Robert Dash at The Drawing Room

Robert Dash, The Drawing Room

Robert Dash, “From Blue Hill IV,” 2013. Courtesy of The Drawing Room

 

Robert Dash (1931–2013), the beloved Sagaponack artist, writer, gardener and creator of Madoo Conservancy, is remembered with an exhibition of his pastels, From Blue Hill, a series based on memories of Blue Hill, Maine, on view at The Drawing Room in East Hampton. Elegantly framed, each work is like a small treasure—subtle at first, the powerful sneaking up gradually, like making your way down a garden path to the crescendo moment of discovering open space.

From the grouping of pastels in the front room of the gallery, Dash demonstrates a keen sense of balance and space. Using a beige-tone antique paper, he leaves vast areas untouched, and in these areas there is room to breath. The antique paper also allows for white to function as color, the way it does in the garden. “So provoking a color is white, I even have brambles I don’t mind and dog roses and mushrooms on the lawn, fraises de bois in constant bloom, and chamomile,” wrote Dash in Notes from Madoo: Making a Garden in the Hamptons, (2000) a collection from his East Hampton Star gardening column.

The negative areas, together with the areas filled with splashes of vibrant, natural color, form compositions that curve in opposite directions from the middle of the page—a mountain slopes from upper-left to mid-right, where it is met by a path leading from mid-right to lower left. Dash plays with variations on the two expansive, sweeping movements. In From Blue Hill II, 2013, a few sweeping blue lines form a mountain, sloping from upper left to mid-right, and hence from there black squiggling lines make their way back to the right, curving slightly downward, like a train coming toward you. The middle area is a lively and spirited collection of quick, undaunted marks of mostly blues and greens. In the foreground, an abstracted plant, in black pastel, completes (or begins) a line that brings us back to the mid-right.

Romantic and poetic, the From Blue Hill series are also as vigorous as the untamed nature they portray. From more definitive, recognizable landscapes like From Blue Hill IV, 2013, in which a rushing river, boulders, trees and plants are all distinctly recognizable, to the more abstracted forms, albeit still nature, in From Blue Hill XV, 2012–13, a sense of the wildness of nature can be felt.

Although the series was based on a Maine landscape, they were made in the artist’s studio at Madoo, which means “My Dove” in an old Scottish dialect, his home and workplace since 1967. “I do not paint in the way that I garden or garden as I would employ the brush,” Dash wrote, “although the process is often the same—both are arts of the wrist, the broadest, largest sort of signature, if you will, highly idiosyncratic, the result of much doing, much stumbling, and highly intuited turns and twists before everything fits and adheres to the scale of one’s intention. A good tree must often be moved to a more reticent spot when it begins to dominate and thus ruin the total orchestrations.” (Notes, p. 4) In this exhibition we can see the artist playing gardener, moving a tree here or there, a mountain this way or that; utilizing both memory and a mastery of composition to create something new.

Robert Dash, From Blue Hill is on view through November 4.  

Also on view at the gallery is an exhibition of drawings and wall architecture by Chuck Holtzman. The Drawing Room is located at 66 Newtown Lane, East Hampton. Call 631-324-5016 or visit drawingroom-gallery.com.

Published in Dan’s Papers, October 18, 2013.

http://danspapers.com/2013/10/robert-dash-at-the-drawing-room/

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Moby Dick at Neoteric

Paton Miller, Neoteric, Amagansett

Paton Miller, ”Quequag” 2013. Courtesy of Neoteric Fine Art

The current exhibition at Neoteric Fine Art in Amagansett, Moby-Dick, pays homage to both the area’s rich whaling history and to Herman Melville’s classic novel. The show runs in conjunction with Janet Goleas’ “The Moby Project” at Mulford Farm, an English Colonial farmstead barn built in 1721, now part of The East Hampton Historical Society, where artists were invited to respond to various themes surrounding the book and the ocean.

Neoteric oftentimes presents thematic group shows featuring the work of local artists, many of whom are members of the original artists’ collective from which the gallery was formed. Ecological concerns are frequently voiced through various media, including found objects, demonstrating the deep connection these artists have to their natural surroundings. In one way or another, most of the exhibitions at Neoteric, if not all, extend beyond filling a gallery space with paintings—inviting the community to take part in listening to live music or presentations on new ideas, raising money for local charities and dancing to silent disco beneath projected light installations. This time, with still a clear connection to the culture of the East End, the focus is on history. Yet, in looking to the past, the show offers a fresh and contemporary reinterpretation.

