Three years ago, on a snowy day in January, I was at Rian White’s house in Springs asking him why he was so mad at the Town of East Hampton. White is a well known character in Springs and it’s for one reason only: he HATES the code enforcement in East Hampton. White owns a house in Springs near Maidstone Beach, but according to him he’s a starving artist, and his home is his castle, as far as he’s concerned. He should be able to do what he wants with his house.
At the time White was being fined by the Town for having too much garbage piled up in his backyard. According to White, it was not garbage in his backyard, it was “art” and he would not remove anything. He also said that the “art” did not really bother his neighbors and that he gets along “famously” with them.
While at White’s house, I could sense his passion, he strongly felt his constitutional rights were being violated, he was feeling bullied by the Town, and it was clear to me back then that this was his personal war against the Town and he wasn’t giving in. I filmed his entire house and backyard, which was scattered with various items that were clearly just trash, but had been rearranged in ways that could be argued as representing art. For example, I recall laughing at a 1938 General Electric refrigerator that was standing in the middle of his yard and rusting away, with a wooden chair placed on top in an arguably artistic way, surrounded by rusted-out pitch forks standing upside down that had been dug into the ground. There were also aged, rusting, clearly unusable bicycles scattered in the yard, and yes, it was all in disarray. In the back of the yard was a giant statue of a hot dog that you might see outside of a hot dog stand, “Oh that…that’s been exonerated from everything else. According to the Town, that’s art.”
I sort of admired his battle—the guy should be allowed to do what he wants in his own backyard—but I also couldn’t help but side with the Town on the issue personally. I just didn’t like the way the Town was going about it. A little honey goes a long way with this type of thing, I thought; if they were nice about it, I’d bet that he’d move it, but it was already way past that point. He flat out just didn’t want to be told what to do and felt strongly about it, and like a pit bull wasn’t giving an inch.
It got to the point where the Town hired a crew of people to show up at his house and throw out things in his backyard, then sent him a bill for the work the crew did.
Needless to say, White is still looking to make his point, and three years later, he has done it yet again, drawing the attention of the national press by posting a sign out in front of his house, inviting the public to throw paint at it.
Yes, this is true.
The sign literally says, “Help paint a starving artists home. Throw a pint” and passersby have done just that. His home is splattered with a paint job that looks like Jackson Pollock came back from the dead, got drunk and then declared to the world, “I shall paint a house and I shall do it my way!”
There is yellow splatter, there is white splatter, there are streaks of paint running over his entire house, including his windows.
The director of code enforcement for East Hampton got word of the paint job, and sent a notice of violation to White for breaking Town code violations. It’s written in the law that a homeowner can’t do something like this, but clearly, White doesn’t really agree with those laws.
Once again, because of White’s commitment to his belief that he should be allowed to do to his property what he wishes for the sake of art, he has brought controversy. On the one hand, the house looks terrible. But from another person’s perspective, you could find an argument that it looks kinda cool.
I’ve been down by this house since it has been “painted,” although I didn’t see White anywhere. Personally, I have to say, it looks absurd, but that’s just me. I got to thinking about freedom and America the entire time I looked at this house. I felt emotional when I looked at it, I felt thoughtful. Am I admitting to myself that this could be a form of art? Is this a case where people just personally don’t like each other? If everybody just said, “go ahead, Mr. White, have it your way,” would White decide to paint it one color?
And then I got to thinking about illegal immigrants, and the lack of code enforcement on homes that are overcrowded, and the struggle with that. What can the Town really do? They just have to try and do the best they can. You can’t punish people who don’t have much and want to live a certain way, because what can you really do but send them fines that they can’t pay?
But when it’s done on purpose, to make a point as White is doing, what’s the next step? Is it worth time and money to keep the war going? Or would a little peace between the two do more good?
It’s not black and white. It’s the grey area where all of us have to live, but unfortunately, nobody wants to admit it.
I also got to thinking about WHY White did this. He did it because somebody complained the old paint job on his house was not good enough for them and that the paint on his house was chipping away. Is this really such a big deal that he has to be singled out? How many homes in Springs look 10 times worse than his did before he splattered it with paint? I will say that his yard is absolutely, completely cleaned up, and that there are plenty of other places that are in much worse shape.