Sometimes it’s the unlikeliest combinations that produce the best things. Whether it’s unexpected flavors working in concert or contrasting colors playing off each other, disunion can be its own kind of union.
Colm Rowan Fine Art’s Winter Gallery Show in East Hampton embraces this philosophy, presenting a total mix of artists in its new show.
The exhibit, which opened December 10 and runs through January 30, features the work of 21 artists across various styles and mediums. Six of those artists are based on the East End: Barry McCallion, Chris Kelly, Christine Matthai, Ken Miller, and Carl Scorza in East Hampton and Jonathan Nash Glynn in Sag Harbor.
For a group show, the work featured is incredibly diverse in subject, style, and approach — from still-lives of bottles or flowers to realistic paintings of swimmers surfacing to complete abstraction. Rather than centering around a central theme or highlighting similar artists, Rowan strove to select the best work of each artist and present a multifaceted exhibition.
“It is astoundingly diverse, and I see it as a marriage,” Rowan said. “A number of people have come in and one in particular said ‘It’s overwhelming’ and the next words of their mouth were ‘In a good kind of way!’”
The gallery, now in its third year, mainly exhibits contemporary artists. In the past, Rowan worked in galleries in the British Isles and elsewhere in the United States, and traveled looking for great works of art. He had a particular interest in the School of Paris movement, but now works with contemporary artists from all over the world — this current exhibit showcases artists from many different countries.
“They’re drawn from different parts of the world,” Rowan said. “Some are in France, some are in Ireland, some are in other countries further afield. There’s many different nationalities in that exhibition — there’s African artists in it, European, and American.”
What unites all the artists he exhibits is their commitment to mastery, Rowan said — to the constant process of art-making.
“I’m very much motivated by the search for great works of art, which are done by people — artists who labor day in, day out, with a vision, trying to bring a vision to life and sustain it,” Rowan continued. “It’s one thing having a vision but sustaining it year in and year out, that to me is something of interest.”
Rowan also emphasized the importance of his relationships with these artists. In a time when art is heavily commodified and is treated by some more like assets than works of expression, his perspective is refreshing. Rowan is open to critiquing the work of his artists and expressed his interest in his communication with his artists.
“When an artist comes into the gallery, sometimes they ask me, could I critique their work,” Rowan explained. “I’m always open to looking at what artists are doing. Oftentimes the advice I give to them is to try to get to the very soul of what they’re painting.
“It’s a fatal mistake [that] you find in art and in literature, that they don’t focus on the very soul or the very spirit, the very essence of their subject. Rather, they focus on decoration, without anchoring their art or their vision in something essential,” he added. “One of the most joyful aspects of being involved with the art world is the interaction and the dialogue, the community of ideas.”
Another piece of advice Rowan gives to his artists? Make art every day.
“If you’re painting now and again, you’ll be an every now and again kind of artist,” Rowan said.
This ethos is reflected in the Winter Gallery Show, even among such a broad range of artists.
“What holds the show together, what the artists share, is each has a vision,” Rowan described. “Each artist that’s there has their own personal vision that they have worked on for many years. There are no Sunday painters.”
One artist featured with a slightly unorthodox vision is Barry McCallion, whose page “Under Ben Bulben,” from a handmade book of his, is featured in the show. According to Rowan, McCallion, who lives in East Hampton, came to him a number of months ago with pages of handmade illuminated books he’d made and asked him to take a look.
“When [McCallion] was a young man, he had a vision, he had a dream — an actual dream — in which he saw an oarsman striking out on the open seas,” Rowan said.
In the dream, the oarsman was rowing towards the horizon, his back facing what lay ahead. Unlike a sailor standing on the bow of a ship, the rower must approach what comes without facing it straight on, and instead, face where they have been. Inspired by this dream, McCallion thought he would make books for the oarsman to read when he rested at night. That dream was in 1970, and since then he’s created art for him.
One book, the first Rowan saw, was based on the letters of Van Gogh, with handmade bindings. The second dealt with Milton’s “Paradise Lost” — McCallion studied English Literature, as well as Art History, at Columbia.
“What struck me that day was the unexpectedness of this vision, of this man sitting in front of me. That somebody had devoted 50 years of his life in answer to this calling,” Rowan said. “I’ve never shown books before, but if there was some way I could, I would, and I knew this particular show would be an opportunity.”
Of the two books in the show, one is based on the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” and on Yeat’s last poem, “Under Ben Bulben.”
The Winter Gallery Show is also Jonathan Nash Glynn’s first exhibit at Colm Rowan Fine Art, though the Sag Harbor resident has shown his work in a number of museums and galleries across the country. His “Magnetic Series #3,” at 60 by 96 inches, is one of the largest pieces in the show and stands out immediately with bright colors, movement, and depth.
“At first [Colm] took one of my smaller paintings after coming and spending hours at my studio,” Glynn said. “Then he called me back a few days later and said ‘Jonathan, I really have to show that large new piece you’re doing’ because he fell in love with it.
“It’s a very recent piece, and I’m very happy about it because it represents my thinking and the evolution of my work to date,” Glynn added.
Recently, Glynn has been working on pour-based paintings, which may invite comparison to Jackson Pollock, but differ in process.