The exhibition is in two rooms. Upon entering, I veered to the left, drawn in perhaps by the enormous multi-color creature hanging from the ceiling, “The Whale” itself. Made by the collaborative effort of the Neoteric Collective, using buoys, spray foam and pool noodles, the whale invites humor to the otherwise bleak tale. Positioned in the center of the room the sculpture also creates an interactive and metaphorical obstacle, causing the viewer to choose a route for their viewing.

Among a strong group, Paton Miller’s “Quequag,” is particularly powerful. Painted on linen that at a closer look almost seems rough like burlap, Quequag sits tall and proud, his body and face covered in scarification and his wrists cuffed in metal. There’s something Modernist and Gauguin-like about the treatment of the hands, the sloping, disappearing shoulder and the diagonal yellow line of the boat, dividing the background of the vast, dark blue unknown and the very brief foreground.

In the same room, Melora Griffis’ “Fishing,” recalls the Figurative Expressionist Jan Müller’s use of white paint and simultaneous allegorical, literary and dreamlike subject matter. Her flattened plane depicts three levels—the top, blue celestial, with a black-veiled female in an embryo-shaped form; the center green earthly, which includes a pregnant woman, hands over her belly; and a lower level of a white sea with a ship, swimmers and sinking bodies. Like a memory from a dream, “Fishing” awaits interpretation.

In the other room, “Scrimshaw” pieces by Dalton Portella, Melissa Mapes, Rory Evenson, Sue Heatley, Charles Ly and Peter Spacek, were uniquely etched in and/or drawn on wood carved to the shape of the bones and teeth of sperm whales, some adhering to the traditional look of scrimshaw, others taking a modern departure. Hanging above them is an exquisite work by Charles Ly, “The Widow.” In watercolor, pen and ink, mounted on distressed gold leaf paper, a woman clasps her hands together as everything below her bust is submerged into the water. There’s a quality of perfectionist illustration to Ly’s work mixed in with an understanding and love for the culture of his generation. The signature use of animal headdresses, sometimes befitting the person beneath them, other times, in sheer irony, not at all, adds an element of curiosity. The submerged woman appears not to be in good faith of the blessings gifted to the wearer of the fox (i.e. cunning, cleverness, wisdom).

Moby-Dick also includes work by Ted Victoria, Sophia Collier, Amanda Church, Emily Noel Lambert, Gregory Montreuil, Scott Bluedorn, Christine Lidrbauch and Burt Van Deusen and will be on view through October 18.

Neoteric Fine Art is located at 208 Main Street in Amagansett. Call 631-828-7518 or visitneotericfineart.com and themobyproject.com for more information on the exhibitions.

http://danspapers.com/2013/10/moby-dick-at-neoteric-fine-art-in-amagansett/

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“Water” Overflows With East End Artists At Tripoli Gallery

Billy Sullivan, Tripoli Gallery, Yung Jake, Clifford Ross, Roy Lichtenstein, Willem de Kooning, Matisse Patterson, Ross Bleckner, Keith Sonnier

Billy Sullivan, “Red on the Run,” 2013. Courtesy Tripoli Gallery

The viewer is quickly made aware of the ecological concerns behind the exhibition with a sculpture from neon-light pioneer Keith Sonnier’s “Tidewater Series,” Los La Butte, the first series in which the Louisiana-born artist used found objects in his work. Los La Butte has a yellow curving line of neon that extends the field of energy from within a lattice vortex, containing plastic bottles and debris, with an aluminum base made out of a washing machine tumbler. To the right of the sculpture is Stefan Bondell’s Missed the Mist, 2009; a canvas of blue topography resembling the ocean floor. In 2010, Bondell organized a poetry reading in the downtown New York Marble Cemetery, “Oil Kills Poets Spill,” featured a backdrop of one of his paintings, Currentcy, 20-by-20 feet large, and composed of shredded currency from the Federal Reserve, black and red ink, BP oil and blood, in direct commentary to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.The current show at Tripoli Gallery, “Water,” is themed as such. But what seems almost equally indicative of water, besides the numerous examples of artworks influenced by the element, is the curatorial fluidity; undoubtedly a challenge when the artwork ranges from a gilt-framed 1907 Thomas Moran to a 2013 conceptual work by multi-media artist Yung Jake comprised of three Fiji water bottles on a shelf and given an Emoji Icon title.

