Foxglove, hollyhocks, and evening primrose: Biennials are defined as flowers that take two years to germinate before blooming anew once again. While all artist exhibitions that take place in other corners of the barrier island every summer are special, the Fire Island Pines Arts Project Biennial Artist Exhibition is that rare bloom that one waits for. Held this year on Saturday, Aug. 3, the best of the best Fire Island has to offer exhibits in this show, however one should not be intimidated by this fact – all are welcome to view.
Dennis McConkey is an artist I first met at a Cherry Grove Arts Project group exhibition back in 2007. Twelve years later he hardly aged a day. He was still producing his smart small format seascapes. The grid of seascapes together was really quite remarkable. No two were ever the same color. Each one had a commanding presence in its own right. His clarity of technique was why he left a lasting impression, but 12 years later it was a greater ease and confidence to this theme that has kept him going strong.
Michael Fitzgerald is a friend, and the Artists Tour of Cherry Grove is the setting I have seen his work in most often. This was the first time he had exhibited in the Pines Biennial, and seeing his work in this formal setting was a very different experience than viewing it from the comfort of his home studio. Looking dapper in a bright green sports jacket that he self customized, his work is theatrical and expressionistic. Yet he curated his modest gallery space with a precision that made it new to me once again. Who knew that his actual name is Martin Michael Fitzgerald III, and that he is represented by the London based Saatchi Gallery? Live and learn.
Leslie Howitt was someone I had not had the pleasure of meeting before, and her cosmic circus banners drew me in. This is not her first time with the Pines Biennial however. The very personable Howitt has a diverse education that includes Ontario Collage of Art and my alma mater, SVA. Her small gouacheon- board works are gem-like, yet commanding. Why hadn’t I noticed her before? Unlike McConkey or Fitzgerald, she explained she was exploring a new series that was very different visually from what she had produced in the past, and many artists will have such shifts as their visions grow and emerge.
Dr. Edward Kai Chiu and I had met in 2017, when he was showing at the Biennial for the first time. From that meeting I became an instant fan. He too is not content to stay with one motif. Two years ago his work focused in diptychs of color fields adorned with Mylar butterflies. His website explains that he was inspired watching the butterflies alight in his flower garden during the summers on Fire Island Pines. But on this day there were no butterflies in sight, instead a series he calls “Poolside Toys.” At first glance they seemed comical, but like his prior series there was more to them. Each small acrylic painting of an inflatable pool toy was brightly colored, seemingly festive until the viewer realizes that each rendition floats in the artificial swimming pool environment isolated and alone. They were at once sad and beautiful.
The devilishly handsome, Brazilian born Henrique Souza created fantastical, and somewhat horrifying, anthropomorphic beats with both paint and photo assemblage techniques that reminded me of the creatures one might see in a Guillermo del Toro film. It will be interesting to see where his vision takes him next.
The biggest surprise of the day was finally meeting someone who has been with FIPAP a while – Scott Bromley. This is the man who designed the community center we were all standing in now known as Whyte Hall, the legendary Studio 54, and many other iconic places. Like most architects, the draftsmanship of his pen and ink drawings in the prior Biennial were clean and precise, and this year much the same. So when a mutual friend introduced us I expected to meet a very serious man – not the broad smiling, energetic force wearing a black T-shirt adorned with a piece of white duct tape across his chest in which “Bromley” was scrawled upside-down with black marker pen. The prices Bromley was selling his original art works for were more than reasonable, and his artist sale proceeds were being donated to the Pines Care Medical Center.
With 35 artists exhibiting at the Biennial, sadly there is not enough space on this page to do them all justice. The FIPAP Board, comprised of 17 dedicated Pines residents who made the organization of the exhibition possible, include Nicholas Politis who was most gracious in assisting us in preparing this news article. Visit https://fipap.org to learn more about the quality visual and performing arts programs they bring to Fire Island, as well as membership, sponsor and underwriting opportunities.
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