By Michelle Trauring
At one time, Miles Jaffe’s childhood bedroom was an office closet.
He describes himself as the product of a broken home—his mother died when he was just a boy—and he, sometimes quite literally, grew up in the architectural firm of his father, the famously prolific Norman Jaffe.
The drafting tables and construction sites were his playground, the adults circulating around him his friends. He grew up quickly, first in Manhattan and then in Bridgehampton, where he currently lives and works.
This was his normal. And though he has, in some ways, followed in his father’s footsteps, he has blazed his own trail, too, through his artwork.
“When I first came to the East End, I was a city kid, an outsider, and was treated as such,” he recalled during a recent interview. “After some number of decades and several widely published projects about the Hamptons, I seem to be considered more of a local now.”
He is one of the more familiar faces, and recognizable names, included in “The Art of Discovery,” a juried art show to benefit The Retreat—the only non-profit domestic violence agency serving the East End—opening May 14 at RJD Gallery in Sag Harbor.
“We are proud to host this exhibit in support of The Retreat to raise awareness and funds to provide safety, shelter and support to local victims of domestic abuse,” Richard Demato, a Sag Harbor resident, Retreat board member and owner of the RJD Gallery, said in a statement. “The Retreat is where violence ends and hope begins.”
More than 130 prospective artists submitted work to be considered for the seventh annual show, and four stood out—Amanda Bellino,
Sarupa Sidaath, Anthony D’Avino and Mr. Jaffe, as well as an honorable mention by Anzhelika Doliba.
For Mr. D’Avino, the upcoming show was the push he needed to get him back into his North Babylon studio, where he is working out new ideas since retiring from his 41-year teaching career.
His paintings reflect his passions in life, he said during a recent interview, and his latest series has focused on his collection of antique toys.
“I grew up in the golden age of toys—in the ’50s. The toy pieces give the viewers a glimpse of those wonderful times,” he said. “Everyone loves to sit and reflect on toys they once had, and their childhoods.”
Mr. D’Avino could talk before he could walk. He was once small for his age and “caught many lumps” from the older kids in school, he said, until he became a wrestler, soccer player and tennis captain.
“As a youngster, you could describe me as sensitive. On rainy days, a pencil and paper was my thing. Drawing was my passion,” he said. “‘Superman’ and Mad magazine were my early artistic influences. When Elvis appeared and the song ‘Tequila’ came out, I began to play guitar under the prompting of my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Sloat, who saw my artistic potential.”
But his parents, who were both creative types, forbid him to study art, so he focused on mechanical and architectural design, which fine-tuned his patience and attention to detail.
Mr. Jaffe, on the other hand, aspired to be anything but an architect, despite his roots.
“Technically speaking, I’m an industrial designer,” he said. “I never wanted to be an architect. In fact, I did everything I could not to be in this field, but between my training and experience, I’m very good at it.”
Artwork and architecture do intertwine—“The ability to solve problems in four dimensions translates to any endeavor,” Mr. Jaffe said—but in his mind, he keeps the two entirely separate. After finishing a renovation of one of his father’s old houses, his attention is sharply focused on his artwork.
“Architecture requires a client who specifies the parameters of the work. As an artist, I’m the client, so I get to do the specifying,” he said. “And, let’s face it, in the age of humongous McMansions and spec houses, there really isn’t much going on here creatively in architecture.”
He is a craftsman at heart, he said, and finds himself most inspired by life and humor. “I’ve been called cynical, but only by those who lack the power of accurate observation,” he said.
While some of his better-known creative projects live in different mediums, including literature and virtual reality, he said, the pieces on view at RJD are sculptural.
“I don’t think of it as [an artistic] process but rather as my nature,” he said. “I’ve always been intrigued by the way things work, and not just material things. As a child, I started exploring this by taking things apart, usually in such a way that they couldn’t be put back together. My work tends to be well planned because it is highly dependent on a wide variety of fairly technical fabrication processes. In that way, it is like architecture.”
But no matter what Mr. Jaffe is creating, in either his design or artistic work, two lessons his father taught him always ring true.
“How to make chicken salad out of chicken shit. And to be true to the work,” he said. “I try to apply these to everything that I do.”
“The Art of Discovery” will open with a reception on May 14 from 6 to 8 p.m. at RJD Gallery in Sag Harbor. Pieces by Amanda Bellino, Anthony D’Avino, Miles Jaffe and Sarupa Sidaath, as well as a work by honorable mention Anzhelika Doliba, are priced between $1,200 and $25,000, and a portion of all sales will benefit The Retreat. The show will remain on view through June 7. For more information, call (631) 725-1161, or visit rjdgallery.com.