Billy Sullivan’s Red on the Run captures the excitement of a dog off the leash at the bay. In a quintessentially Sullivan palette, the intense brightness of the sun is captured in stark whites in the sand and the water behind it. To the right is a crystal sculpture by Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where her architectural background can be seen in the precision of the blue waves. Echoing the ripples of Lin’s Blue Wave are two photographs by Clifford Ross, whereby a clear body of softly moving water reflects overhead sunlight, temping us to dive in. Taken as abstractions, the variations in the repeated forms create movement within a fluid grid-like composition. To the right, the rippling water is seen in yet another form: a 1965 screen print and die-cut collage on blue Rowlux, a lenticular plastic that conveys a sense of movement when seen at different angles, entitled Seascape, by Roy Lichtenstein.

Remarkable groupings continue throughout: Darius Yektai’s The Shower, depicting a figure showering beneath a waterfall in a background of lush, tropical greenery is followed by two Ross Bleckner paintings, Black Monet I and Black Monet II, revealing beautiful pinks, yellows and reds of the lily flowers beneath a backdrop of blacks and greys.

Marsden Hartley’s Starfish, c. 1938, hangs adjacent to Willem de Kooning’s abstracted Sting Ray lithograph of 1971. Matisse Patterson’s intricate and curious Cornell-esque boxes include sand and water taken from local beaches, their titles, like Scott “The Cut” Cameron, revealing which one. A quietly peaceful Fairfield Porter, Beach, 1974, is flanked by a bright pink Mary Heilmann diptych and by a James de Pasquale quadtriptch—capturing Heilmann’s pinks and de Pasquale’s blue-greens.

Following the seascapes’ horizons we next encounter a Roy Lichtenstein print where diminishing dots simultaneously create depth and flatness, as his early-computer-graphic-trees add humor to the littoral scene. Lola Montes Schnabel’s mixed media adds excitement and brings us back to air after our metaphorical dive.  Lastly, it seems worth noting that the oldest work, an 1890s William Merritt Chase, Shinnecock Bay, is side-by-side with the newest work, a 2013 Nathalie Shepherd diptych, Bathing Beauty in the City of New York and Waxed Up.

On view at Tripoli Gallery, 30A Jobs Lane, Southampton, through Sept. 9. Get more info at tripoligallery.com.

Published in Dan’s Papers. August 24, 2013.

http://danspapers.com/2013/08/water-overflows-with-east-end-artists-at-tripoli-gallery/

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Alexandre Arrechea: Skyscrapers Land in Southampton

Alexandre Arrechea, Keszler Annex

Alexandre Arrechea at Keszler Gallery Annex, Southampton

Taking a space anywhere but on Main Street or Jobs Lane, in Southampton that is, might seem like a risk for an art gallery—but after a visit to the new Keszler Gallery Annex on North Sea Road, just south of Montauk Highway, it was clear why owner Stephan Keszler would choose the location.

The building, a former power plant, offers sky-high ceilings—suitable for large-scale artworks that could not otherwise fit—and massive garage-like doors that allow what’s inside the gallery (like that winking lenticular photograph “I Love You” by Derrick Santini) to be visible from the street. Old brick walls, painted white, and exposed overhead beams give the gallery a certain industrial, edgy rawness while sleek, modern and minimal gallery furniture let you know that Keszler is really all about contemporary art.

Currently on view, and visible from outside (anyone who’s been stuck at that red light on their way to Schmidt’s or Lynch’s will have seen it) are works by Alexandre Arrechea, who represented Cuba during the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011. The 15-foot-high curvilinear steel sculptures set on the grassy hill, “Helmsely,” 2013, and “Empire State,” 2012-2013, are modifications of the New York City skyscrapers, shrunken in size and altered to the extent that their tops are no longer pointing upward—”Empire State” is coiled up like a snail shell while “Helmsely” makes a giant ring. Turned inward, could this be a commentary on the current state of the city? The series, entitled “No Limits,” lends itself to a wealth of interpretations—no limits on the artist’s ambition to create, no limits to the self-handed bonuses within the financial sector.

