By Michelle Trauring
As April Gornik would say, the late Sag Harbor Cinema represented the village in every way — in its quirkiness, in its uniqueness and, most literally, in its name.
It stood for history and culture, and if anyone understands that, it’s the community of artists trying to save it.
After all, the same words could be used to describe them.
“Artists understand the concept of originality,” Gornik said. “We’re all striving to do something of our own that’s unique, and we understand how art stands through the centuries — how it evokes a place of culture and how each individual work of art is a part of the mosaic of what makes culture, culture. And it’s the same with the cinema. Artists understand culture, and they’re leading the way on this whole effort, as well.”
On view hanging salon style at Estia’s Little Kitchen on the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike are three-dozen pieces by local artists, who donated their work to be auctioned off as part of the Turnpike Block Party, an event co-sponsored by The Sag Harbor Express that, this year, will benefit the theater’s renovation.
“When Colin Ambrose approached us about the Turnpike Block Party, which would be designed to support non-profits from Sag Harbor to Bridgehampton, we immediately wanted to be involved since that is our primary coverage area and has so many great organizations that deserve, and need, support,” said Gavin Menu, publisher of The Sag Harbor Express. “This year, it made sense to support The Sag Harbor Partnership and its effort to purchase and rebuild the Sag Harbor Cinema, and we are proud to be involved and to help with the effort. As for the party itself, we’re bringing together great food, great music and great art. What’s not to love?”
Featuring an Argentine-style asado — grilled meats donated by Cromer’s and Schiavoni’s Market, and a “vegetable extravaganza” executed by the chefs from Almond restaurant in Bridgehampton — Sunday night’s party will also feature live music, wine-tasting tables by Macari and Palmer Vineyards, beer from the Montauk Brewing Company and an oyster schucker on hand, according to Ambrose.
“Each year, for the past three years, I’ve produced an event to raise funds for a cause important to me and the staff at Estia,” the restaurant owner said. “In 2015, we had great success with an art auction, organized in honor of my friend Eileen Roman. The auction organized by April Gornik was a big success raising lots of money for Project Most. This year, with contributions from a new group of artists, and April on the lead, we hope to bring similar success to the Sag Harbor project.”
All proceeds from the art auction will benefit the theater’s restoration, explained Gornik, who managed to wrangle a number of heavy hitters, including art by Jules Feiffer, Elaine de Kooning, John Alexander, and Connie Fox — whose abstract painting, “Inviting Courage,” was one of her only that fit the size limitation.
“I very seldom do small paintings like that. The big paintings have a lot of energy in them, and I set myself kind of a challenge: Could I do something small that has the impression, the same kind of energy that I get in large paintings?” she said. “So, I would say, that I accomplished it, which answered a question for me.”
The painting’s title was not self-congratulatory, the artist said with a laugh. She gathered it from Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past,” a novel split across seven volumes — 4,215 pages, to be exact — from which Fox plucks all of her titles.
“That’s how I get them! How would you know, I’ve never told anybody,” she said, tongue-in-cheek. “I do so much work, and my ongoing thing that I read is Proust. So I just randomly open it up, I close my eyes, I put my finger down, and wherever my finger lands, that’s what the title is. And you know what’s more? It works.”
Fox is one of the legends on the East End that makes plein air painter Ann Lombardo pause when she considers the art auction’s roster. “I can’t believe I’m in the company of these amazing artists,” she breathed out. “It’s blowing my mind.”
Her oil on board, “It Was the ‘Great War,’” is the result of standing outside for three hours in the chilly morning air on the corner of Jermain Avenue and Main Street — freezing feet and all.
“The Turnpike isn’t the most scenic road, but I thought of the war memorial there, and how people don’t pay much attention to it,” Lombardo said. “So I set up my easel across from Mashashimuet Park with the traffic whizzing by on a Tuesday morning, zoned it out after about five minutes and just went ahead and painted what I saw.”
Plein air is a circular process that moves from eye to mind to hand to brush, she explained, capturing as much as she can very quickly. It is peaceful, and “a little torturous, too,” she laughed.
Fellow artist Gabriele Raacke can relate, from within the confines of her own studio. For her acrylic on glass piece, “Whale and Killer Bees” — which she created specifically for the auction — she had to start over, more than halfway through.
“The first time, I did it wrong,” she said. “It’s the opposite of painting on canvas. The highlights I have to paint first, and then there are layers and layers on top of it. When you turn the painting around, you’ll see an abstract painting. You can look through the glass and see another world on the other side. The paintings, they tell their own stories, depending on which side you look at it.”
From the front, the painting connects Bridgehampton to Sag Harbor through imagery of the hamlet’s basketball team, the Killer Bees, and the village’s iconic whale and neon theater sign — which was painted backwards, the artist noted. “That’s why the letters look a little bit crooked, like, ‘Hmm, a first-grader did the writing,’” she said.
“But this is a piece I did for the love of the movie theater, and for all the people in our community who are dependant on this movie theater,” she added. “When I saw it for the first time, after it burned down, it looked like a tooth is missing in Sag Harbor. It was a place for us, for the community. And I really, really miss it.”
The Turnpike Block Party will be held on Sunday, September 10, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Estia’s Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor. Tickets are $100. Proceeds will benefit the restoration of the Sag Harbor Cinema. For more information, visit sagharborpartnership.org. To place a bid in the art auction, which ends on Sunday at 8:15 p.m., visit paddle8.com/auction/sag-harbor-partnership.