By Annette Hinkle
At this time of year, when life slows down, Kathy Zeiger can’t help but see the wildlife on the East End.
“When there’s a nip in the air I notice the animals more,” she says. “The crush of the season is over. I saw a fox pass in front of my car the other night.”
Fauna is, in fact, the theme of “Kingdom Animalia” a new group art exhibit curated by Zeiger which opens this weekend at Dodd’s & Eder in Sag Harbor.
Zeiger comes to the East End with a background in curating art exhibits and events in New York City where she worked with “No Longer Empty” a public arts organization that brings art to vacant real estate.
While Dodds and Eder, a vibrant outdoor furnishings store and garden design firm, is a space hardly in need of filling, curating a show in the space gives Zeiger an opportunity to merge her loves — art and community involvement.
“I’m with East End Climate Action Now – a group of us are in the early stages of coming together with architects, artists and concerned citizens who want to provide some kind of change through working with local government and schools to reduce our carbon footprint.”
“I thought, ‘Why not a show based on animals?’” recalls Zeiger. “We are the environmental stewards for animals in their habitat. We have to take care of their habitat for them to survive.”
So Zeiger reached out to artists she knew to be involved in the show who in turn, recommended others. The result is a group that offers a range of visions by more than a dozen artists — some abstract, some purely representational, but all tied to the theme of the animal kingdom.
One of those taking part in the show is Will Ryan who lives in Amagansett’s Lazy Point. While Ryan is an abstract artist by definition, for this show he is offering a series of four owl paintings created jointly with a friend, Randy Willier, a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Ryan notes the owl is more than an intriguing subject to portray in art, it is also his spirit animal, or aumakua in Hawaiian.
Ryan notes it all came together in 2008 while he was in Maui. He recounts a trip he took with friends up to Haleakala— a dormant volcano and the island’s highest point — for some hiking and an overnight stay in a cabin.
“We were going to take a walk to find this hidden lake. But up near the ridge I felt like I needed to be there,” recalls Ryan who told his friends to go on without him. “I decided to meditate and sat there for a couple hours. But my back was killing me, so I laid back and out of the corner of my eye, I saw this bird.”
That bird was a big white owl and Ryan describes how “she” hovered just 25 feet over his head.
“It was daytime and she was big. She looked at me for seven or eight seconds, I said, ‘What do you want? My heart? My eyes? Come and get it,’” he recalls. “Then she hovered over me again and did the same thing and flew off.”
“I sat up and was kind of bewildered,” says Ryan who felt he had just witnessed some sort of interspecies communication.
And that’s when it hit him — 20 years earlier on an East End beach he had taken part in a ceremony with a shaman friend who took him on a mental journey to find his animal spirit.
“I went into the underworld and was seeing rabbits and things, but nothing felt like my animal,” he says. “Suddenly, I realized I had been looking through a face that’s been there the whole time. I refocused and saw it as a bird of prey and I’m looking into its eyes.”
“Then I got on its chest and it took me to the underworld,” he adds. “Where it took me was the crater of Haleakala.”
But at that time, Ryan had no knowledge of Hawaii. His owl encounter came on his first trip to Maui and the crater — in his shamanic journey, however, he saw the whole scene years before he encountered it in real life.
“I know that’s what I saw. It’s no doubt,” says Ryan. “Just sitting there in the crater, I was thinking it was such an epiphany. Time isn’t linear.”
It was a kupuna, a Hawaiian elder, who informed Ryan the owl was his amakua. And in many ways, in the years since, that experience has continued to inform Ryan’s art.
“My work has an almost aerial view, looking for the primordial beauty by seeing the bigger picture,” he says. “Hawaii has also inspired me a lot — my latest series of abstracts has a lot of Hawaii in it.”
If Ryan has experienced animal inspiration on the heights of Hawaii, for Sag Harbor’s Vito DeVito, it is the underwater life cycle of fish where beauty and intrigue are to be found.
DeVito’s offering in this show, “Ambushed,” is an etching showing a school of striped bass pursuing squid below the waves. When asked how he came up with the image, DeVito credits a free diver friend.
“He would go down and research all the fish species on the East End and toward Cape Cod,” explains DeVito. “He had some great video and film footage that caught my eye that had to do with striped bass feeding on squid.”
“They’re actually ambushes,” says DeVito who compares the process to billfish who frequently ball up bait before feeding. “Striped bass kind of do the same thing – that premise was something I couldn’t get out of my head.”
“I like the image,” he adds. “It’s almost like a ballet.”
And those underwater ballets — especially those never witnessed by human eyes — are a constant presence in DeVito’s psyche, inspiring him as an artist.
“I have a weird imagination when it comes to wildlife,” says DeVito. “I’ll be painting and say to myself, ‘Right at this moment a sperm whale is fighting a giant squid a mile down.’ All these things are going on while we’re speaking. Everything swirling around us.”
“Kingdom Animalia” at Dodds and Eder, 11 Bridge Street, Sag Harbor. Opening reception Saturday, September 28, 2013 from 5 to 7 p.m. with a Twilight Lounge running as part of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival from 6 to 9 p.m. The show remains on view though November 10 and also includes art by Caitlyn Shea, Colin Goldberg, Dan Welden, David Bonagurio, Llewelynn Fletcher, Marc Dimov, Rachel Meuler, Roz Dimon, Scott Bluedorn and Steve Miller.