As an abstract painter painting in 2015, it is a very curiously emotional experience to show my new paintings in Bridgehampton, New York.
Many do not realize that some of the greatest American Painters of the past century settled in The Hamptons in the late 40’s and 50’s, having moved out of the barren, cold, and gritty loft spaces of lower New York.
Two of the most famous of these individuals were Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.
While Willem de Kooning had emigrated from Holland to New York, and Jackson Pollock from Wyoming to New York, both had lived and worked in the lower reaches of Manhattan. Life for an abstract painter in the 30’s and 40’s was a very tough experience indeed. Painters tended to live in cold water flats – toilets and sinks down the hall – and very little money coming up the pipeline. The mindset and expectation of making money was very, very low. There was no place to go, so why not pour everything into the ‘work.’Painters at this time were drawn to painting like moths to a flame. It was not the career that well-positioned parents and teachers encouraged their talented children to pursue. Picasso was the God that was worshipped from across the big and tumbling ocean…and both Pollock and de Kooning struggled to keep alive, make the rent and still paint their hearts out during the daylight hours.
Both were heavy drinkers and smokers, but this came very much with the territory. It wasn’t so much an attempt to be ‘romantic,’ the act of painting. Rather, these individuals were hard-core devoted artists and the drinking and smoking were release mechanisms; a way to let all the ‘steam’ out, so to speak.
At some point in the late 40’s, shortly after the Second World War ended, Pollock and de Kooning discovered the quiet beauty of the East End of Long Island. This outer region, on the south fork of the island that stretched from Watermill to Montauk, was largely farmland. Potatoes were the favored crop. There was fishing and whaling out in the very tip of the Island and Sag Harbor was essentially a whaling village, as was Montauk.
The attraction of open and easy space, with lots of air and light must have been magnetic to these Painters who had endured the hustle and bustle of lower New York, the endless trucks backfiring, the hard stone streets and sidewalks and the lack of green trees and grass.
When I first got married my wife and I spent some time in the Springs of East Hampton. We had been living on the Upper West Side, where I had grown up, and I too craved open space, green grass and lots of fresh air. In the summer of 1979 we rented a house in the Springs of East Hampton. Unbeknownst to us, our next-door neighbor was Willem de Kooning. We only discovered this after about a week when our dog, Mickey, had wander under a fence over to de Kooning’s property where he had several beautiful dogs. The dogs connected before we did.
The dogs soon became best friends, as dogs often do. They, unlike humans, do not ask a lot of questions.
Some weeks after living in East Hampton we happened upon de Kooning who used to bicycle along in his white house painter pants, down local roads that led out to the various ponds and inlets that dotted the region. They say the low-lying fields and color of the sky reminded him of Holland.
One warm afternoon while walking the dogs de Kooning stopped his bicycle to chat for a little while. It was amazing to me, as very young painter, to be talking to such a great master of Abstraction.
I was painting for my very first exhibition on the Upper East Side of New York. I really had nothing to show at this point, other than art supplies stacked in the corner of my working space.
De Kooning was something of a ‘movie star’ to me at age 27 and I was thrilled to talk to him at any level.
Long story short, I painted with great passion that summer and had my first one-man show in New York on East 78 Street at the Maxwell Davidson Gallery in the fall of 1979.
This brings us back to the summer of 2015 and my current show in Bridgehampton: A Wilder Blue.
Past and present meet on the dance floor: neither is prepared for the moment. This IS life. This is how it is.
Am delighted to be showing my work in the Hamptons, a region so rich in Art Historical pedigree and so very, very beautiful at the same time.
Header Image: Gary Komarin in the studio for Connecticut Cottages and Gardens art issue [source]