This summer, the East End’s reputation as a haven for abstract expressionists is fortified at Lawrence Fine Art Gallery in East Hampton. Works in Progress, a season-long series of exhibitions, showcases artists pushing forward beyond already full careers, including a trio of the Island’s most revered living abstract painters. Stan Brodsky, Harriette Joffe and Athos Zacharias continue to use their time-tested craft to convey a sense of youth, innocence and joie de vivre.
Lawrence Fine Art director Howard Shapiro has made it his mission to drive home the point that art is not strictly a young person’s game. “The art market is so hyper-contemporary today,” Shapiro said. “People tend to equate contemporary with young. These artists have been creating works of superb excellence for decades and continue to do so. They remain completely relevant. They in turn continue not just to paint but to teach and mentor. Knox Martin once told me that it is impossible to be a great painter, or a great collector, without some knowledge of art history. Well, here is 300 years of art history compressed into one summer!”
Stan Brodsky at 92 kicks off the season over Memorial Day Weekend. Brodsky’s loose, effervescent abstracts make him one of Long Island’s favorite painters. His work has warmth and whimsy. And he deftly executes soft, nuanced color choices to thread the needle between the inner world of mood and emotion and nature’s infinite vastness.
“Life is short, but art is long,” Brodsky said. “The greater range of experiments that come with advanced age give mature work depth. For me, the challenges of the creative process have become more formidable. Revisiting older works allows for the inclusion of newer lines and rhythms. Successes and failures build upon one another.”
Brodsky’s “Ode to Color” (oil on canvas, 2015) plays out like a feverish, but benign, childhood dream. As if with only one eye open, adjusting to the dark, we see what might be a child’s bedroom through Brodsky’s intense vibrancy. Or are we just seeing vibrancy itself? The richest, purplish red imaginable is the backdrop, dotted and dashed with shards of yellow, blue and orange.
Works on Paper by Joffe will be the painter’s third solo show at Lawrence Fine Art. Joffe’s work embraces loose color combinations joined with sophisticated gossamer threads of line and form. Her recent work, “Let’s Dance with Getz and Gilberto” (acrylic on canvas, 2015) is just such a piece. It’s a furious, yet harmless, vortex of various blues, yellows and oranges with the thinnest filament of black rollicking through it—a spindle of creative DNA that sets the mind adrift.
Joffe is wonderfully adrift herself, but hardly lost. For her, the freedom of letting go is the leaping off point, the moment where creation becomes possible, even inevitable. “[I paint] for the joy of throwing myself into the unknown,” she said. “And the chutzpah it takes to surrender is compelling. Myth, legend and ancient lore reach out and invite me into a world rich with infinite possibility. All that I am, all that I have experienced, becomes my art.”
However, time’s unstoppable march is irrelevant to Athos Zacharias. “Zach” has been an East End practitioner dating back to his stint as de Kooning’s first gallery assistant in 1957. Though he was a half-generation younger, de Kooning labeled him, “one of us.” Six decades later, Zacharias’ most recent work is bold and explosive in color, casual in its hints at form and deftly constrained on the canvas. “My work resides in the present,” Zacharias said. “I allow a great deal of the world into my awareness, I make beautiful accidents and then refine them. For me it is always about surprise; the element of the new. The act of painting is the path to my most vital self.”
“Follies” (oil on paper, 2016) can be viewed as one of Zacharias’ beautiful, refined surprises. It gives off the breathless wisp of a carousel ride: the implied visage of a harlequin figure on a white horse whipping by sits conspicuously in the middle of a background blindingly thick with primary blue undercut with a dash of turquoise—it’s a fleeting, sun-splashed beat inside a grand summer daydream.
Long Island’s Big Three—Pollock, de Kooning and Rothko—all did brilliant work in their time, holding well in their places in the pantheon of abstract expressionism. In symmetry with those who came before them, Brodsky, Joffe and Zacharias have done work that is no less compelling, as they each continue to evolve in both process and result, intent and execution.