When the Parrish Museum decamped to the sprawling stylized concrete potato barn in Water Mill it now calls home, the question arose as to the fate of its former abode on Jobs Lane with many assuming it would shutter, leaving a cultural black hole in the center of downtown Southampton.
Over the past two years, however, having been renamed the Southampton Arts Center, while opening its doors to outside curators it has become an important new participant in exhibiting and publicizing the continued vibrancy of the local artist community on the East End.
This is particularly apparent in the current exhibition titled East End Collected 2, curated by well-known painter Paton Miller (who last year organized the first incarnation of this exhibit). Featuring over thirty local artists working in a myriad number of mediums and styles, there is a remarkable vitality to the manner the pieces are arranged, a sensibility further enhanced by the elegance and historically-steeped ambiance of the stately venue itself.
It should be noted that, to some small degree, the title of the exhibit is slightly disingenuous since the original intent was to present only works of artists culled from private collections. Instead, according to Mr. Miller, many of the artists’ (around 40%) hesitated to borrow from those who had previously bought their work and instead gave works either from their stock or from the inventory of their particular dealers.
While there are a number of truly interesting and remarkable pieces in the exhibit, by far the most engagingly dynamic is Charles Waller’s Ball and Chain (mixed media) from his series of works using antique wedding dresses that are collaged onto canvas (by way of full disclosure, ago I wrote a catalog essay about these paintings when others from this body of work were shown at the Spanierman Gallery in East Hampton about ten years ago).
Here, the artist uses a dizzyingly compelling overhead perspective to conjure a powerful sense of ghost-like movement as if the gown were twirling and dancing to an unheard melody while the inclusion of painted chains and images of hack saws introduce a whimsically dark sense of humor to the composition.
Mark Seidenfeld also uses a form of sardonic humor in his series of photographs such as Mermaid and Fisherman (pigma print) which calls to mind the Fellini-like atmosphere of David LaChapelle’s photo work as well as aspects of Magic Realism in Seidenfeld’s use of surreal elements as an ordinary component in an otherwise commonplace environment.
Interestingly, David Slater’s Ghost Ship and Garden of Eden (both acrylic mixed media) also establishes an atmosphere of surreal whimsy although he draws on establishing a more ambiguous storyline in the painterly manner he organizes the surface of the work. While highly reminiscent of artists from the underground comic movement of the 1960’s and 70’s such as S. Clay Wilson and the East End’s own David Geiser, Mr. Slater’s use of collage components creates an atmosphere where the viewer is constantly searching for clues as to how to ‘read’ the work itself in order to divine the narrative the artist has conjured (which is usually both highly political and marginally hallucinogenic).
While Mr. Slater introduces as much information as can be included in his compositions, Dalton Portella strives for a decidedly more minimalist approach as is evidenced in Blue Turn (watercolor, 2015). Constructing the image of a shark turning as if moving to unheard music in an undersea ballet, the image gains in impact from the artist’s powerful use of negative space that hints at the spectacular scope of the leviathan’s aquatic theatrical amphitheater.
A graceful use of negative space and an elegant sense of motion is also an important element in Will Ryan’s Blue Wave (encaustic, 2005) which also highlights this artist’s masterful use of rhythmically delicate blue coloration. Conjuring an ineffable measure of harmony and tempo through his simple flow of brush strokes, its almost impossible to look at this work and not hear strains of flowing jazz-like echoes as one’s eyes are drawn across the surface of the painting.
Also of particular note in the exhibition are Hans Van de Bovenkamp’s Mayan Garden (bronze), Karyn Mannix’s Lips (oil), Ned Smyth’s Torso Cliff (color print, 2014), Peter Dayton’s Stella #18-Devil Surf (gesso and resin on wood) and Nico Yektai’s Bench #12 (cherry).