Gil Ferrer’s large mixed media pieces are unmistakably from this part of the world. The bays, marshes and rocky beaches near his Conscious Point home and studio in North Sea are the inspiration behind his work and easily identifiable. They incorporate not only photography, but painting and collage as well. Collaged elements include objects Ferrer has picked up at the actual location — detritus such as dried beach grass, shells or rocks which are attached to the foreground of the piece.
This series was, in fact, inspired by another sort of detritus — the type that’s not quite so attractive.
“I have three kids — one, at the time, was almost 17,” notes Ferrer. “He had a bunch of kids in the pool and they smoke a lot. So there were cigarette butts all over the place. But instead of getting mad, I decided to take pictures to show him.”
After taking a series of photographs of the butt strewn ground, Ferrer came up with another idea.
“I connected the pictures in a large image and went out and picked up the butts and collaged them onto it,” he said. “I have him to thank him for what I am doing now.”
Although it may seem a large leap to go from incorporating cigarette butts in artwork to seashells, considering the sort of manmade refuse that is often found in nature, perhaps it’s not such a wide gap after all. In fact, Ferrer’s second piece in this vein was inspired by a walk to the nearby beach. Along the way, he picked up the garbage he found lying on the road. When he passed a parcel of town owned land with a sign on it, he recognized the irony.
“It said, ‘This land is preserved for future generations,’” recalls Ferrer. “So I made a social commentary piece and put it all on the board.”
That piece includes a photograph of the sign surrounded by photographs of the ground and all the garbage Ferrer picked up near the property that day.
“I started with pictures of the ground, but for the third one, I started looking up,” says Ferrer, whose organic marine scapes encompass sea, sky and foreground. They are so large and realistic, viewers have told him that they feel like they could step right into the piece.
“I go to the location and take 300 photographs,” explains Ferrer. “All the paintings have a heavy bottom. I shoot toward my feet, then I connect the photos. Once I connect them with paint, I introduce the elements from the beach.”
On the heels of a successful showing of his work at The Gallery Sag Harbor last month, this weekend, Ferrer hosts a public open house at his studio. The two day event will give viewers another chance to view his works which embrace the water landscapes of the East End.
Ironically, many people know Gil Ferrer not as an artist, but as a high end hairstylist with a successful 30 plus year career and two salons — one on the upper East Side in Manhattan and another in Bridgehampton. Though hairstyling has long been his profession — art is Ferrer’s passion.
Born in Marseille, France, as a child Ferrer moved back to his family’s native Spain following the Spanish Civil War. Growing up in Barcelona, though Ferrer found himself in a country struggling economically and looking to find its footing after a brutal conflict, he was surrounded by the vibrant art and culture of a city that offered much in the way of an artistic education.
“I was very young when I started as an artist,” explains Ferrer. “My first acceptance of a piece for a show was at the age of 13. I was very excited. It was very competitive. Salvador Dali came to the opening. For a 13 year old, that’s huge.”
“Barcelona was like living in a museum — the architecture, Gaudi, the ambiance, the big market, thousands of paintings,” adds Ferrer. “So living in Barcelona was great, but I think art is something inside.”
When he was 16, Ferrer’s family moved to Morocco. For the young artist, what Morocco lacked by way of museums and a cultural scene, it more than made up for in visual imagery.
“In Morocco it was incredible, the colors of the skies and the earth,” he says. “It was an incredible place to paint. The colorful way they dressed, the mosques, and also the flowers.”
Though he loved art and was encouraged to pursue his passion, Ferrer’s family also impressed upon him the need for a practical profession. It was his father, a hairstylist, who taught him the skill that would make him such a success in New York.
“He taught me and I learned fast,” says Ferrer.
But still, there is the art.
“I never stopped painting,” he adds. “I’ve had shows in Soho, Spain, Morocco. But once you start a life and have kids, an apartment, schools and cars, even if you sell your paintings, it’s still not enough. I’m still working because of that.”
As an artist, Ferrer has never stayed static in his choice of subjects or medium. He has painted flowers and portraits, used cat scans and x-rays as the basis for mixed media work and created giant social commentary constructions using international flags, intricate lighting and even video cameras.
“Life changes, we change. There’s no need to do the same thing. Something happens, you’re happier, you’re sad. It’s normal to me,” says Ferrer who feels this new series encompasses many of the working methods that have come before in his art. “I’m putting together collage, painting and photography and using nature. That’s what people are excited about. It’s something new.”
Though he’s never stopped creating, prior to the show at The Gallery Sag Harbor, Ferrer’s last art exhibit was 14 years ago in Soho. He’s now considering getting back into the gallery scene. But whether or not he ends up doing that in a major way doesn’t really concern him. For Ferrer, the most important thing is to keep growing as an artist.
“Each time I did a painting I loved, if couldn’t sell it I gave it away,” says Ferrer. “All my life I did that. If I loved a painting, I’d give it away. Otherwise you don’t get better. You just copy what you did.”
“But if I fall in love with a painting and give it away, the next one will have to be better.”
Gil Ferrer’s Open Studio is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, August 29 and 30, 2009. The studio is located at 21 Oldfield Road, Southampton. Call (917) 621-7775 or visit gilferrerstudio.com for details.
Above: Gil Ferrer in his North Sea studio with his piece “Motel Bay” (photo montage, pigment paint, organic collage, 48” x 60”)