by Emily J. Weitz
Everyone’s heard of the “40 under Forty” lists which present to the world some of the rising stars in their respective fields. But last week, the East End got a chance to view the true debut of some of the region’s most gifted young artists. And in this case, young means really young.
“20 Under Twenty,” presented by Neoteric Fine Art in Amagansett, showcased 20 promising artists spanning the media from photography to fashion. The future looks bright.
“It’s very hard to break into the art world,” says Melissa Maples, co-director at Neoteric, “especially as a young, not-yet-established artist. I wanted to provide these students with an opportunity to exhibit their work in a professional setting.”
Young people from across the East End were invited to submit their best work, and 20 were selected for the show — including five from the Ross School in East Hampton. Among them were Sag Harbor’s Geige Silver, who spoke to The Express last year about her growing interest in fashion design. Over the course of the last year, she has continued to pursue fashion, but has refined her interests significantly.
“I’ve definitely taken my work to have more of a meaning,” says Silver. “The work in ‘20 Under Twenty’ is about sending a message.”
That message is bold and clear, and she uses controversial materials like shotgun shells and condoms to send it. For example, one dress she designed is a patriotic red, white a blue dress comprised entirely of empty shell cartridges. Some of the shells she obtained from the East Hampton Police Department and others she purchased online. The piece is called “Statue of Liberty.”
“The piece is about America and freedom,” says Silver. “She seems to be looking out, protecting America… But freedom has a high price.”
Silver believes that particularly at a time when the nation is at war, civilians need to pay attention to what is happening in our name.
“We need to pay a lot more attention to the people out there sacrificing their lives in order to keep our country safe,” says Silver.
Another dress she has on display is covered in about 500 condoms, which she also obtained online and then sewed on to the garment by hand.
“It’s about HIV and AIDS and protection,” says Silver. “The woman is lying in the bed with a seductive look on her face, but she’s being faithful. It’s about being safe every time.”
Each of the pieces consists of many smaller pieces. But perhaps part of the message is in the fact that each individual piece does not work without the connection to the larger one.
“It won’t mean anything if one person thinks about America and freedom, or if one person is safe,” says Silver. “They may be individual pieces, but it only works when they’re all together.”
That’s part of the significance of art through fashion. The other, Silver believes, is the ability to send your message loud and clear on a daily basis.
“I am trying to make my pieces into more wearable, daily clothes,” Silver says. “It’s an easy way to create public art. You’re walking in the street, and everyone will see you. It’s an easy way to spread the message when you can wear your beliefs around.”
Another Ross student in the “20 Under Twenty” exhibition is Bridgehampton photographer Graylen Gatewood. Her moody, arresting pieces are specifically designed to catch the viewer off-guard.
“With all my work,” says Gatewood, “I try to have an unsettling feeling. That was my goal with the project, to make the viewer uncomfortable.”
Gatewood plays with color, using vibrant costumes on the models to contrast with drab backgrounds. She also utilizes props, like dead birds or other objects that seem to say something, though what exactly they say is left to the viewer.
“Each person will feel differently and that is also my goal,” says Gatewood. “I am interested in the emotional response that the viewer has. When I create the works, I always think of how the viewer will react when they look at it.”
Gatewood didn’t always think photography would be her medium of choice. When she took her first photography class in tenth grade, she had a strong dislike for it.
“I was really bad at it,” she says. “I first learned in the dark room, and didn’t do digital for a long time. The film process was tedious to me, and I spent so much time working on it, wanting to get better. But that year I did a self-portrait, and after that I realized I could express my ideas best through photography.”
That tedious time spent in the dark room was not wasted, Gatewood says, because it brought her to a deeper understanding of the medium and how it works.
“The dark room is hands on, and it’s a satisfying process,” she says. “There’s a difference between printing an image and pressing print on a computer.”
Two other Ross students, Lea Winkler and Andrew Davis, also found photography to be their medium of choice for this project. Davis finds inspiration in nature, and playing with composition in his work.
“As landscape can easily fall into a predictable pattern and become indistinguishable,” he says, “I was inclined to bring new meaning to the scenery with juxtaposition and texture.”
Winkler, like Silver, was drawn to a military theme. She began by exploring her grandfather’s military service in World War II, but found it brought her to a deeper understanding of the military today.
“I wanted to further explore what is means to be in the military,” she says, “and how an individual can sacrifice his or her life for the greater good of a community or country as a whole.”
“20 Under Twenty” remains on view at Neoteric Fine Art (208 Main Street, Amagansett) until April 18.