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Avrel Menkes

By Melissa Arnold

If you think back to your childhood, it’s likely you can recall moments when you were captivated by something external, like animal shapes in the clouds, or internal, like a daydream. You probably played dress-up, or with dolls or LEGOs, or fell in love with Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or Disney movies.

There’s an almost universal tug we share toward things outside of the ordinary — we are drawn to dreams, fantasies, and sometimes other worlds.

Allison Cruz, executive director of the Smithtown Township Arts Council and Mills Pond Gallery in St. James, has invited artists from around the country to explore their inner worlds with a new exhibit called Imagination.  

It’s a little different than the gallery’s usual showings, but Cruz is excited to expose visitors to artistic expressions that might be unfamiliar.

“I’ve had this idea for a long time. I’m personally a fan of realism, but over time I’ve really started to appreciate imaginative realism — art about things that don’t yet exist, or might exist in the far future … fantasy, science fiction, absurd humor, escapism,” said Cruz. “It seems like there’s been a greater interest in those subjects among artists as well, so it feels like the right moment to do this. A lot of the artists have thanked me for giving them an opportunity to explore a different side of themselves. I think people will be pleasantly surprised by what they see.”

The exhibit includes the work of 62 artists and a total of 81 selected submissions in a variety of styles and mediums. Their art combines personal narrative, pop culture characters and more to speak about the stories that fill our times. Taken together, the exhibit reveals the inner workings of the artists’ minds, from the complex to the humorous and even outlandish.

Manhattan native David H. Reuss is serving as juror for Imagination. Reuss has a long history with the Mills Pond Gallery — he studied there years ago under Marvel Comics illustrator John Buscema, and later connected with Cruz through art collector Tim Newton of the renowned Salmagundi Club. 

With a background in both fine art and illustration, Cruz thought Reuss was the perfect fit for the exhibit’s themes.

“David is on the board of the Society of Illustrators but also teaches realism painting, so he straddles both worlds. He loves the gallery and has the background that was needed to appreciate imaginative work. He really personifies what we were hoping to accomplish,” she said.

Reuss reviewed nearly 300 submissions during the selection process, considering how well each one fit the theme and how his selections would work together on display. He said he was “extremely impressed with the high-level talent” of the chosen artists, adding that their art could easily appear in any major city.

“I’ve done a lot of surreal and fantastical work, and some of the submissions even leaned into illustration, so I was excited to get involved,” he said. “Everything that comes from an artist’s mind is imaginative, but this exhibit pushes those definitions a bit more — mythological concepts, abstracts, fantastical elements — to explore more of what imagination means to others.”

Keep your eyes open for the little details as you appreciate the exhibit. A painting of a cityscape could be hiding a fairy friend. An abstract design might reveal a face. An animal could change its appearance if you look long enough. What will your imagination reveal to you?

“People might not understand or like everything they see here, but art is just another way to learn about new concepts and ideas. I feel that I have a responsibility to bring all kinds of art to our communities,” Cruz said. “Art speaks with many voices, even ones you’ve never heard before. Give this exhibit a try.”

Participating  Artists: 

Marianne Andresen-Magin, Christopher Aoki-Kalin, Lyrin Bailey, Ellen Chadwick, Danny Ciampa, John Darby, Jennifer DeMory, Bernadette Denyse, Kirsten DiGiovanni, Sheryl Renee Dobson, Michael Drakopoulos, Stuart Friedman, Jacques Garant, Candace Gely, Maureen Ginipro, Jared Glennon, Casey Greene, Jan Guarino, Christopher Hanson, David Herman, Tyler Hughes, Julia Jenkins, James Kelson, Myungja Anna Koh, Anna Laimo, Christopher Lauto, Wendy Hope Leiser, Mark Levine, Matthew Manthe, Diana Martocci, Antonio Masi, Avrel  Menkes, Cindy  Miller, Laura  Minet, Angie  Nicholes, Eileen Palmer, Robert J. Polito, Arthur Poore, Kurt Thomas Pope, Shay Poppers, William Randazzo, Bernice Rausch, William Reed, Noah Richardson, Rachel Rossier Ryan, Jairid Rossow, Amelia Rozear, Lynda Sandoval, Barret Schumacher, Marcie Serber, Sydney Shurgin, Greg Sinibaldi, Echo Song, Lisa Stanko, Megan Stephenson, Judy Stone, Angela Stratton, Ashley Thorbjornsen, Linda Trope, Joseph Weinreb and Doug Zider.

Imagination will be on view at the Mills Pond Gallery, 660 Route 25A in St. James from July 13 to Aug. 11 The public is invited to meet the artists and view the exhibit at an opening reception on July 13 from 1 to 4 p.m. Regular gallery hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and noon to 4 p.m. on weekends. Admission is free. For more information, call 631-862-6575 or visit www.millspondgallery.org.

