The current exhibition at Neoteric Fine Art in Amagansett, Moby-Dick, pays homage to both the area’s rich whaling history and to Herman Melville’s classic novel. The show runs in conjunction with Janet Goleas’ “The Moby Project” at Mulford Farm, an English Colonial farmstead barn built in 1721, now part of The East Hampton Historical Society, where artists were invited to respond to various themes surrounding the book and the ocean.
Neoteric oftentimes presents thematic group shows featuring the work of local artists, many of whom are members of the original artists’ collective from which the gallery was formed. Ecological concerns are frequently voiced through various media, including found objects, demonstrating the deep connection these artists have to their natural surroundings. In one way or another, most of the exhibitions at Neoteric, if not all, extend beyond filling a gallery space with paintings—inviting the community to take part in listening to live music or presentations on new ideas, raising money for local charities and dancing to silent disco beneath projected light installations. This time, with still a clear connection to the culture of the East End, the focus is on history. Yet, in looking to the past, the show offers a fresh and contemporary reinterpretation.
The exhibition is in two rooms. Upon entering, I veered to the left, drawn in perhaps by the enormous multi-color creature hanging from the ceiling, “The Whale” itself. Made by the collaborative effort of the Neoteric Collective, using buoys, spray foam and pool noodles, the whale invites humor to the otherwise bleak tale. Positioned in the center of the room the sculpture also creates an interactive and metaphorical obstacle, causing the viewer to choose a route for their viewing.
Among a strong group, Paton Miller’s “Quequag,” is particularly powerful. Painted on linen that at a closer look almost seems rough like burlap, Quequag sits tall and proud, his body and face covered in scarification and his wrists cuffed in metal. There’s something Modernist and Gauguin-like about the treatment of the hands, the sloping, disappearing shoulder and the diagonal yellow line of the boat, dividing the background of the vast, dark blue unknown and the very brief foreground.
In the same room, Melora Griffis’ “Fishing,” recalls the Figurative Expressionist Jan Müller’s use of white paint and simultaneous allegorical, literary and dreamlike subject matter. Her flattened plane depicts three levels—the top, blue celestial, with a black-veiled female in an embryo-shaped form; the center green earthly, which includes a pregnant woman, hands over her belly; and a lower level of a white sea with a ship, swimmers and sinking bodies. Like a memory from a dream, “Fishing” awaits interpretation.
In the other room, “Scrimshaw” pieces by Dalton Portella, Melissa Mapes, Rory Evenson, Sue Heatley, Charles Ly and Peter Spacek, were uniquely etched in and/or drawn on wood carved to the shape of the bones and teeth of sperm whales, some adhering to the traditional look of scrimshaw, others taking a modern departure. Hanging above them is an exquisite work by Charles Ly, “The Widow.” In watercolor, pen and ink, mounted on distressed gold leaf paper, a woman clasps her hands together as everything below her bust is submerged into the water. There’s a quality of perfectionist illustration to Ly’s work mixed in with an understanding and love for the culture of his generation. The signature use of animal headdresses, sometimes befitting the person beneath them, other times, in sheer irony, not at all, adds an element of curiosity. The submerged woman appears not to be in good faith of the blessings gifted to the wearer of the fox (i.e. cunning, cleverness, wisdom).
Moby-Dick also includes work by Ted Victoria, Sophia Collier, Amanda Church, Emily Noel Lambert, Gregory Montreuil, Scott Bluedorn, Christine Lidrbauch and Burt Van Deusen and will be on view through October 18.