Contributed by Sharon Butler / There’s no sweeter time to visit a seaside town than during the springtime off-season, before the tourists jam the streets, take all the parking spots, and hog the waterfront picnic benches. One beautiful morning last week, I dropped everything and drove out to the East End of Long Island to smell the salt air and feel the sea breeze on my face. Enroute, I stopped at three terrific painting exhibitions.
At the Amelie A. Wallace Gallery at SUNY Old Westbury, I caught “Janet Taylor Pickett: Necessary Memories,” a mini-retrospective that featured the artist’s works from the 1970s to the present. I joined a standing-room-only panel discussion in which she reflected resonantly on the struggles and joys of being an artist. The exhibition commemorates the inauguration of the Black Studies Center and the recently accredited Black Studies major at the college. Aesthetically, Taylor Pickett focuses on the figure, infusing it with personal narrative, myth, and art-historical references to artists such as Romare Bearden and Henri Matisse. In recent work, she takes clichéd images of Black people, like National Geographic photographs of Emo Valley tribespeople, and transforms them into celebrations of humanity itself.
The Church in Sag Harbor featured a four-person show called “Return to A Place By the Sea” comprising abstract work by four African American artists with Sag Harbor connections: Nanette Carter, Gregory Coates, Al Loving, and Frank Wimberley. Co-curated by artist April Gornik and curator Sara Cochran, the exhibition revisits a 1999 show called “A Place By the Sea” that was originally organized by Jim Richard Wilson for the Rathbone Gallery at Russell Sage College in Albany. At the time, the work on display was considered quite experimental, influenced by jazz, conversation as oral history, and the network of influences and relationships they found in Sag Harbor. The newer work elegantly maintains that thread while encompassing more recent issues in politics and material approaches in visual art.
I had never been to The Church before. It’s a magnificent space, developed and funded by Gornik as well as Eric Fischl. Given that both are painters, I was somewhat surprised that the huge installation area, high ceilings, and majestic floor-to-roof windows seemed more attuned to dance and performance than to painting exhibitions. On the intimately-scaled lower level, originally reserved for The Church’s Artist-in-Residence Program, some interesting abstractions – perhaps works-in-progress left by a former resident – were still tacked to the walls, though the program is now housed in the rectory building two blocks away. Warmed and delighted by The Church’s openness and hospitality, I spent a couple hours in the library.
After enjoying a cup of coffee while overlooking the mostly deserted harbor, I headed down to Sagaponock to visit the lovely Madoo Conservancy. My DUMBO neighbor Elizabeth Hazan’s near-psychedelic landscape paintings (image at top of post) are on display there in a knockout solo show called “Sundown.” Hazan spent summers on the East End when she was a child, surrounded by potato fields, the sea, and her parents’ cohort of New York School poets and painters. The vivid color and looping line in her work capture the intense emotional connection she forged with nature. It’s akin, I think, to the spontaneous impulse that drove me to jump in the car that morning and head for the ocean, nostalgic for the sublime shoreline of my own childhood.