Shows at John Jermain Library and Sen Spice


While it may seem incongruous to find commentary on exhibitions in a Sag Harbor bar and the public library in the same review, in fact the intrinsic connections between the two are less tenuous than one might initially assume.

In part this is due to the unique history of Sag Harbor as a somewhat hard-drinking blue collar community whose most famous literary figure, John Steinbeck, was reputed to kick back more than a few and could often be found ending an evening holding up the bar at the now defunct (and locally infamous) Black Buoy.

Further, considering the role of drink in the lives and writings of any number of iconic figures in American literature—from Fitzgerald and Hemingway to Kerouac and Bukowski—one might assume that public libraries would, in a perfect world, have bars attached (or at least have a special section devoted to alcohol-loving American authors).

By contrast, when it comes to painting, it would seem that alcohol, rather than inspiring creativity, apparently anesthetizes the poetic spirit even as it deadens the senses, making it a seemingly inappropriate lubricant for painterly creativity (Toulouse Lautrec notwithstanding).

In regard to bars as a venue for art exhibitions and sales, though, that’s something else altogether. In addition to the possibility that the purse strings of potential clients will be loosened as they wait for another round, the promise always exists for libations to grease the skids for that spur of the moment purchase that complete sobriety might otherwise have ruled out.

This is, presumably, at least part of the motivation for the painters Grant Haffner and Lynn Matzuoka to show their work in a joint exhibition at Sen Spice Lounge titled “Speed and Seduction: A Gift of Art for the Holidays”.

Interestingly, while the styles of the two artists are dramatically different, both nevertheless offer a shared sense of atmospheric inscrutability and ambiguity, albeit from completely different perspectives and using dramatically variant subject matter.

For Ms. Matzuoka, this approach reflects her years of having lived and painted in Japan, and, while her subjects usually arise from the tradition-bound worlds of sumo wrestling and kabuki theater, in these works the artist engages in more delicately provocative and erotic imagery.

Featuring mostly nude studies of tattooed Japanese women, their bodies languidly dominating compositions in which form and color have equal roles in structuring the picture plane, the works pay homage to the ancient traditions of the Japanese tattoo, which, interestingly, is generally off limits to women and usually now only associated with the Yakuza (the Japanese mafia).

Along with her use of washes and brush strokes, which serve to accentuate the figures themselves, Ms. Matzuoka infuses her paintings with an atmosphere that is decidedly dreamlike and which actually serves to emphasize a profound sense of corporeal sensuality.

Grant Haffner’s landscapes of mostly local East End vistas, on the other hand, share a similar air of mystery, although in these works it arises not from any use of figuration, but in fact from its very absence.

Consisting of seemingly endless panoramas with telephone and power lines stretching into the distance, the works project the sensation of an empty great expanse that is heightened by a rigidly firm delineation between earth and sky, as well as a sharp juxtaposition of flat coloration. Echoing the Precisionist painters of the early 20th century, such as Ralston Crawford and Charles Scheeler, in his use of linear meticulousness and geometric abstraction, Mr. Haffner creates compositions that are refined and cool with a powerful persistence in abstracting from practical reality.

The two-person exhibition, “Speed and Seduction,” continues at Sen Spice Lounge through December 14.

Meanwhile, the John Jermain Library in Sag Harbor is showing Gordon Gagliano’s paintings of Mediterranean villages, in which the textures in the stucco facades outline interlocking planes where light and color bounce off each other in playful yet deliberate rhythmic orchestrations.

Illustrating a reverence for analytical cubism in the works’ emphasis on form and shape, the artist develops a sense of place through an ability to synthesize a scene into a series of interlocking planes that are clearly defined by both illumination and hue, but which are never untethered from the architectural structure of the images being painted.

This is true for most of the works in the exhibit, although in two of them, “Windowbox” and “Yellow Firebox” (both oil on canvas), the imagery is submerged in a flow of color that nearly obliterates the composition into abstract shadows that are only hinted at deep within the composition.

The exhibition of paintings by Gordon Gagliano continues at the John Jermain Library through December 31.

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