Up next at the Smithtown Township Arts Council’s Mills Pond Gallery is Figurative/Narrative, a juried fine art exhibition featuring 58 works from 36 artists from 10 states including CA, FL, MA, MI, NJ, NY, PA, SD, TX, VA and 14 Long Island communities. The show opens June 3.

Through figurative or narrative paintings, artists give shape and character to the stories and people of our lives. Whether real or imagined, their art invites us to connect and engage with their characters and stories. We invite viewers to enjoy the expressions of the portraits or the illustrated scenes and imagine the untold stories of the lives of the subjects.

Exhibition juror Zimou Tan’s exhibit called for entries that celebrate contemporary realism and figurative and narrative paintings. Zimou is an Art Renewal Center Living Master (true masters in the visual arts…training and inspiring the next generation of artists, scholars, and teachers, to protect, preserve and perpetuate traditional painting techniques). Zimou noted that selected artists captured the essence of the human form and communicated compelling stories through their art.

Exhibiting artists include Diana Aliberti, James Xavier Barbour, Joanna Burch, Mónica Carmona, Yen-Ching Chang, Teresa Cromwell, Collin Douma, Christine Dupuis, Andrew Elsten, Ryan Flannery, Connie Gisi, Hank Grebe, Jennifer Hartzler, Gia Horton, Tyler Hughes, Julia Jenkins, Natreka Kelly, Frank Loehr, Avrel Menkes, Drigo Morin, Diane Motroni, Susan Perrish, Kai Lun Qu, William Dunham Reed, Anita Schnirman, Barret Schumacher, Eileen Shaloum, Angela Stratton, Mark Sweeney, Tracy Tekverk, Robert Tuska, Zoë Walker, Joseph Weinreb, Ashley Williams, Ni Zhu and Doug Zider.

Mills Pond Gallery, 660 Route 25A, St. James presents Figurative/Narrative from June 3 to July 1. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. 

The community is invited to an opening reception on June 3 from 1 to 4 p.m. to meet the artists and view their work. For more information, call 631-862-6575, or visit www.millspondgallery.org.

'Perennial Chrysanthemum' by Natalie Preston

What is your favorite childhood memory? Going to the beach, strawberry picking, holidays, road trips? From April 22 to May 20, the Smithtown Township Arts Council’s Mills Pond Gallery in St. James will present Childhood Memories, an exhibit featuring 74 works from 69 artists who were asked to explore the early rituals, the rites of passage, and the innocence of early life experiences that celebrate the passionate world of childhood. 

Juried by Seung Lee, the exhibit reveals that many artists integrate their life experiences into their work either consciously or unconsciously, often incorporating what they see and sense in the present with their memories. 

“Memories are often the inspiration for art. Artists give life to the characters and environments of our childhood memories, recording fragments of dreams, snippets of passing time, and experiences that have shaped our lives,” said Lee. 

Some works evoke happy memories with vibrant colors that portray the playfulness of childhood, while others echo personal struggles in the artist’s inner emotional world of their childhood. Visitors will see artwork in a wide array of mediums including photography, painting, drawing, sculpture and more.

Participating artists include Nari Ahn, Kirsten Angel-Lambert, Brenda L. Bechtel, Michelle Bond, Renee Caine, Al Candia, Steve Caputo, Linda Ann Catucci, Cynthia Celone, Rocco Citeno, Linda C. Clune, Jane Corrarino, Donna Corvi, Robert Crawford, Daniela Crimi, Eleanor Day, Patricia  DiGiovanni, Beria Dumankaya, JoAnne Dumas, Paul Edelson, Barry Feuerstein, Noah Hanselman, Gia Horton, John Hunt, Genesis Johnson, George Junker, Moritz  Kellerman, Lynn  Kinsella, Susan Kozodoy Silkowitz, Mark Levine, Ellie Liu, Bobbie Ludwig, Caitlin Marx, Suzanne McLeod, Avrel Menkes, Jonathan Mills, Alison Mosher, Frank Musto, Monica Nask, Loretta Oberheim, Raissa Oliveira-Silva, Eileen Palmer, Paula Pelletier, Rima Potter, Kelly Powell, Linda Prentiss, Natalie Preston, Toni Raiten-D’Antonio, Jesse Ramirez, William Dunham Reed, Jairid Rossow, Irene Ruddock, Michael Sapone, Gisela Skoglund, Mike Stanko, Robert Stenzel, Christine Kane Stevens, Judy Stone, Angela Stratton, Tracy Tekverk, Terry Tramantano, Robert Tuska, Carlos Vega, Daniela Velez, Judy Vine, Mary Waka, Steve Walker, Patty Yantz and Tianzhou Zhao.

The community is invited to an opening reception on Saturday, April 22 from 1 to 4 p.m. to meet the artists and view their work. 

