Although the studio is always an artist’s ultimate sanctuary, it is often a place more of action than introspection, a place where inner visions are made real but also where the germination of those ideas competes with echoes and ghosts in the birthplace of previous works.
Where, then, do artists go for solitude when they need to find momentary respite from intrusion from the outside world? Where they can be submerged in a vacuum of their own thoughts but simultaneously still stay peripherally connected to their work?
Quite often, they go to the bathroom.
This does not make them any different from anybody else who values a good locked door and the opportunity to look over the latest TV Guide while pondering the quirks and foibles of the human condition. As the late philosopher and writer Edmund Wilson commented, “I have had a good many more uplifting thoughts, creative and expansive visions . . . in well equipped American bathrooms than I have ever had in any cathedral.”
In retreating to their own inner sanctums, however, many artists are still surrounded by reminders of their own unique calling. Drawings, paintings, sculptures, collectibles, icons of various sects or vocations, even the occasional skeletal remains are usually the decor of choice in artists’ bathrooms. While certainly decorative, more important they often serve to illuminate sides of the artists often hidden from casual observers or buried deep within their own work.
As an example of bathroom spaces shorn of any purpose save utilitarian ones, the bathroom Bill King, an East Hampton sculptor, and Connie Fox, a painter, share is masterfully minimal. The decor is limited to a painting Ms. Fox referred to as her “flower muse” and a sculpture of Mr. King’s of a butler that is usually used to hold laundry.
In presenting the space, Ms. Fox shrugged her shoulders and somewhat apologetically explained that “everything creative goes into the studio.”
Paton Miller’s Southampton studio space is another that indicates creativity focused somewhere other than on bathroom design. Enclosing little more than a closet with a sink and toilet, the walls feature a motif of violent paint splatters that give the room the feeling that some horrible medical experiment had gone awry there.
As an ongoing installation piece, North Haven’s Dan Rizzie’s is an example of making art out of a space that might otherwise be casually dismissed as “dreary” and “depressing as death itself.”
Consigned to the basement of a superficially normal-looking split-level house, the space is redolent of ambiguity and implied meaning, from the shocking pink toilet and non-functioning sink leaning drunkenly against one wall to the ripped leather chair with bracelets on the frame that look like they could be used as restraints.
Most impressive, however, is the shower stall, which is decorated in tacky gold-leaf wallpaper and features a Rousseau-esque painting of a monkey holding what is either a banana, a hot dog, or some other organic object the artist, P. Bless, may have meant to be ambiguous. Mr. Rizzi stated that the bathroom was “still a work in progress,” but said, “I have some big ideas.”
“I’m not proud of this space yet,” he conceded.
Giant Beer Keg
In Bridgehampton at the sculptor Nova’s “Ark Project,” the entire house is itself an intriguingly dizzying work of art resembling a giant wooden beer keg knocked on its side.
The downstairs bathroom is flanked by wood cut-outs that frame the sliding door, which is reminiscent of a low-tech version of a space station entryway. Contrasting porcelain fixtures in a shade of green not normally found in nature along with red rubber industrial flooring, Nova has fully encased the sink, tub, and toilet in wooden slats as if the organic materials were inexorably engulfing technology itself.
In a wholly different vein, the painter/ceramicist Cati Van Milder’s Sag Harbor space is as bright and comfortable as most people’s living rooms. Featuring a rounded glass shower stall resembling a huge phone booth and a sauna with built-in stereo, it has a sense of easy elegance that is indefinably cosmopolitan without being at all pretentious.
Highlighting the decor are matching blue Moroccan tiles in the shower and on the sink countertop that provide a compelling sense of what Matisse might have done had he gone into interior design rather than painting.
Similarly, East Hampton’s Audrey Flack’s is elegant while wholly unpretentious and evocative of a certain air of comfort and ease. Matching soft colors in a spacious and well-lit environment, Ms. Flack has created a space that is contemporary while not clashing with the traditional lines of what is essentially a classic East End “beach cottage.”
Other spaces turned out to be interesting in terms of illuminating fascinating aspects of individual artists’ more personal and, sometimes, intimate natures. In Noyac, the printmaker Dan and the painter Kryn Welden’s bathroom is dominated by a huge two-person jacuzzi surrounded by candles, ceramics, and numerous rocks and crystals.
Most noticeable, however, is their collection of crucifixes, which hang on the wall over the tub, making a two-person bathing experience as much a moment of conscience as cleanliness. In the presence of such iconography, the temptation must be to either bathe fully clothed or to head off to confession immediately afterward.
Also imparting an air of religious sensibilities is that of the Southampton artist Gines Serran-Pagan, although it is apparent the gods that are worshipped in this space are (no pun intended) more pagan than Christian. Featuring an immense black marble, sunken Roman tub surrounded by ancient artifacts and African fertility masks in the corner of the master bedroom with its dark wood tones, the space has a certain innocent depravity more adolescent than lascivious, as if a sophisticated college student had designed his ideal make-out pad.
Lastly, the Sag Harbor painter Roy Nicholson’s space is cheerful and bright, also dominated by a bathtub, which is set on a high dais so that bathers can luxuriate while staring out the window at the woods that surround the house.
Featuring a bleached cow pelvis bought at the remarkable yard sale of the estate of the late Alfonso Ossorio, the raised bathtub gives the interesting sense that a bather would be peering down at anyone who entered the room, reminding one of intimidating design concepts usually associated with the ceremonial offices of J. Edgar Hoover or Mussolini (with whom it must be said Mr. Nicholson shares no other discernible traits).