“The evolution [of my work] happened quickly, but only because COVID made it so that I was so much locked in my studio, which is in my home,” Glynn explained. “For two years I was painting nonstop and I was also allowing myself to take risks and to evolve as fast as I can. I saw some latter-day Pollocks that he was using color and he was doing the dripping. But the interesting thing is that the paintings that I’m doing are extensions of sort of where he left off. I’m trying to have depth in these pictures and not just on the surface and I’m using a lot of radiant colors.”
Glynn uses tubes with various apertures to get different pours, or may just pour directly from a can or bottle. He also works with squeegees, utilizes spray and raw charcoal, and seals his works with resin. Recently, he’s been experimenting with gold and silver leaf, making paintings that sparkle in the light.
“It’s in the process, it is a process painting,” Glynn said.
Glynn cited images from the Hubble Telescope — including black holes and supernovas — as inspirations, which he pastes up in his studio. His studio makes up a large portion of his home, so his work is always nearby.
“I go to sleep and I wake up and I’m always going through my studio, all day long,” Glynn said. “So I look at the work — sometimes, if I can’t find the proper resolution, I’ll put it aside, work on another one, but I live essentially in my studio. I am constantly working and exploring the work I’m working on, especially during COVID.”
Outside of his artwork, Glynn is also the founding director of Wings Over Haiti, a nonprofit he started in 2010 after using his small plane to fly supplies to hard-hit areas of the country in the aftermath of a massive earthquake. Now, Wings Over Haiti operates schools and provides children in need with an education as well as feeding them.
“When I think about Haitian art, it’s always filled with joy, it’s a lot of bright colors, and I would say that the Haitian art might’ve influenced me,” Glynn said. “Also the way the children have such a joie de vivre under the most difficult circumstances. It makes you think, like maybe things don’t need to be that heavy, maybe you can express yourself even under the most difficult situation, like the Haitians, and show a joie de vivre, show that the world is exciting, colorful, and beautiful.”
Glynn was able to make those trips to Haiti because he was a registered pilot and had a small plane. Although he doesn’t fly now, the birds-eye-view did provide a source of inspiration for his art.
“I’ve always been fascinated by just the pattern work and the abstraction of our earth from 1,500 feet up to 12,000 feet. It’s so abstract,” Glynn said. “[…] I spent 16 years above the planet, flying around and just being fascinated by the purity of design, because you don’t see the dirt and the grime, you don’t see the difficulties of humans. You’re out in space looking at the brilliance of abstract patterns that are created in different landscapes.”
“I guess why I respond a lot to the Hubble telescope [images] because in my own limited way I was flying in space for a long time, and I’m fascinated by like how little we are… the whole thing gives me a humble perspective. I don’t think my paintings are going to change the world or anything. I don’t think any painting is going to change the world, but this is what we do while we’re alive. We express ourselves and we try to draw on the experiences that we’ve had.”
As an artist who has exhibited both in solo and group shows, Glynn agreed with Rowan’s characterization of the Winter Gallery Show.
“Normally, group shows don’t work. It doesn’t give a chance to each artist to actually express themselves,” Glynn said. “Colm, in his small gallery, has got an incredible ability to pick artists whose styles are so distinctive that not only do they not compete, but for some strange reason, they don’t look so bad together. How he hung that show and made it look good? It’s pretty incredible.”
On the other end of figuration, Carl Scorza, based in East Hampton, has a realistic still-life called “Memory and Perception” hanging in the show. His work was featured in a solo show at Colm Rowan Fine Art last year. Scorza studied with Wayne Thiebaud, who died just after Christmas last year, as well as at the New York Studio School and other institutions. His recent work is inspired by bars and restaurants as he creates tableaus of bottles of alcohol.
“This still-life based on bottles came out of oddly enough, this is an odd connection, but I had a studio in the World Trade Center in 1998,” Scorza related. “It was part of an artist-in-residence program run by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. I was there for a year and I was mainly focused on Midtown Manhattan, looking from the 91st floor of the WTC. There’s all these verticals, different shapes, different heights with colors. When I left the program I wanted to continue with something similar, I wanted to continue in that motif. I just got all the liquor bottles I had and lined them up on the table and it looked the most like the cityscape.”
Scorza called his first faux-horizon “The Skyline Bottles” and a few years later the bottle motif came back again. He kept on going, looking to bars and restaurants he visited.
“It just kept expanding on itself. I found a lot of opportunities,” Scorza said. “Going to restaurants, there’s always a set up behind a bar that’s meant to be attractive, usually it has lighting on it, a mirror behind it, or a view or something. I started noticing that more and expanding on that motif. It opened up a lot of opportunities in terms of space, in terms of light, in terms of translucency and in terms of personal preferences, you know, favorite rums, favorite vodka.”
The Winter Gallery Show, which brings together alcohol-focused still lives, poured abstraction, paper-maché, bronze works, paintings of koi, and mixed media, remains on view until January 30.
“The more that one brings oneself to the gallery, the more the experience will be a valuable one,” Rowan said. “I say to people, really look. It’s an opportunity to gain something.”
Colm Rowan Fine Art is located at 55 Main Street in East Hampton. For more information, visit colmrowan.com.