Both works on view outside of Keszler Annex were part of the Park Avenue Project, presented by Magnan Metz Gallery, in partnership with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation and the Fund for the Park Avenue Sculpture Committee, where they were seen from March through early June of this year by New Yorkers making their daily commute up and down Park Ave. Featured on the cover of Time Out New York, as part of their “Amazing Outdoor Art” issue (April 25–May 1, 2013), ”Empire State” is photographed as it stood in early spring, on the Park Avenue median surrounded by mathematically planted tulips and taxi cabs. It’s strikingly amusing to note the difference surrounding scale makes in the overall impression of Arrechea’s sculpture.

In Manhattan, surrounded by skyscrapers, ”Empire State” and other works from the No Limits series seem large. Here in Southampton they seem massive inside the Annex, where more examples from No Limits are on view, along with watercolors and works on paper relating to the series, should a collector wish to partake in the series on a smaller scale. An adjoining room features artwork by Keszler mainstay artists—fashion photographer Marco Giaviano’s supermodels, skateboards with designs by Damien Hirst and Murakami, Bert Stern’s Marilyn portraits and Russell Young’s iconic screenprints, to name a few. Impressive and strikingly beautiful works by Zhuang Hong Y—made of rice paper flowers and paint on canvas—make use of the gallery’s high ceilings and wide space as they extend not only upward and outward but also towards the viewer in their sculptural relief. Bansky’s “Wet Dog,” 2007, the original, unique street work, will bid you adieu on your way out; the lasting imprint beckoning a second visit.

The current show at Keszler Annex will be on view through Labor Day. Keszler Gallery is located at 200 North Sea Road, Southampton. For more information, call 212-774-1906 or visit keszlergallery.com.

Published in Dan’s Papers, August 10, 2013

http://danspapers.com/2013/08/skyscrapers-land-in-southampton/

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Street Artist Aakash Nihalani Tapes the Town

Aakash Nihalani, Tripoli Patterson, Parrish Art Museum, Midsummer Party

Aakashi Nihalani, “Drop,” 2013. Parrish Art Museum. Photo courtesy of Tripoli Gallery

We all gripe over our crazy weekends, running here, there and everywhere, but Aakash Nihalani has perhaps outdone us. The Brooklyn-based artist traveled to Southampton mid-week to begin installing at both the Parrish Art Museum and Tripoli Gallery. Driving back and forth between Water Mill and Southampton, always an ordeal, was now an experience in classic Hamptons traffic, on possibly the grandest scale yet, thanks to two major art fairs, the new one-week renters, and the numerous galas taking place on the weekend of July 13. Burning the midnight oil in the midst of this, Aakash successfully pulled off two very impressive site-specific projects.

On the South side of the new Herzog & de Meuron-designed Parrish Art Museum, visible from Montauk Highway, Aakash used white tape to create overlapping rectangular forms, resulting something reminiscent of toppling dominoes, blown over by wind from the East. On the Northern exterior wall, he created low-rise boxes (or, to get technical, a diamond-shape surrounded by two adjoining rectangles on either side)–the forms created by black tape. The box closest to ground level is the largest, and they diminish in size as they make their way up; creating the illusion of depth on the flat surface of the concrete wall. Those who flocked to the Parrish’s annual Midsummer Gala on July 13 had an opportunity to get up close to the work and take part in the altered view.

Aakash is forging his own territory in –isms, but certainly takes part in street art, op art and modular art, with a touch of minimalism in his clean lines and restrictive palette of black, white and fluorescents. As a street artist, he’s taken to sidewalks, walls and patios from New York City to New Delhi, using his tape to distort perspective and/or play around with existing forms. His work extends the dialogue of Frank Stella’s pulsating squares, Sol LeWitt’s self-imposed rules and mathematical precision, and Jasper Johns’ Usukuki print series, in which a linear motif is replicated and rotated.

