By Heidi Sutton
Do you have a case of the winter blues? A surefire cure is a visit to the Winners Fine Art Showcase, currently on view at the Mills Pond Gallery in St. James through Feb. 15. The gorgeous exhibit features the works of local artists Ross Barbera, Kyle Blumenthal, Julie Doczi and Liz Kolligs, who won the 2018 Members Showcase, along with Cliff Miller who took first place in the 2019 Water, Water Everywhere exhibit. The artists were selected by juror Dawn Lee, art curator of the Omni Gallery in Uniondale, professor and chair of the art department at St. Joseph’s College, and coordinator of the artist-in-residency program at Fire Island National Seashore. An artist reception was held on Jan. 25.
According to STAC’s Executive Director Allison Cruz, the annual exhibit was created over 30 years ago “to allow the public to experience a larger body of work from winning artists.” Each artist chose from 6 to 14 of their favorite pieces to showcase and then Cruz was tasked with the design aspect, filling four gallery rooms and the center hall on the first floor of the historic 1838 Greek Revival mansion.
“That is my favorite part of the show … those days before when I get to spend time with the works and figure out how each piece might be best presented in what space,” she said. “It’s a challenging puzzle but so satisfying and I really learn so much about the artist during this time.”
The executive director is proud of the end result. “I think this is an impressive exhibit. There is such a wide variety of painting styles and mediums and techniques by five accomplished artists … and all from Long Island! Viewers should easily connect with the works in this show.”
While completely unintentional, much of the artwork shares a common theme − the beauty of Mother Earth. “I love the threads of nature that run through almost all the works in this show,” said Cruz. “Each artist clearly has a love and respect for the natural world. Although their work is very different in style, medium and color palette, that theme is strong throughout the show. That does not usually happen in a Winners Show but when it does it is just wonderful. It makes for a strong exhibit.”
A perfect example of this is “Mountain Mallards” by renowned illustrator, portrait artist and muralist Cliff Miller. Beautifully executed, it is sure to be a conversation starter (yes, it is an oil painting; no it is not a photograph!). The Seaford resident has several other pieces in the show including a jaw-dropping Western-themed portrait titled “Desperado” and a humorous oil on gesso panel piece titled “The McDivots,” which features a golfer riding an alligator to the next tee.
Pastel lovers will be drawn to Julie Doczi’s delicate landscapes including “Croatian Stream,” “Connecticut Marsh” and one of the artist’s favorite, “The Lavender Harvester.” In her artist statement, the Port Jefferson Station resident said, “My journey into painting as an adult began when I encountered the medium of pastel. I began to find my view of the world around me opening up in a way never experienced before. It is a joyous experience to put these perceptions onto paper, to capture a scene and ultimately have it achieve its own unique identity.” Doczi’s “First Bloom” depicting a blue morning glory is simply stunning.
If you have a soft heart for horses, you’ll love the large equine oil on canvas paintings of Liz Kolligs including “A Herd of Your Own,” “Reflection” and “Bell – A Portrait.” The artist also has several beautiful wildlife paintings on display including “At the Edge of the Woods” and “Mill Neck Creek.” As a lecturer and demonstrator of equine painting techniques and anatomy throughout Long Island, the Glen Cove resident has truly perfected her art.
Perhaps the most unique art represented in the exhibit is by Kyle Blumenthal, who also has the most pieces in the show. Drawing inspiration from nature, her large 3-D paintings made from fabric, including several from her “All the Future Is in Today” series, explore the ocean and the Earth in an abstract manner.
“I like to see my work float in midair,” the Stony Brook resident said in a recent interview with TBR News Media. “More and more of my paintings have started to come away from the wall as if to free themselves from restrictions and straight edges.”
Rounding out the exhibit are the massive landscape paintings of Ross Barbera. Created in acrylic on canvas and watercolor on paper, Barbera “strives to create images that communicate a sense of beauty, painterly integrity, and capture speciﬁc places in terms of time, light, space and texture,” according to the Ronkonkoma resident’s artist statement. One can’t miss the 48- by 72-inch winter-themed piece, “The Athabasca Glacier, Alberta Canada” or the eye-popping “Bonnie’s Summer Garden.”
“These talented artists are making passionate statements about the things they value in this world but in a gentle way,” said Cruz. “There is so much room for wonder!”
The Mills Pond Gallery, located at 660 Route 25A, St. James, will present the Smithtown Township Arts Council’s Winners Showcase through Feb. 15. The gallery is open Wednesdays to Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 631-862-6575 or visit www.millspondgallery.org.