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Painting

Ward Hooper and Holly Gordon display similar pieces of art — from left, a painting and a photograph — both titled ‘The Boys of Summer.’ Photo by Talia Amorosano

By Talia Amorosano

When photographer Holly Gordon was asked to describe her relationship with painter Ward Hooper, she relayed a Hopi Native American tale about a paralyzed clown and a blind mudhead who are only able to flee their village when disaster strikes by individually compensating for what the other lacks: the mudhead provides mobility by carrying the clown on his back and the clown provides direction by acting as a set of eyes for the mudhead. “[Ward] was opening up my eyes, and I was using my camera to bring him the visions,” said Gordon. “There’s really such a synergy between us.”

For Hooper and Gordon, who met on Facebook through a mutual friend and typically get together once a week, the term “synergy” applies to both life and art, realms which, according to Gordon, are often indistinguishable from one another. Hooper plays the role of navigator for Gordon, who drives them both to diverse locations along the north shore of Long Island, including Huntington, Northport, Centerport, Kings Park and Cold Spring Harbor, some of which Hooper “hasn’t been to in 20 years.” The result is individual reinterpretations of the same settings made more complete by access to each others pre-existing work.

Sometimes Hooper’s paintings provide the initial inspiration, and other times Gordon’s photographs play this role. “That’s the beauty of our collaboration,” said Hooper. “Holly would show me something and challenge me to create something compatible with what she selected.”

“[When using Ward’s painting as the initial artistic reference] I knew that I was going to have to stretch my vision and stretch my technical skills to make my work even more fluid than it was previously,” said Gordon. “Art is usually a solitary thing, and among some artists you find a certain competition, but Ward and I have just been so supportive in sharing and helping each other grow and evolve and develop and create. It’s been an absolutely magical experience.”

52 of the artistic results of this experience — pairing the new photographic art of Gordon with the watercolor paintings of Hooper — will be on display at the Art League of Long Island’s Jeanie Tengelsen Gallery, from Aug. 8 to 23, in an exhibit appropriately titled The Brush/Lens Project.

“We’re hoping that viewers will be inspired,” said Gordon, “that they will come to see and appreciate the beauty that is right here on Long Island [by viewing art that was largely created in and inspired by Long Island].”

The exhibit will highlight versatile pieces of art, arranged in 26 sets, which encompass all four seasons and a variety of subjects. “We overestimated the number of pieces [that we would be able to include in the exhibit],” said Hooper. “Between the two of us, we have nearly 100 years of art,” continued Gordon, “there’s a book here.”

Both Hooper and Gordon are grateful that they have been afforded the opportunity to work with one another and plan to continue to do so in the future: “When you put yourself out there and you’re not afraid to share and interact, there’s so much beneath the surface to discover,” said Gordon, on her rewarding decision to reach out to Hooper. “Art brought [Holly and me] together,” Hooper emphasized. “We think, on many levels, the same way.”

With Gordon in the driver’s seat and Hooper as navigator, there’s no telling where their artistic visions will lead them next. “There’s no end to this journey. There’s no road map,” said Hooper. “We’ll just see where it takes us.”

The Art League of Long Island is located at 107 E. Deer Park Road, Dix Hills. Hours are Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The community is invited to an art reception on Aug. 9, from 2 to 4 p.m. The artists will take part in a Gallery Talk on Aug. 16, from 2 to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-462-5400 or visit www.artleagueli.net.

William Belanske sketches while waiting with his luggage to embark on a journey with William K. Vanderbilt II. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum archives

William E. Belanske already had an enviable job as an artist and taxidermist for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) when he got a call from William K. Vanderbilt II.

The year was 1926 and Vanderbilt was preparing for an expedition on his yacht Ara to collect animal and marine life. The voyage would take him to one of the most scientifically diverse and remote places on earth — the Galápagos Islands, on the Equator off the coast of Ecuador. He needed an artist to record the live specimens he would bring back to his private museum in Centerport. To Belanske, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, which marked the 65th anniversary of its official opening on July 6, has created a new exhibit honoring Belanske’s work.

On display in the Memorial Wing of the museum, the installation features a recreation of Belanske’s studio on the Vanderbilt Estate and includes some of the detailed paintings of the numerous marine specimens Vanderbilt collected from the oceans of the world. Large illustrated panels detail Belanske’s work, on the expeditions and at the museum.

Kirsten Amundsen and Brandon Williams of the curatorial staff came up with the exhibit concept and design.

“The ship’s artist, Mr. William E. Belanske, has been with me since 1926,” Vanderbilt wrote in 1932. “He makes accurate paintings of rare fish. With every scale carefully drawn, every shade, every nuance of color exactly portrayed, his reproductions are true, lifelike, and of value to science.”

