Kareem Massoud (brian halweil photo)
by Annette Hinkle
On March 29, the Parrish Art Museum presents “Lightning Round 2” a fast paced series of presentations by creative members of the East End community. Here are quick stories about three of them.
Kareem Massoud, winemaker
You were 10 years old in 1983 when your parents bought land on the North Fork and started Paumanok Vineyards. How has growing up on the land shaped who you are today?
“It’s definitely been a very formative experience. I grew up in Stanford, Conn. and we didn’t live out here full time until ’92. But we did come out a lot. It required a lot of work to get the vineyard established and they spent a great deal of time here, during school breaks and summer vacations. I did grow up with the vineyard as part of my life. It’s always been sort of the writing on the wall that this would end up what I would do. It’s my family’s business and if I was interested in being a part of it, the opportunity was there for the taking. I always recognized that. I had gone off to University of Pennsylvania and after I graduated in ‘96, I had a two year career in finance on Wall Street, and then I came back here and have been here full time for 14 years.”
Were your parents happy to have you back?
“When I was a junior at Penn I told my parents I wanted to work with them. They responded, ‘That’s not why we’re sending you to an Ivy League college, you should get a job.” When I did my two years in private equity, and decided to leave, I didn’t know I would be here right away. Temporarily I thought ‘What do I do? Come here and work.’ Temporary has turned into 14 years.”
Have those 14 years changed your parents mind about your career path?
It’s been great. I’ve learned winemaking from my father more than from anyone else. I’m really a second generation winemaker and he and I still work together. My family has always been tight from the beginning. It’s a sort of natural — the fact my parents started this together and it has always been a family project. I think it’s nice to say we are an example of how it is possible for a family business to succeed and thrive. Though it’s certainly not without challenges and a great deal of patience on behalf of all.”
Having made such a conscious choice about where you want to be, what has living on the East End come to mean to you?
“That’s just it. Just being out in the field was a huge factor for me as opposed to ‘what’s your occupation?’ If it involves being behind a desk in an office building, that’s what you do, beside what your profession might be.”
“It’s the waking reality of ‘what are you doing?’ that drove me away from the corporate world. I knew what the work was like here. In New York I’d work five days a week and spend two days out here in the tasting room or wherever I could help out. When I came out, I was doing what I did on weekends and vacations. It’s like retiring 30 or 40 years early.”
“I can say with a great sense of gratefulness I don’t work — I do what I love to do. I’m lucky and grateful to be able to say that and be genuine about it.”
Almond Zigmund, artist
Tell me how you came to the East End?
“My husband, Jason [Weiner] is a chef and had been in San Francisco for many years. But we’re both from Brooklyn. About 15 years ago, a friend rented a house here, and I spent that summer here waiting tables. Then I went to grad school, moved to Las Vegas and Jason followed.”
“When it was time for us to leave Las Vegas, a restaurant space came up for lease out here. It met a bunch of qualifications we had. It was in a place we wanted to live that was close to home, but not in the city. Jason is involved in the farming and fishing movement, coming from San Francisco, and I had known I wanted to make art and pursue that.”
The restaurant, of course, was Almond, which your husband named for you and is still going strong. In the years since you arrived, have you found your place in this world?
“It’s been a long road, finding the community out here is hard. Everyone is tucked away. It’s still hard sometimes to find middle ground. It’s an interesting place. My initial ‘in’ to the community was the restaurant — and in a restaurant, the hours are crazy, so I wasn’t out meeting people. But now it’s been about seven years since I worked at the restaurant.”
So your art has become your focus. Would you say your work has been affected by the East End?
“I don’t think so. I know I’m not supposed to say that, but its true. One reason I went to Las Vegas is I was drawn in a visceral way to the artifice of it — the earnestness of the endeavor to create these monuments even in the smallest little attempt. Something like a retaining wall that has a decorative pattern and is injected into a natural landscape — manmade order on nature. There’s something poetic about the earnestness of that endeavor. That artifice, and the intersection with a human kind of patheticness.”
“In the Lightening Round, I’ve decided to take a traditional approach and show the arc to art making. One thing in the narrative is why I left New York and what I was running toward. I really was leaving New York which has a long list of rules of what is art, how to make it. I think L.A. is becoming more like New York, but it is a lot more lawless. You can do anything and it doesn’t get critiqued.”
So in a way, the environment does inspire you, but mainly because it reminds you of where you are not at the moment.
“I think if anything, being in a naturally beautiful environment propels me in the other direction, being more artificial. People build houses out here covered in cedar shingles. I built a studio and painted it bright red. There’s something about that contrast. As much as I love living out here in terms of my life, it doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing for my art. Most people build studios facing north so they get that light. There are no windows in mine.”
“In some ways, I wanted to move to L.A. But I’m glad I didn’t. Now I can fantasize about that world from afar.”
Esperanza Léon, owner of Solar Gallery
How and when did you move to the East End?
“I came here with my family. My parents rented a house in 1976 in East Hampton and we spent the summer and we all loved it. They went over to see John Marshall Elementary school and signed me up. I was in kindergarten and we were welcomed with open arms. We were moving from Venezuela and they bought the house and that was it. My father had lived in New York City, and knew about the place. Then I left the area. My family had their home here, I went to boarding school in Canada, took a year off and went to university there as well. After graduation I spent five years in Venezuela and came back in 2000.”
What made you come back?
“Initially I came back because my time in Venezuela had come to an end. I never thought I would stay out here. I came back and realized how much I had missed it and how beautiful and comfortable it was. It was my home. That was it. I just stayed and the following year, opened my business. I knew it would be hard because of the seasonality of it. I knew I could have more success in a more year round place. I’ve lived all over the place. But this is where my parents are and my home. You have to make it work.”
Unlike most galleries on the East End, yours focuses on Latin American art, not local artists. Was that a tough sell?
“A lot of people looked at me like I had two heads. They said ‘You’re going to sell Latin American art? No one buys anything other than East End art here.’ But I wanted to deal with contemporary art made by artists from Latin America and no one was doing it. I thought it was a unique thing. It didn’t occur to me to represent artists painting local beach scenes because I’m not interested in it. I thought it was a hip thing and it worked for that reason.”
“I feel like I’m filling this void. Everything out here was — not to be unkind — homogenous. I was bringing more vibrancy, color and not your palm tree kind of art that people thought of as Latin art. There’s the whole thing of identity. The autobiographical part — my place in the world, and being here and representing artists.”
How is living here today different than it was when you were a child?
“I miss what it was like. The sense of what used to be that’s not here now. Walking Main Street East Hampton and having those stores where you could get something tangible and real, not just rags and riches. We grew up in walking distance into the village. I could bike to school, walk to the doctor, go into town after school and have a pizza and soda.”
Now you have a baby daughter of your own. What are your hopes as she grows up here?
“It’s an incredibly beautiful place naturally. Coming back here and going to the beach sounds frivolous but I missed that. The nature for me is such a tremendously important element. I hope I can teach her that.”
“Lightning Round 2,” quick presentations by 10 members of the East End community is Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 6:30 p.m. at the Parrish Art Museum, 25 Jobs Lane, Southampton. Tickets are $10 ($5 members) and a reception with wine, beer, and music follows. Call 283-2118 for details.