The longer you look at Aakash’s work the more you see. For his current exhibition at Tripoli Gallery, Aaranged, he created several tape pieces, which adhere directly to the gallery walls, as well as new tile works. The tile works are made up of modules that can be re-arranged (hence the exhibition title)–allowing for endless compositions. Each module in this instance is a square foot tile with magnetic backing and a surface of bright white paint and black silk-screened lines (slightly wider than the tape he uses). As you begin to look for patterns, you realize that your innate drive for rationality is thrown off by a chance rotation of one of the modules; as if the artist is toying with our notions of order and chaos. As a result, none of Aakash’s works are static—rather they are in motion.

Aakash writes, “All my geometric work is based/derived off of a vocabulary of isometric forms represented/ created from squares and parallelograms. I then take these shapes, or modules, and create different compositions, or variations. As Sol LeWitt said, ‘For each work of art that becomes physical, there are many variations that do not.’ The works in the show are about modularity, and the variations and compositions created by arrangement guided by rational and irrational rules.”

No stranger to the East End, in 2012 Aakash Nihalani was awarded a residency at the Willem de Kooning studio in East Hampton. Adhering to his neon colors, tape and modules, he created outdoor works in high-contrast to the trees and grass of the backyard. In situ photographs can be seen at aakashnihalani.com.

On view at Tripoli Gallery, 30A Jobs Lane, Southampton, through August 11. Outdoor works at the Parrish Art Museum, 279 Montauk Highway in Water Mill. Visit tripoligallery.com; parrishart.org.

Published in Dan’s Papers, July 22, 2013.

http://danspapers.com/2013/07/street-artist-aakash-nihalani-tapes-the-town/

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Bridgehampton Fine Art

Bridgehampton Fine Art, Ai Wei Wei, Basquiat, de Kooning

Bridgehampton Fine Art

Bridgehampton has long been a crucial part of the East End art scene—from staples like Bobby Van’s, where artists and writers once gathered, to New York’s top art collectors and artists calling it home. Indeed, there is something very special about Bridgehampton: the mix of old and new, of quaint and upscale. Strolling down picturesque Main Street is like a journey through time; from Candy Kitchen, the old-fashioned ice cream parlor, to Bridgehampton Fine Art, a gem of an art gallery that opened in May of this year.

Tucked back from the road, down a flower-lined brick pathway, the gallery holds museum-quality artworks from some of the most well known contemporary and modern masters. You’ll be greeted by awe-inspiring infinity light boxes and a series of horse paintings by one of their popular contemporary artists, Danielle Procaccio, but don’t stop there. Behind the corner are important works by Willem de Kooning, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sam Francis, Cristo, Louise Bourgeois, Ai Wei Wei and John Chamberlain.

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Darius Yektai: On Country Ground at Tripoli Gallery

Darius Yektai

Darius Yektai, “The Boquet,” (2012), Photo Credit: Gary Mamay. Courtesy of Tripoli Gallery

Darius Yektai’s current exhibition at Tripoli Gallery, “On Country Ground,” kicks off the summer season with a group of six large paintings, bathed in brilliant blues and deep, rich greens. There’s an immediate sense that Southampton-born Yektai is in touch with his natural surroundings. In these six canvases, Yektai has pared down and confronted the essentials of existence. The Boquet, (2012) is a large 96” x 72” painting, with an almost life-size solitary figure emerging from a mass of forceful brushstrokes of green, blue and black paint. It recalls running through one of our many nature preserve trails. The upper right corner and edges of the picture are painted a soft white and recognized as background, like an early-60s Joan Mitchell, while a section of the mid-left of the canvas is covered in a crisp, bright white that confronts the surface, thus interpreted as foreground. The figure sits somewhere between the two “whites,” the old and the new, potentially past and future. Stuck inside the canvas, he runs towards us on a diagonal. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s easy to see that the artist is more than a colorist. He is breaking down the picture plane, playing with depth and surface, and with his inclusion of the figure, he is also able to include movement and a hypothetical narrative.

While purely abstract works can undoubtedly capture movement, they can also leave the viewer with a longing for something more. So often we try to find recognizable images in non-objective works (just listen to the comments people make at MoMA in front of Pollock’s Number 1A). Art historians are trained not to make remarks like, “I think I see a face,” but perhaps it’s only natural to look for mirrors of ourselves; proof of our own reality.

