Art Thrives In The Hamptons

Chuck Close
Scope Art
The Hamptons is a Mecca of broad beaches and big fancy houses that is known as a summer playground for high rollers like rap mogul Russell Simmons, rock star Jon Bon Jovi, and director Steven Spielberg.

The party scene is legendary, but there's another side to this enclave on the eastern end of Long Island - one you might not have heard about: the art scene. There have been 600 artists since the 1890's that have been important to American and international art that have worked in the Hamptons.

Trudy Kramer is director of the Parish Art Museum in Southampton. She says the Hamptons Art really started with a group of artists that included William Merrit Chase, one of America's foremost impressionist painters who was drawn to the Hamptons for the light. The clear and translucent Hamptons light has been attracting painters ever since.

Joe Figg makes incredibly accurate replicas - not dolls - to reproduce the studios of some of the many artists who worked here. He made one for the late Jackson Pollock, the pioneering abstract expressionist and another for Chuck Close, famed for a technique known as photorealism. He still works in Bridgehampton.

Husband and wife artists April Gornick and Eric Fischl - each with a distinctive style are featured in their side-by side studios.

Kramer says over the years artists have reveled in being part of a creative community.

"There is this thing about camaraderie of shared aesthetic where they kind of they wanna be to get there and so they are here," she said.

That's one of the reasons a new generation of young painters like Nick Weber work here. As a child, he spent summers in the Hamptons. Even then, he realized he was part of an artistic tradition.

"I did, yeah, I started to be aware of it when I was around 12 you start to get an idea that this was a - had a strong sense of history to it," he said.

Weber is one of the local artists whose work was featured at the Annual Scope Art Fair in the Hamptons.

There was also work by Michael Combs whose family has been on Long Island since the 1640s. He says his off-beat version of Trophy animals as well as his birds with bodies made from antique bedpans are inspired by family.

"My father is a carver and my grandfather is a carver my great great-father is a carver," Combs said. "It's inevitable that it became an influence."

Alexis Hubshman is the founder of the Scope Fair where he says 55 artists and 20 countries are represented. He says that another factor that make the Hamptons such an important Art Hub is that so many wealthy Collectors flock here.

"You have a wonderful group of people who have a sense of really the quality of good artwork, and also a bit of risk-takers. There's a reason hedge-funders are here," he said.

One high-roller is Richard Ekstract. He is a real estate developer and owner of Hamtons Cottages and Gardens magazine. The Hamptons art scene poses constant temptation.

His home is evidence a that some of those big Hamptons spreads. It house some major art collections. Extract says he has a taste for indiosyncratic pieces.

"Most people would say, 'oh, what is that?' but for me, I say 'Wow, that's beautiful.' So its weird. But as I said, I sort of like weird," he said.

Eckstract collects pieces from all over the world, including the portrait of his wife that he commissioned from Hamptons artist Billy Sullivan.

Back at the Scope Art Fair, Dealer James Salomon showed off artist Peter Dayton's installation piece, dedicated to depictions of someone else whose family has a home in the Hamptons: the Hiltons.

"It's about pop culture, certainly and it's really about where we are and where we place our importance," he said.

A reminder of course that despite the best intentions of all people at this Fair - after all is said and done -the image of the Hamptons is still not that of a center for arts and artists but rather a party spot for the rich and famous.

"Maybe in the future maybe in the future it will have more recognition in the arts," Salamon said.