By Annette Hinkle
Richard Demato likes a good story – especially when it comes to artwork. The walls of his Sag Harbor gallery are full of many evocative works that seem to tell tales all their own. Take, for example, the paintings featured in “The Art of Consciousness” an upcoming show with work by Andrea Kowch, Laurel Swab and Jeff Aeling. A quick tour of the gallery reveals that each artist offers a vision of another world, one populated by knowing figures, moody imagery or starkly familiar landscapes.
“Laurel Swab called the painting we used on the invitation ‘Consciousness,’ and ironically all her paintings illustrate people in thought,” says Demato. “They’re meant to provoke thought. But ironically, Andrea Kowch, in her artist’s statement, talks about provoking the viewer to think and become more aware of what surrounds them in the environment in a manner that she doesn’t limit you, but hopefully empowers you to open your mind.”
“We like the way they look together,” adds Demato. “And Jeff Aeling paints in his consciousness about water and land, but in a contemporary manner. It’s a male point of view.”
“They all make you think,” adds Demato. “When I go to a movie I try to go a different place. When I’m looking at these works, it promotes thought. They’re painted very well.”
Demato’s own story as a gallery owner has been evolving since last summer, when he took over the former Grenning Gallery space on Main Street. It has been a journey in which he has discovered not only how the art world moves, but about his own tastes as well.
“The feed back has been positive toward narrative portraiture, which we seem to have a lot of,” he says. “I’ve learned the importance that the work hang well together. There has to be a balance.”
While some East End galleries may feel compelled to be specific in their focus, and offer only work by local artists or images of local scenery, Demato has not limited himself. He does have work by East End artists at the gallery, but his diverse slate of painters represent a wide range of ages and backgrounds. They come from all over the country and sometimes, the world. By scouring the Internet and art magazines for up and coming talent or traveling to Europe to arrange shows, Demato has become an East Coast outlet for many artists, like Kowch and Swab, who live and work in the middle of the country. Because many galleries are closing their doors these days, Demato sometimes attracts artists that may have otherwise been unavailable.
“I’m applying my learned business acumen to evaluate what the other people are doing,” says Demato who recently attended the art fairs in New York City to see what’s new and what’s hot. “I think about why they’re going that way and try to determine the best place to be.”
Demato approaches the world of art much as he and his wife, artist and textile designer Harriet Sawyer, approached New York’s fashion industry when they worked together in that field.
“We used to go to the textile shows all over the world,” says Demato. “If everyone was doing navy, we’d do brown.”
To that end, viewers can expect to see work by several names that are new to the East End at Demato’s gallery in the near future.
“We’ve signed up about four or five new artists who aren’t even on the website yet, we’ll start showing them at end of April,” says Demato.
Among them is William Scharf — an artist in his 80s who, in 1978, curated the Mark Rothko show at the Guggenheim, and Donato Giancola, the artist for the “Lord of the Rings” book covers and a master of sci-fi and mythological painting. Both represent an unexpected departure from what many have come to expect from East End galleries — and Demato is excited about the possibilities.
“I’m trying to find an effective way to communicate with the artists and work together with the audience to bring a mutually beneficial partnership,” says Demato. “I think the more unique art we can have which hasn’t been exposed in the area, the more we have an opportunity to fill a niche. I don’t think Sag Harbor needs me to offer only local landscapes. I think we need to be more creative.”
“The Art of Consciousness” opens with a reception Saturday, March 13, 2010 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Richard J. Demato Fine Arts Gallery, 90 Main Street, Sag Harbor.
Top: Laurel Swab’s “Consciousness”