In the early months of the pandemic, one Massachusetts General Hospital surgeon sent artist Antonio Reonegro a photo of two doctors posing like Rosie the Riveter. Their hair was fashioned by red bandanas, and their right arms were flexed. A sense of determination and spirit filled their faces, Reonegro said, even from behind their masks.
To the artist, the image signified the strength and commitment of health professionals as they help society fight coronavirus.
“Having these two women — medical professionals — posing like Rosie the Riveter made that iconic poster even more memorable,” Reonegro said. “I was so taken aback. It made me want to do something for the MGH staff.”
So began the story of “We Can Do It Together!,” a 60-by-40-inch painting dedicated to the efforts of medical workers. It was unveiled at noon Tuesday and will live by MGH’s Fruit Street entrance until staff can find the work a fitting permanent home at the hospital.
The piece depicts two medical workers clad in scrubs and masks, once again mimicking Rosie. The women’s faces are composites of multiple portraits of MGH workers sent to Reonegro by Dr. Peter Masiakos over the past few months. Forming the work’s background is a collage crafted from a few dozen printed images, each capturing the face of another MGH nurse, doctor, surgeon, or staff member.
The top of the painting brandishes the phrase “We can do it together!”
Reonegro said the work has a “street art feel,” emphasized by the use of drippy paint and bold lettering. Because of its size, it took the New York resident two weeks to complete in his Staten Island studio.
Masiakos, a longtime friend of Reonegro, said the artist crafted the painting out of his own good will. The surgeon started sending Reonegro images in the early spring, thinking he might sketch something small as a gift for the residents. Instead, Reonegro voluntarily took on a full-fledged project.
“Tony’s an incredibly humble guy,” Masiakos said. “He did this project because of his own desire to thank the people I was looking to thank. The residents are going to love it.”
The MGH painting is a departure for Reonegro, an artist better known for his work with the Grateful Dead. He designed the band’s backstage passes from the early 1990s. Each exploded with vibrant colors, sharp lines, and the skull imagery the group is known for. Since then, Reonegro has spent most of his time running his Havoc Media Design studio.
But the MGH project proved a bit more personal for the artist. His entire family fell ill with COVID-19 as early as March. Thankfully, their cases were mild, but his brush with the virus increased his admiration and gratitude for medical workers nationwide. “It all really made an impact on me,” he said. “These sacrifices that doctors and nurses were making to keep us safe, I can’t even imagine what it’s like.”
As the pandemic drags on, Reonegro hopes the piece will serve as a reminder to MGH staff: They are appreciated.
“There’s not much I can do but make art,” Reonegro said. “But art can make a difference.”
Diti Kohli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @ditikohli_