Having studied Art History at the American University in Paris, and born into an artist family (his father is New York School Abstract Expressionist Manoucher Yektai), Darius Yektai is not unaware of the complexities of being a contemporary artist. In an age where boundaries have been broken from all angles, and, at the risk of sounding provincial, a junk pile can make headlines, working in the age-old medium of paint on canvas and embracing subject matter that (gasp!) comes close to landscape is a daring, bold move. While there currently seems to be yet another return to expressionism, figurative too, much of what is presented as art today still grabs our attention by use of disturbing imagery—an artistic cop-out. Here, with no pretense, we can enjoy the paintings and feel our spirits lifted in their presence. If art shall be taken as means of communication, then it would seem that the artist is bringing us closer to his own experience in nature. In From Tree to Sea (2011-2013), a mixed-media work, branches of a tree are made of painted paper that protrudes from the canvas, perhaps in an effort to further reach us. It brings to mind Eva Hesse’s 1966 Hang Up, whereby notions of the pictorial plane are questioned as a steel tube comes out (a few feet) from the rectangular, empty wall frame. In Yektai’s “From Tree to Sea,” a man hangs from the tree by both arms. From a few steps back, the man could also be seen as the tree trunk, supporting the branch above him. Either way, the connection between mankind and nature is literalized, as the figure looks out along the curving, tropical cove in the background.

“On Country Ground” provides a fresh example of contemporary art by an East End artist who has simultaneously placed himself in context with his expressionist predecessors and forged his own trail.

“Darius Yektai: On Country Ground” is on view at Tripoli Gallery, 30 Jobs Lane, Southampton, through June 20.

Published in Dan’s Papers: June, 2013. http://danspapers.com/2013/06/darius-yektai-on-country-ground-at-tripoli-2/

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This Week’s Cover Artist: Chuck Close

Chuck Close

Chuck Close
John, 1998, 126-color silkscreen
64 ½ x 54 ½ inches
Parrish Art Museum, Gift of Chuck Close and Leslie Rose Close

Chuck Close (b. 1940, Monroe, WA) and his portraits are instantly recognizable. With his self-portraits hanging in museums nationwide, we have become familiar not only with his face and various pairs of glasses, but with his distinctive technique. His iconic large-scale close-ups, subject matter being the faces of his family, friends, artists, and self, are made up of tiny mosaic-like squares. Employing a gridded photograph and paint, Close blurs the lines between photography and painting, and between Realism and Conceptualism, while keeping his portraits in sharp focus.

Throughout his artistic career, Close has gone back and forth in self-imposed palette limitations. In his 1968 “Self Portrait,” he strictly adhered to black and white. Several years later, the pencil and ink “Robert/104,072” (1973-4) of MOMA’s collection, was made of 104,072 separate color squares.

Other techniques include the use of fingerprint marks, pulp paper, watercolor, tapestries based on Polaroids, and of course printmaking.

The cover of this issue is a reproduction of “John,” 1998, a 126-color silkscreen portrait of the artist John Chamberlain that took two years to complete. In a 2003 interview with Parrish Art Museum Director Terrie Sultan, Close, after expressing his previous concern on using silkscreen, with its connection to Pop, said, “A lot of my misgivings about silkscreen vanished when I saw that silkscreen didn’t have to be flat and opaque, that it was possible to get tremendous watery transparencies, and to make something that had an open, brushy quality where other colors flickered through. I realized a silkscreen could have the spirit and touch of the paintings.” With the Parrish Art Museum as home base, “John” has been around the world, exhibited in 2003 at the Blaffer Art Museum, University of Houston, and currently at the Museum der Moderne in Salzburg, Austria.

While maintaining a studio in New York, Close has lived in Bridgehampton since the ’70s. He has had more than 200 solo exhibitions in more than 20 countries, including major retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid and at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. In 2000, President Clinton presented him with the prestigious National Medal of Arts. More recently he was appointed by President Obama to serve on The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. This level of recognition during an artist’s lifetime is remarkable. It seems noteworthy to mention that with this degree of achievement, Close still makes  regular appearances at various museum gala after-parties, simultaneously indicating the breadth of his support for the arts and allowing for a fresh generation of faces to become acquainted with his.

