Group 8: Transition – The Community

In ‘89 I finished my MFA at Hunter. We decided to move out to Long Island, to the Hamptons. We had lived there in the early ‘80s and I had lived there during my formative years as well, so it was a kind of symbolic “return”. The works I did once we settled were various for the first year. It was a transitional period, I was reexamining what I had done and went about finding ways to express various conclusions I had come to. In this respect the advice of colleagues was invaluable.

I reconnected to many of the artists of my father’s generation. Jim and Charlotte Brooks were my favorite people among the artists from my childhood. To me there were the best of all role models. They were “cool” before cool was cool. They shunned that “Sturm und Drang” exhibited by many of the artists in their generation. They lived a very simple un-material life, completely devoted to making art and living in harmony with nature. They had a ten-acre property onto which they had moved their house from Montauk, after the hurricane of ‘54. It was set off of Neck Path in Springs about 300 feet into the woods. Charlotte’s studio, a smallish shed, had once been the post office building of Amagansett. They moved it to a spot deeper into the woods, about 150 feet from the house, and Jim’s studio was built even further again out into the woods. So the walks to the studios, were a kind of preparation and meditation and enabled one to separate from the daily cares of the world. It was brilliant. (His studio also has the remnants of paintings done on the floor, similar to Pollock’s studio.) Jim and Charlotte did not drink a lot like most of their peers. They were smart but non-confrontational, with high standards but not exclusive or acerbic. Their vibe was one of acceptance. Jim was the other side of the coin from Pollock, though they had been close friends and shared a studio on 8th street during the formation of Abstract Expressionism. Charlotte was a very good painter and had been in the Whitney Annual when it was down in the village, before Jim had achieved recognition.

By 1989 Jim was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s and I got into helping Charlotte a bit with things related to managing art and studio. I created the first digital database of Jim’s work. I was amazed to see the progression of his work, because while differing in sensibility and temperament to Pollock, on another level, that of process and working philosophy, they were very close. Surveying Jim’s oeuvre, which spanned about 60 years, one could see how those ideas played out on the long trajectory, as opposed to Pollock’s oeuvre which followed a short one, due to his death in ‘56.

Charlotte too had been a pioneer, a woman of the first generation of Abstract Expressionists along with Lee Krasner and others. She once told me that, in the ‘40s when the artists began to settle in the country (they called it “the country” then, never “the Hamptons”) that in the afternoons it was common for them to visit each other’s studios, just to see, as she said, “If it was alright to still be doing what we were doing.” Charlotte’s statement underscores how important camaraderie was to those who were pushing into the unknown.

In the summer of ’89 I wrote some art criticism for the East Hampton Star and then, through the curator Helen Harrison, (the most knowledgeable historian on the Hamptons art community) I got reacquainted with the artist / collector Alfonso Ossorio and went to work for him. I had known him since I was a child when my family rented his gatehouse at The Creeks in 1959. Working for Ossorio was a major event in my life, at least as important as working with Chamberlain had been. What I did subsequently to the work shown here, was certainly influenced by the exposure, not only to Ossorio’s work and ideas, but also to the work of the artists he collected, especially Jean Dubuffet and l’art brut artists.

I was still occupied by the diptych idea but I began expanding and contracting it to see what the potentials were. One mode of the works I produced then was identifying the tenor or root of something and then showing its progeny. So I began to incorporate both the plates and prints as one work of art. This was also a nod to early “process” art which was the art that I most admired during my education in the ‘70s. Other diptych ideas had to do with presenting a “noun” and a “verb”, like the image of a bucket and an image made from pouring liquids, presumably from that bucket. A more complex one consisted of a large image of a book with two half-size panels: a black one made of ink and a white one representing paper. There is one with a shovel on one side and actual dirt adhered to a canvas on the other. In the middle of this period the Berlin wall was taken down. I had previously done some big clay prints of the image of a hammer. Some just happened to be printed with red ink. As a response to the fall of the wall, I cut the red hammer in two, the long way, dividing the tines from the head. I hung it separated at the top, but attached at the bottom, “quoting” Gordon Matta-Clark’s first cut house format. Then there were two paintings that had representational fragments collaged onto abstract canvases. All these different efforts were explorations, looking for something ….

The interesting thing about making art is being the recipient of peoples’ reactions. I was lucky to have smart people come by for studio visits and give me their view of what they saw. Jim Brooks once asked me, when I was about 20, “Do you have friends or colleagues that you can really talk to about what you and they are doing? You’ll find, in the long run, that’s the most important thing.” Community is important because art is a thing that flows from work to work, from artist to artist. It was good to be “home” in a place where there was so rich an art history and to be reacquainted with the older artists I knew growing up. And there was the discovery too, of other artists my age, who had settled “in the country” like we had: Sally Egbert, Michael Rosch, Robert Harms, Nic Tarr, Steve Miller, Terry Elkins, Jennifer Cross, Tracy Harris and now so many more great artist friends. Jim was right.