Mills Pond Gallery, 660 Route 25A, St. James is open Wednesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Please note the gallery will be closed on May 14. Admission to the gallery is always free. For more information, call 631-862-6575, or visit www.millspondgallery.org. 

By Melissa Arnold

With its many beaches, parks, lakes and farmland, it’s easy to see that Long Island is full of natural beauty. For the local art community, the variety of landscapes provide a constant source of inspiration.

Of course, nature is always changing, but not only with the seasons. Global warming continues to affect all of us, driving home the message that nothing is guaranteed and that we must work together to protect our world.

The Smithtown Township Arts Council (STAC) is reflecting on climate change and the environment through an extended series of exhibits at the Mills Pond Gallery in St. James that began this past fall. Their next exhibit, Long Island Landscapes: From Awe to Action, invites viewers to appreciate the beauty of this area while considering what they might do to preserve it. The show opens Feb. 5.

“I like to do a local, landscape-based exhibit each year, and I wanted to see if there was a way to connect it to the theme of climate change,” said Allison Cruz, executive director at the Mills Pond Gallery. “Art is a method of communication, a way to help people see things and make connections in new ways. We can read the newspaper or watch the news to see that the ice caps are melting and the world is heating up, but to see these artistic expressions of our area makes you realize we might not have them forever.”

The exhibit features 60 works from 53 Long Island artists. A variety of styles and mediums will be on display, including acrylic, watercolor, oil, graphite and charcoal.

Each artist also took time to reflect on what the natural world and environmental conservation means to them.

Anita Simmons of Commack finds her inspiration while going for a drive, walking through area parks or spending the day at the beach. A retired accountant and the daughter of an avid gardener, Simmons grew up next to sprawling fields of corn and potatoes — crops that are no longer as common on Long Island.

“My paintings are an emotional response to what can be seen in the natural landscape of Long Island, which I have enjoyed all my life,” she said. “My dad would plant morning glories that grew up our chimney every year, and I have always loved them. When I saw the morning glories at Schneider Farm in Melville, I just had to photograph them to paint later.”

Ellen Ferrigno often paints scenes very close to her home in Port Jefferson. Protecting the environment has been a part of her life for many years, and she eventually became a Cornell Cooperative Master Gardener to increase her own understanding and educate others about the natural world.

“What supports nature’s environment is a community as well as individual efforts. Therefore, I paint these scenes as reminders of what nature’s beauty is,” she explained. “During the early part of the pandemic, I researched and painted the plants in my gardens that attract beneficial insects, provide a soothing tea or feed the birds. I often included a narrative to educate the art viewers. I also found myself increasing my gardens, putting out feeders for the birds and attracting the bees.”

Cruz and STAC have partnered with a number of local environmental organizations to provide information, literature and ways for visitors to support their cause. They include The Nature Conservancy, Defend H2O, Save the Sound, The Sierra Club, Higher Ground, The Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island, the Seatuck Environmental Association, Save the Great South Bay, Long Island Water, and Group for the East End.

“We have so many wonderful locally-focused groups that work hard every day to protect and preserve our environment here,” said Cruz. “This isn’t just about appreciating beautiful art — we also want to bring attention to all the good these groups are doing and encourage visitors to get involved.” 

Along with Simmons and Ferrigno, artists participating in this exhibit include Marsha Abrams, Lucia Alberti, Tina Anthony, Shain Bard, Ron Becker, Claudia Bedell, Sheila Breck, Joyce Bressler, Renee Caine, Carol Ceraso, Patricia Cisek, Tobi Cohen, Donna Corvi, Lou Deutsch, Julie Doczi, Karin Dutra, Dorothy Fortuna, Donna Gabusi, Vivian Gattuso, Jan Guarino, Regina Halliday, David Herman, Wendy Hildreth-Spence, Gia Horton Schifano, John Hunt, Lynn Kinsella, Liz Kolligs, Lynn Liebert, E Craig Marcin, Avrel Menkes, Annette Napolitano, Catherine Rezin, Robert Roehrig, Oscar Santiago, Hillary Serota Needle, Gisela Skoglund, Lynn Staiano, Madeline Stare, Angela Stratton, John Taylor, Tracy Tekverk, Christine Tudor, Nicholas Valentino, Daniel van Benthuysen, Mary Ann Vetter, Mary Waka, Robert Wallkam, Patty Yantz, and Theodora Zavala.

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Long Island Landscapes: From Awe to Action is on view at the Mill Pond Gallery, 660 Route 25A, Saint James from Feb. 5 through Feb. 26 Proof of vaccination and masks are required to visit. Meet the artists at an opening reception at the gallery on Feb. 5 from noon to 4 p.m. For more information about the exhibit and what you can do to protect the environment, call 631- 862-6575 or visit www.millspondgallery.org.