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Remembering Lester Johnson

Lester Johnson

Lester Johnson, Photo Credit: John Schiff

Having spent summers growing up in my grandparents’ house in Springs, it was not until much later that I realized what it meant to be an artist there in the ’50s and ’60s. The paint-speckled floor of the second-floor studio was where we camped out, with cots and sleeping bags, and, it being the country, spiders. The ceiling had a massive skylight—ideal for an artist, less ideal during August thunderstorms.

The house had undergone a few changes since Lester and Josephine Johnson first bought the property on Old Stone Highway in 1954. The land was sold to them from the next-door neighbor, Mr. Fields, a bayman who had a massive scallop shell pile back in the woods behind the house. Lester and Jo built the house from the ground up, with the help of Jo’s father and uncle, who helped dig to access well water, which was then brought up with a small hand pump. The house was a ranch at first, and the “studio” was a barrack-like shack in the backyard.

Lester loved the land because of the locust trees, which he captured in many of his watercolors in the ’90s. In the early years in Springs, to support his family, he would go clamming in Accabonac Bay and then sell his findings out of a bucket at the end of the road. People who bought the clams would send a check in the mail.

In the mornings, Lester would bicycle to Daniel T. Miller General Store (now Springs General Store) to pick up food for the day. From time to time, they’d drive to Southampton to go shopping, and to Sag Harbor to see a movie, or to pick something up from Mrs. Epstein’s Dry Goods store in East Hampton.

He spent time painting with ink and a sketchbook at Barnes Landing, Louse Point and Albert’s Landing, and back at the studio with oil and canvas; creating paintings similar to those he was working on in the city—dark, figurative images in heavy impasto.

In March of 1961, ARTNews ran an article by Lawrence Campbell, with photographs by Robert Frank, titled “Lester Johnson Paints A Picture” (a series that began in 1953 with “de Kooning Paints A Picture”). Describing his process and his tendency to destroy and rework a painting, Campbell wrote, “But coming on to it from a night’s sleep, he will see it not as full and rich, but as smaller, weaker, thinner than the night before. This revelation may come as a great shock. It is a call to arms. Suddenly he will feel free to wreck the image with a vengeance. He will replace it with an entirely new one, reworking every inch of the surface and all at high speed.”

Reflecting (and participating in) a certain Ab-Ex freedom, Lester told Campbell, “It is as though I had fought my way out from behind my own personality, and was able at last to expand and express   myself in a completely fresh way. When the painting is finished, I realize I can never repeat it. It came from a moment of absolute freedom. The moment came when I was able to set down a statement in paint which was the sum of the statements that preceded it.”

Taking part in the physicality of “action painting,” as described by critic Harold Rosenberg in 1952, Lester nonetheless set himself apart from his Abstract Expressionist peers by not only including the figure in his work, but making the human figure his vehicle for expression throughout his career.

The East Hampton art scene Lester and Jo took part in consisted of occasional cocktail parties with other artists, visits with neighbors like Rosenberg or Saul Steinberg, a drive once with Robert Frank and Jack Kerouac to Jungle Pete’s down the road, meeting Bill de Kooning and his daughter Lisa at Louse Point, or spending the day with Paul Georges and his wife and kids. On Sundays, the artists would gather at the one of the ocean beaches, usually Georgica or the “Potato Beach.” No parking permit was required and the beaches were empty.

In the mid-’90s, he painted a “Summer Scene” series based on the people he saw sitting at East Hampton Point. Quite different from his all-black paintings from the early ’60s, “Summer Scene #5” (1996) is particularly interesting in that it reveals many of the transitions that were made along the way—the inclusion of wavy-haired women, dramatic angles of arms and legs and intricacy of design within the fabrics, all in the greater pursuit of movement. In typical Johnson fashion, adhering to the “truth” of the canvas, he leaves the feet loosely painted with lots of dripping paint. However, this series, different in its slightly unfinished, watery quality and unusual colors (turquoise, blues, lavenders, and browns) leaves me certain that the water and distinctive light at Three Mile Harbor had its influence.

