached sixth grade and a teacher pointed out that a beach birth didn’t exactly correlate with a December birthday. But, she said, “It’s still a great story.”

Munaco still lives in Hampton Bays and her three children attend the same high school she graduated from in the 1980s. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in fine art from Southampton College in 1992 and went on to experiment with different media, painting and photographing local beaches whenever she got the chance.

She initiated a Kickstarter campaign last weekend in hopes of raising enough money to buy equipment to help complete an exhibition opening later this summer in Riverhead.

When the Riverhead-based East End Arts Council sent a flier to local artists describing a JumpStart course it was offering this summer, Munaco immediately signed up. JumpStart, a program that helps artists progress in their careers, offers participants advice and counseling on everything from copyright and legal matters to navigating the world of social media.

Of the artists who applied to the program, 15—including Munaco—were chosen to enroll in the course and host an exhibition in downtown Riverhead.

Munaco’s show is slated to open on August 8 and run through the end of the month in a barn located on property owned by the East End Arts Council. “It’s perfect,” she said of the barn. “It’s just that rustic feel, like the driftwood I find. It’s that Bohemian type of style.”

Octopus. Acrylic on driftwood with repurposed mirror, by Carolyn Munaco
Octopus. Acrylic on driftwood with repurposed mirror, by Carolyn Munaco

The exhibition will showcase the local artist’s versatility in her craft. From painted pieces of driftwood, to oil and charcoal drawings and multimedia works that incorporate photography with acrylic paint, the exhibit will surely have an East End theme centered on Munaco’s favorite “go-to” muse: Dune Road in Hampton Bays.

A friend and art collector recently called Munaco a “divergent coastal surf artist,” and she says the term has stuck. “I don’t want people to think I’m a surfer because I’m not,” Munaco said. “A surf artist is anyone who does surf-related water sports…I love water, we [Munaco and her family] boogie board, we kayak, we do all that stuff.”

In addition to being a full-time artist, Munaco is an outdoors enthusiast. In her spare time she enjoys kayaking, fishing, hiking, and gardening; she was recently hired as a gardener for Hampton Nursery on West Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays. What she wants people to take away from her work more than anything else, Munaco said, is her passion for the environment. At the very least, she hopes people will notice the positive influence her art has had on beachgoers: “I know that if I keep doing this, I’ll at least make an impact at picking up garbage.”

Friends have called Munaco a “jack of all trades”—and it’s true. She paints mailboxes, creates signs out of driftwood, and is already taking orders for her beach glass Christmas trees for the upcoming holiday season.

Munaco also makes hand-carved linoleum block printed  T-shirts, which her cousin calls “townie tees.” So far she has shirts for Ponquogue Beach and Shuckers Lobster and Clam Bar, both in Hampton Bays. Time permitting, she would love to branch out and make shirts for popular destinations elsewhere in the Hamptons as well.

Carolyn Munaco's carved linoleum block printed Ponquogue T-shirts.
Carolyn Munaco’s carved linoleum block printed Ponquogue T-shirts.

As a result of the Riverhead exhibition, Munaco said, “I’m hoping…to get enough body of work in each genre that I do that I can set up portfolios and send them out to galleries and try to get some consistent [work].”

Munaco admires artists like Jackson Pollock, Paton Miller, Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso. She’d like to one day show her art in places like Bridgehampton’s Peter Marcelle Gallery or the Sara Nightingale Gallery in Water Mill.

To explain her work as an artist, she said, “I go and walk on the beach and I collect driftwood, I pick up garbage, I take photographs, I get inspiration—that’s what I do.”

A birdhouse sculpture Carolyn Munaco created using marine debris.
A birdhouse sculpture Carolyn Munaco created using marine debris.

Munaco has won the Hampton Bays Chamber of Commerce Poster Contest three times. She regularly donates her work to charities, including The Coalition for Women’s Cancer at Southampton Hospital, the Southampton Animal Shelter, and the Hampton Bays Fire Department’s annual Ben Lupia Memorial Tournament.

With the funds from the Kickstarter campaign, Munaco hopes to purchase new equipment and supplies for her project, including a large format printer she needs to finish the multimedia pieces. Even if she doesn’t raise the minimum amount of money she needs to replace the printer and equipment, she plans on opening the exhibition on schedule in August—though the exhibit would only be about half the size she originally planned.

The Kickstarter fundraiser for Munaco’s exhibition will run through July 4. She has currently raised more than $1,700 toward her $2,950 goal, though those who pledged will not be charged if her minimum goal is not met by the fundraiser’s end date. Those who wish to make a pledge can visit her Kickstarter project page.

To find out more about Munaco’s art or to have a piece commissioned, visit munacofineart.com.

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