In 1927, following the Ara expedition, Vanderbilt requested Belanske’s services full time at his museum, and Belanske chose to resign from the AMNH. He served as Vanderbilt’s curator and lived in a cottage on the estate from 1928 to 1945. His work included taking part in around-the-world cruises on the Ara in 1928-1929 and on the Alva in 1931-1932.

Notably, Belanske collaborated with the renowned painter Henry Hobart Nichols (also of the AMNH) to create the Vanderbilt Habitat in 1930, nine stunning dioramas that depict animal life from several continents. The centerpiece of the room is a 32-foot whale shark, the world’s largest taxidermied fish, caught off Fire Island in 1935.

Stephanie Gress, director of curatorial affairs for the Vanderbilt Museum, said, “On the Ara, they placed fish in holding tanks with saltwater to keep them alive. Belanske would paint the catches immediately in order to record the colors accurately.”

Before color photography, Gress said, the beauty and vibrant hues of the collected marine specimens could only be captured with an artist’s hand. Belanske’s perfect color images of the specimens were displayed in the Marine Museum next to the faded, fluid-preserved specimens.

When he returned to his studio, the artist began the time-consuming task of creating his final images. He used his notes, measurements and rough sketches to create fully accurate, detailed fish prints worthy of scientific publication, she said.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport. Through Sept. 6, the museum will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

‘The Missing Piece’ by Alisa Shea

By Talia Amorosano

“Strength is what appeals mostly to me in art. The work can be any medium, style, subject or size; however, in the end, the work must have power.” These words were spoken by David H. Reuss, an experienced illustrator, fine artist, comic artist, and writer — all occupations which have made him more than qualified to serve as juror for the Smithtown Township Arts Council’s upcoming 37th Annual Juried Fine Art Exhibition at the Mills Pond House in St. James, appropriately entitled “Power and Strength in Art.”

Reuss’s emphasis on powerful art may be connected to his admiration for the late comic book artist, John Buscema, well known not only for depicting physically strong Marvel comic book characters like Thor and Conan the Barbarian, but for his punchy, bold, and romanticized visual style. Regarding what he learned from taking art classes taught by Buscema at the Mills Pond House, Reuss said, “the infusion of power and strength in my work is the most consistent lesson I was taught by [Buscema] and it was what I was seeking in the works that I juried for this show.”

‘Lovers in 5th Avenue’ by Cesar Delos Santos
‘Lovers in 5th Avenue’ by Cesar Delos Santos

Reuss did not have to look far to find powerful artwork, as among the 40 artists whose work will be featured in the show, 28 are from Long Island and 5 are from New York City. However, this particular show does shine a wider light on American art, as six of the featured artists hail from places throughout the country as wide-ranging as Florida (Linda Trope) and California (Tonya Amyrin Rice). According to Executive Director of STAC, Allison Cruz, this national sphere allows local artists to “get their work under different eyes” and gives national artists the opportunity to exhibit in a desirable place. “The epitome of being in the contemporary art world is to exhibit in New York,” Cruz said.

As variable as the homes of the artists are the mediums which they use — acrylic, watercolor, oil, pencil, pastel, and ink are just some of the mediums highlighted in this show. Cruz said, “[Reuss] has selected a very wide variety of art. There’s no central theme except for strength of the piece, that it could just draw the viewer in. Whether you loved it or you hated it, you looked at it.” Though different mediums and styles make each artist’s work unique, each piece exhibited does have an essence of strength. How this strength is achieved and depicted, however, varies.

Some artwork, like David Herman’s acrylic painting, “Revolt, Seyithemba” and Eleanor Himel’s oil painting, “Morning Walk,” showcase vibrant contrasting colors contained by bold, solid shapes, while other pieces, like Cesar Delos Santos’ oil painting, “Lovers in 5th Avenue,” and Emilie Lee’s oil painting, “Fortitude,” dramatically display subjects with emotion-wrought facial expressions. Still other pieces carry a subtler power. Eric Chimon’s watercolor landscape, “Chesapeake Bay Boat,” uses a color scheme of muted blues and grays and elicits a quiet sense of dread, evocative of the calm before a storm.

Regarding the artists, Cruz said, “We have a lot of new artists in this show who I’m not familiar with, and to me, that’s the best thing. It’s always nice for local artists to be able to associate with artists who have never been here before. I think it’s good for Suffolk County, good for Long Island, and good for the artists. It’s a win-win-win.”

