The American flag has long been a symbol for the ideals and beliefs of the United States. And like any great image, it has not escaped the eye of some of the country’s finest artists, many of whom reside, or once resided, on the East End of Long Island.
Here, in honor of Independence Day, we’ve selected a few examples of Hamptons artists using the American flag in their work. Some of these painters are famous, others are emerging, and yet others remain here only through their work and legacy, so many years after their deaths.
Jasper Johns is far and away the most famous painter of American flags, but he was not the first or the last to appropriate the image. Hamptons visitor and Impressionist Childe Hassam’s most renowned work is his “Flag Series,” which began in 1916 and featured the building lined “canyons” of Manhattan festooned with American flags. Later, East End painter Fairfield Porter (1907–1975) found more subtle places for the flag in his work, as evidenced below in “Great Spruce Head Island with Flag.”
Today, the flag continues to be used in work by local artists, including “Stage Setter” (1991) by late East Ender and master of digital media Michael Knigin, which uses uncomfortable juxtaposition to make a statement about war (see image above story). “Birth of a Nation” by Oliver Peterson uses a black star, Confederate Money and other symbols to reflect on the founding of America on the backs of its native inhabitants and black slaves.
Joseph Eschenberg‘s “Sweet Liberty” also adopts the flag into art, here using images of London burnt onto a negative-acting photolithographic printing plate then painted with enamel, as seen below.
Finally, one of the most famous living Hamptons artists, Ross Bleckner, created his “Gay Flag” lithograph in an edition of 500, demonstrating how the American flag can be used in conjunction with other icons—in this case the rainbow flag—to send an important message and fight for equality and freedom for all, which is what America’s independence is all about.