The South Fork underwent enormous changes during Lester’s lifetime. It’s hard to imagine witnessing the evolution from farmland to “playground for the rich and famous.” Through it all, he continued working on the East End during summers, eventually settling year-round in Southampton Village in 2006, where he spent his remaining years. Lester died on May 30, 2010, at the age of 91. An influence on a generation of younger artists as well as his contemporaries, his legacy as a leading Figurative Expressionist continues, and his work is in the permanent collections of both the Parrish Art Museum and Guild Hall. As a grandfather and as a person, he will be remembered as much for his career as for his sincerity and gentle nature.

Upcoming exhibitions of Lester Johnson’s work include:

Pioneers of Provincetown: The Roots of Figurative Expressionism, Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Provincetown, July 19–September 2, 2013.

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Thanksgiving Collective at Tripoli Gallery in Southampton

 

Tripoli Gallery, Aakash Nihalani, Nick Weber, Bosco Sodi, Darius Yektai

Image courtesy Tripoli Gallery

 

Summer in the city is a slow time for the art world. Galleries on the Upper East Side might as well shut down completely. After springtime over-saturation, with what seems like hundreds of art fairs, in the summer the city galleries see their art-sated clientele turning their attention away from art and toward the beach.

The problem with this cycle is that it causes one to miss the summer collectives, the group shows that are an art world summer standby. This type of exhibit gives galleries the chance to experiment with juxtaposing art styles and with innovative installations. The emphasis on the curatorial aspect of exhibitions has been on the rise, especially among younger galleries and “alternative art spaces,” in defiant rejection of more commercial models. Many established galleries reserve these types of shows for the slow summer months and perhaps for an occasional winter month when art-loving snowbirds head south.

So it was delightful to see a top-notch group show in Southampton just this past weekend at Tripoli Gallery. The show’s title, “Thanksgiving Collective 2012: Modern Salon,” refers to the combination of East End artists, both well-known and emerging and promising young talent from outside the area.

“Modern Salon” also refers to the way in which the show was installed. Salon style is curatorial parlance for an exhibit where art is hung from floor-to-ceiling, such as in the historic exhibitions of the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

The Brucennial, a group show in Greenwich Village this past spring, went the salon route, covering every millimeter of space. Tripoli’s new show is not quite that extreme, but it does utilize clusters of paintings instead of evenly spaced distribution.

Hanging contemporary art in the antiquated salon style has an interesting result: it simultaneously dramatizes the newness of the artwork and connects it with the past.

Ross Bleckner’s smooth-surfaced oil on linen, “Untitled,” 2012, is almost like a zoomed in, blurred, and distorted 18th century Dutch vase of flowers still life, beautiful with a touch of melancholy darkness. Left of this hang a group of pictures vastly bathed in white: Nathalie Shepherd’s ghost-like, female figure whispers on the canvas. It is situated above a de Kooning-esque woman by Felix Bonilla Gerena. Areas of painterly-ness, like Darius Yektai’s abstractions and Nick Weber’s introspective portraits, are punctuated by glittery and pulsatingEric Freeman paintings. Towards the back of the gallery space, Michael Chiarello’s geometric and angular sculpture is juxtaposed with the organic and curvilinear lines of Jameson Ellis’ vibrant painting.

On the opposite wall, Bosco Sodi’s rough surface and rusty hues of “Untitled,” 2011, contrasts with Mary Heilmann’s smooth and artificially pigmented “Acid Splash,” 2012. In the front of the gallery are a series of small heads by Darren Coffield, depicting that startling moment when you see someone from upside down and envision their eyebrows to be their mouth. Each work of art relates in some way to its neighbor, and in some way connects to the past.

In this “Modern Salon,” “modern” takes back its original meaning, before art historians and auction houses, through no fault of their own, disconnected the word from its definition. The 24 artists included in Tripoli’s exhibition created these works within the past decade—many just in the last year. Combining the work of international and local artists emphasizes the creative converging of histories and backgrounds on the East End and adds new meaning to “here
and now.”

Tripoli Gallery, 30a Jobs Lane, Southampton. Exhibition on view through January 24, 2013

Published: http://danspapers.com/2012/12/a-look-inside-southamptons-tripoli-gallery/

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