“Power and Strength in Art” will be on view at the Mills Pond House Gallery, 660 Route 25A, St. James, from June 27 to July 22. The gallery is open Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. (closed on July 4 and 5). The public is invited to an opening reception on Saturday, June 27, from 2 to 4 p.m. to meet the artists. For more information, call 631-862-6575 or visit www.stacarts.org.

‘Pathway,’ acrylic and pencil on canvas. Image from Ripe Art

By Ernestine Franco

Local artist Sue Contessa will have a solo show at the Ripe Art Gallery in Huntington from May 9 to 27. Meet the artist at a reception from 4 to 7 p.m. on May 9.

The focus of Contessa’s art is the process and ritual of repetitive mark making. The color and depth in the paintings are created by alternating many layers of brush strokes and pencil lines. In discussing how she prepares for a new piece, Contessa said, “I establish criteria such as scale, color, size and placement of the marks. Making [these] decisions first allows me to proceed without interruption. Working this way, the act of painting becomes a form of meditation.”

Contessa is a longtime resident of St. James who has exhibited her work in Manhattan, England, and extensively across Long Island in solo and group exhibitions since the 1990s.

The Ripe Art Gallery is located at 1028 Park Ave., Huntington. For more information on the gallery, call 631-239-1805 or visit www.ripeartgal.com. For more information on the artist or to see more of her  paintings, visit www.suecontessa.com.

Louise Brett explains a painting of a ship called the Enchantress. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Louise Brett often paints and draws scenes from the past — a horse walking through the Belle Terre gate, ships in Port Jefferson Harbor, a buggy on East Main Street and the cottages at West Meadow Beach.

The area “is changing so fast,” she said. “I wanted to show everyone what it looked like when I was here.”

Louise Brett does drawings of the area in the past, including this one of a horse walking through the Belle Terre gate. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Louise Brett does drawings of the area in the past, including this one of a horse walking through the Belle Terre gate. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Some of Brett’s works are on display in Edna Louise Spear Elementary School, in the same room the Board of Education uses for its meetings. At the last session, the district presented Brett, who attended the high school but did not graduate, with a certificate of recognition and she received a standing ovation from the crowd.

Brett said in an interview at her home that the acknowledgement was exciting.

It isn’t the first time her work has been displayed — her paintings of a Victorian Port Jefferson appeared on the covers of the Charles Dickens Festival guides for 2006 and 2007. Under sunset skies, she included characters found in both Dickens novels and the village.

Brett, 83, was born in Old Field and moved to Port Jefferson 10 years later. She said she has always been able to draw well, but didn’t always have the resources — including pencils and paper. When she was growing up during the Great Depression, if she saw her teacher throw away a piece of chalk, she would take it home and — with her twin sister, Gussie — draw on the sides of their piano.

Louise Brett, above, paints almost every day. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Louise Brett, above, paints almost every day. Photo by Elana Glowatz

She got some help when she was in her teens while working as a soda jerk, operating the soda fountain at a local shop. On paper bags in the shop, “I would sketch anybody that walked in,” she said. The owner bought her a paint set and she took art lessons in Mount Sinai. At the Board of Education meeting, while presenting the certificate of recognition, elementary school principal Tom Meehan said Brett would walk to the lessons with her brushes in her boots.

While she was learning, she got in trouble with her mother for keeping dead birds under her bed to draw. “I had to know what they looked like,” Brett explained.

Years later, she still paints almost every day, even with her cats, Bonnie and Clyde, wandering around the room that holds her easel and past works. She said art is an outlet for her. When her husband of 54 years, Nicholas, had health problems a few years ago, she painted the Roe House using descriptions in letters former village historian Rob Sisler collected. Brett used details such as the fact that the Roes owned two oxen and carts — which led her to paint a barn with a thatched roof — to determine how to illustrate the scene. “You have to use your imagination,” she said.

Louise Brett's first oil painting was of the house next door to her childhood Port Jefferson home.
Louise Brett’s first oil painting was of the house next door to her childhood Port Jefferson home.

Brett signs all her paintings “Lou Gnia,” for her maiden name Gniazdowski. Her father, who died when she was 3 years old, came to the United States from Poland just before World War I. Brett once took a trip to her family’s village in Stare Miasto, in Poland’s Leżajsk County, a few hours southeast of Warsaw. The village name means “old city,” and she took photographs of various scenes to paint once she got home. In her Reeves Road house she has a “Polish room,” in which there are paintings of houses, cattle drinking from the San River and wagons with rubber wheels, like those on cars.

Paintings also line the walls of the rest of her home, including depictions of ships and beaches and a mural of grazing horses on the far side of the living room.

The artist said painting calms her, to the point where she can forget she is in the middle of cooking dinner. “I just go into a different world,” she said. “I love to paint. It’s just like a sickness.”

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