By Shoshanna McCollum
This art loving Fire Islander has made a point of catching as many island art shows as she can – Cherry Grove, Fire Island Lighthouse, Fair Harbor, Point O’Woods, as well as Ocean Beach are among the art shows enjoyed with regularity over the past 20 years. However in spite of being told it was the crown jewel of Fire Island artist exhibits, the Fire Island Pines Arts Project Biennial always felt out of reach. After two decades of waiting, the exhibition at Whyte Hall on Saturday, Aug. 5 did not disappoint.
The large open-air balcony deck of Whyte Hall, with its treetop breezes, signaled that this was going to be a very different Fire Island art experience. Being allowed in as a guest of someone on the VIP list didn’t hurt either. Waiters in white shirts offering wine and finger foods served on trays further underscored the exclusivity of this venue. Of course this is the Fire Island art show that can boast a heritage of fabled painters like David Hockney and Paul Cadmus.
Could an up-and-coming blue-chip artist be exhibiting at the FIP Biennial presently? It’s possible. Gregory Hayes got his start being among the first inductees to Cherry Grove’s Fire Island Artist in Residency Program (FIAR) in 2012. Hayes now enjoys gallery representation both in Los Angeles and Italy. Were his minimalist creations made of sequins or confetti? It turned out they were indeed oil paint, but his technique fooled the eye.
Barbara Sahlman’s organic marble sculptures, somewhat reminiscent of Noguchi, all had red sales dots within the first hour. With regal bearing she recalled having shown at the Pines Biennial “since the beginning.” She remembers when the exhibitions took place in the former U.S. Lifesaving station that served as the community house for FI Pines residents before Whyte Hall was opened a decade ago.
Speaking of Whyte Hall, its architect, R. Scott Bromley, was also exhibiting. His impeccably drafted pen and ink drawings were presented without frame or mat, just hung one by one on string, and held in place with black clothespins. However at affordable prices, they too were gaining their share of red dots.
The Biennial art show also had some global influence with the haunting graphics of Ayad Alkadhi. The internationally acclaimed Baghdad-born artist, whose artwork is in the permanent collections of many fine museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was exhibiting right here on Fire Island. Certainly the redhaired spokesman in shorts and flip-flops was not Ayad Alkadhi.
“No,” he replied.
“Are you his partner?”
Seems John was the next door neighbor filling in, for Alkadhi was called away on a family matter. Nothing is more Fire Island than a neighbor helping out.
Mark Beard took a cue from his predecessor Cadmus in his psycho-erotic imagery. In contrast, Alan Dodd and Genevieve Leahy created painterly land and seascapes that were easy on the eye. Paintings that could be lived with and enjoyed in a home for years to come. Neither could be blamed for cutting the conversation short when satisfied collectors from past years came by to greet them.
However perhaps the artist who left the most enduring impression with this viewer was Edward Kai Chiu. After eight years of living in the Pines, this was his first time participating in the Biennial. At first glance all the Mylar butterflies pasted to the canvases seemed a little kitsch, but just beneath the surface was some sophisticated brushwork going on. Unlike most of the exhibitors who had some academic training, Chiu is self-taught – a medical doctor by trade. Doctors often transition to writing and the visual arts quite well.
“It’s the left brain, right brain thing,” he smiled.
Chiu was likable, someone I could see showing his paintings in the hot grit of the Ocean Beach art show with as much grace as this well manicured setting. This writer regrets she did not bring checkbook, his prices in that glossy catalog were not unreasonable. That’s a mistake that will not be repeated next time around.