By Annette Hinkle
The farm fields and coastal views are one of the main reasons the East End has become such a popular destination for summer tourists and second home owners alike.
These views are especially treasured by local landscape artists, many of whom have chosen to live here because of the vast amount of source material nature provides.
The downside, of course, comes when people love a place too much and natural settings are encroached upon by development.
That’s certainly been an issue on the East End in recent years, which is why the artists of Plein Air Peconic have made it their mission to highlight views preserved by the Peconic Land Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Long Island’s working farms and natural areas.
This weekend, many of the artists in the Plein Air Peconic collective are taking part in the group’s eighth annual art exhibition and sale at Ashawagh Hall in Springs. The work will include paintings and photographs of Land Trust preserved properties, as well as imagery highlighting other aspects of the East End’s natural beauty.
Because the artists in the group have been on a multi-year mission to capture views of preserved places, they find themselves frequently returning to the same places again and again — but they never seem to grow tired of the view.
“That’s what I do anyway,” says Kathryn Szoka. “As a photographer, I’m drawn to certain kinds of images in the landscape. Like Monet who painted a lot of water lilies, for me, it’s about light.”
“Photography means drawing with light,” she adds. “I enjoy going back to places and capturing them in different weather and at different times of year.”’
As far back as the 1980s, Szoka recognized how development was changing the rural character of the South Fork and she began documenting the loss of farmland in her “Vanishing Landscape” photographic series.
Because of that work, barns have long been of particular interest to Szoka. But lately, she has also taken to photographing “around the edges” along the coastal wetlands and waterways of the East End.
“In this exhibit, I’m showing a number of photographs I shot at Cow Neck, which the Land Trust helped preserve,” she says. “It’s in private hands, but through a lottery system some of us were allowed to go and take some images there.”
The show is not limited to Land Trust properties, however, and Szoka will also offer some seasonal autumnal images, including “miraculous trees on fire in Sag Harbor.”
“The goal of this group is multi-fold,” says Szoka. “One goal is to support the Land Trust and bring attention to their work and that can be done in a lot of different ways.”
“We are also a community of independent minded individuals and we’re each on our own artistic journey and we have to be true to own creative exploration,” she says. “That’s the way the individuals grow and the group grows.”
Like Szoka, painter Susan D’Alessio has re-visited many preserved parcels in her work. For D’Alessio, there’s no lack of new ways to be inspired by the East End landscape.
“I think painting a place over and over is not a hindrance at all,” says D’Alessio. “You see the same subject differently each year you go in the different seasons and lighting conditions.”
The influence is not just external, however. Artist’s, too, can change their perspective and D’Alessio notes that while she never used to paint into the light, it’s a technique she is now exploring frequently.
“Before I was more involved in noting what the landscape looked like and my work was more representative of what I saw,” she explains. “Now I try to work in more shadows. Your eye grows as you paint and the compositions I choose now are different than the ones I chose five years ago.”
Another variable is the chance for a wildlife encounter on preserved land. Because artists remain in one place for hours while they work, animals will often come closer than they would while someone’s walking through the area.
“Birds will fly in and land near you,” notes D’Alessio. “This summer while I was painting on a marsh, I heard a racket. There was a fox running and crows were chasing him and squawking at him. You don’t normally notice these things when you’re just going by.”
Plein Air Peconic artists often travel to a preserved parcel in order to work as a group. Painter Casey Anderson finds that though they are all looking to capture the same landscape in their art, each artist’s unique perspective and vision ensure the final pieces are all quite different.
“Even though it might be the same place, each artist has a distance which is comfortable and of interest to them,” explains Anderson. “I’m interested in relating a sense of space, that’s what I change in the compositions and that develops after while.”
And like the work itself, the artists’ taste in subjects has a tendency to evolve and they discover an interest in painting new scenes over time.
“These days I love Scallop Pond in Southampton,” she adds. “You look out and just see sand, water and the marsh grass. You feel like you’re deep into nature.”
“It’s a different experience,” she adds. “It has that quiet. After a couple minutes you get accustomed to being there. Probably your blood pressure goes down and a quietness happens inside of you whether you’re painting or just visiting.”
“I love places where I can stretch my eyes out for a very far distance. It makes me feel comfortable in the landscape,” she says. “I love the horizontal views, that’s what attracts me to this area.”
“Plein Air Peconic VIII” will be on view Thursday through Sunday, October 4 to 6, 2013 at Ashawagh Hall, 780 Springs Fireplace Road, East Hampton. An artist reception will be held Saturday, October 5, 2013 from 5 to 8 p.m. a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the work will be donated to the Peconic Land Trust.