Local Artists Embrace the Audacity of Abstraction

Fairly Squarely by Dan Welden
Fairly Squarely by Dan Welden

By Dawn Watson

Independent of representational imagery, abstract art is a bold departure from its figurative and scenic brethren.

Not surprisingly, given the bohemian allure of the Hamptons in the mid-century years, the East End has long been associated with the boundary-pushing genre. From the beginning of the movement—which saw the birth of colorful works of Mark Rothko to the expressive drip paintings of Jackson Pollock and biomorphic geometry of Willem de Kooning—to the artists who are producing today—including Dan Welden, Roy Nicholson, Gerson Leiber, Shari Abramson and Dennis Leri—it’s easy to see that when it comes to genres of art, there is perhaps none more audacious than that of the abstract ilk.

Roy Nicholson's Toxic Garden 8 - Lathyrus.
Roy Nicholson’s Toxic Garden 8 – Lathyrus.

Referencing the theme of the genre, the Southampton Cultural Center will exhibit “Audacity of Abstraction,” with works by Welden, Nicholson, Leiber, Abramson and Leri, opening on Saturday. Curated by Arlene Bujese, the group show includes paintings and sculpture that possess a certain “risk factor,” according to the curator’s criteria.

Sag Harbor-based Welden noted that in addition to the company of artists included in the show, there are two themes that really hit home with him about “Audacity of Abstraction.” First, there was the name, voted on by the included artists. Second, there was the connected nature of the group.

“I jumped on the ‘audacity’ word,” he said during a telephone interview last week. “It sounds controversial, risk-taking as opposed to being comfortable, which I firmly believe in.”

As a working artist for more than 40 years, the master print maker and painter has a large network that includes a number of other East End creative types. In fact, Welden knows each of his fellow exhibition members fairly well.

“It’s all connected,” said the creator of linear patterns and intertwining forms in his art. “Everything in the world around us is one. And I’m glad that that includes all of us in this show.”

Skewed But Nevertheless by Gerson Leiber.
Skewed But Nevertheless by Gerson Leiber.

Nicholson, who also lives in Sag Harbor and once shared studio space with Welden, agrees. “It’s such an amazing artist community. It’s why we love it here and have stayed for such a long time,” he said last week during a telephone interview. “There all these connections that keep life exciting.”

In his artwork, it’s the relationship between beauty and danger that most interests Nicholson. Paintings from his “Toxic Garden” series, which focus on lethal garden blooms such as morning glory, hellebore, digitalis and sweet pea, will be included in the group show. His pieces are filled with alluring forms that disguise an undercurrent of peril, he said.

“What drew me in to this theme was my continuing investigation into my garden,” he recalled. “I was fascinated by those things that are beautiful but toxic.”

Nature, and the freedom it represents, is also an inspiration for Leiber’s pieces. In his work the Springs-based painter and sculptor combines strong color planes into which shapes referencing nature are painted and drawn.

“Skewed but Nevertheless,” one of his images that will be on view in the “Audacity” exhibit, is an oil painting with graphite elements, he explained last week during a telephone interview. The artist said that his painting represents “a certain free-flowing feeling” that he gets from being on the East End, first as a summer resident back in 1956 and now as a full-timer for the past four years.

“It’s about the freedom I’ve finally gained after being a painter for over 70 years,” he said. “These abstracts, similar in style,” hopefully show that.”

Additionally, soft-edged shapes on monochromatic backgrounds by East Hampton-based Abramson and geometric and curvilinear sculpture by Leri, also of East Hampton, will be included in the group exhibit.

“Audacity of Abstraction” opens with a reception at the Southampton Cultural Center on Saturday, April 14, from 4 to 6 p.m. The group exhibit, featuring work by Dan Welden, Roy Nicholson, Gerson Leiber, Shari Abramson and Dennis Leri, will be on view through May 18. For additional information, visit scc-arts.org.