By Tessa Raebeck
Red legs entwine on a stained surface, locked together in a sensual embrace. There are no faces or genitalia or obvious genders; those details are irrelevant, the figures blend together defined only by a clear purpose: love.
At the ninth annual “Love and Passion: Walk on the Wild Side” group show, opening this Saturday, February 15, in Water Mill, artist Melissa Mapes will feature her red legs paintings alongside the works of over 60 other artists in an adventurous celebration of music, art, love and the emotions that bind them together.
Originally organized by Karyn Mannix of karyn mannix contemporary and the late Vito Sisti, the show, traditionally held at Ashawagh Hall in Springs, is an open call “to get the community out,” Ms. Mannix said. This year, the show travels to Water Mill, where visitors will “walk on the wild side” between two galleries, Hampton Hang and the Sara Nightingale Gallery.
During the opening reception, host Sara Nightingale’s “Blind Date” Music Lab series will bring live music to a space between the two galleries. In the series, two musicians who have never met are brought together to perform, “though anyone who shows up with an instrument is welcome to play,” said Ms. Nightingale.
Held around Valentine’s Day each year, the show’s over arching theme has always been “Love and Passion.” Artists are encouraged to use their own, subjective interpretations to create art that in turn elicits viewers’ own, subjective interpretations.
“Love and art have a lot in common,” explained Ms. Nightingale. “Both are elusive concepts designed by humans. We crave and need them both, yet neither is necessary for actual survival. Some art is very expressive and emotional, while other art is more intellectual, dry or subtle. Love has these disparate manifestations as well.”
“Additionally,” she added, “what one viewer experiences while looking at a work of art may differ completely [from] another viewer, who brings his own history and prejudices to his viewpoint. Fortunately, this is also true in love. For every lover scorned, there is somewhere another potential mate.”
Each year, a secondary theme further inspires the artists. This year’s “Walk on the Wild Side” is a double entendre honoring the late Lou Reed—who died last summer at his Springs home—and symbolizing the walk between the galleries, Ms. Mannix said.
“We are all in agreement on the tone being adventurous,” added Ms. Nightingale. “We want viewers to experience the thrill/trepidation they might feel on their way to a first date with someone they have been flirting with online.”
In “Grape Eater,” a nude female figure feeds herself grapes. As the viewer’s eyes move down the canvas, emotions can change with each color block: first a vibrant orange, then a royal blue and finally, a deep, rich red.
“I find art a constructive tool for most anything,” said the artist, Abby Abrams, a Springs resident who has two paintings of “fantasy nudes” in the show.
The show’s broad topic and open call format allows artists to submit works in various mediums and with diverse subject matter; the common theme serves to show the unity of the pieces—and the unifying power of love—while also representing the diversity of individual experience and interpretation. One artist in the show expresses a passion for surfing, while others use warm color palettes of red, pink and orange to show the evocative powers of love.
“Love and Passion is a beautiful theme because it resonates within us all,” said Ms. Mapes, whose paintings “Ex. 1: The Importance of Flesh” and “Ex. 2: The Importance of Flesh” are featured in the show.
An East Hampton native, Ms. Mapes began working on the series of “abstracted sensual flesh-morphing legs and buttocks forms” when her fiancé joined the military.
“We spent much time apart passionately longing for each other’s company,” she said. “It taught me how significant love and passion really is. We fought, and we still fight for our love, and we work for it all with a deep passion. It’s not easy, but it is worth every minute, as we both patiently pass the days waiting to feel that flesh-to-flesh contact once again.”
“Everybody can relate,” the artist continued. “Flesh is a primal necessity. To consume flesh, to feel flesh and to create flesh are crucial animalistic traits that are driven by a powerful energy force that feeds the will to survive for all animals.”
The figures in her paintings are cut off at the waist, allowing the intertwined legs and buttocks to “create a language of primitive symbols that express this dire necessity for flesh-to-flesh contact,” she said.
“I want the viewer to sense the emotion in the form and the line,” said Ms. Mapes. “I do not want a four-page essay neatly typed and placed next to the painting to ‘explain’ it. Art speaks for itself.”
“Love and Passion: Walk on the Wild Side” will be on view February 15 through February 22. The opening reception is Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Sara Nightingale Gallery and Hampton Hang Gallery, 688 Montauk Highway in Water Mill. For more information, call 329.2811 or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.