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“The Honest Medium:” Ted Davies Woodcuts at the Romany Kramoris Gallery in Sag Harbor

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"Entrance Uptown" by Ted Davies. Courtesy Romany Kramoris Gallery.

“Entrance Uptown” by Ted Davies. Courtesy Romany Kramoris Gallery.

By Tessa Raebeck

When Romany Kramoris first opened her gallery space in Sag Harbor, it was on the recommendation of Ted Davies. Nearly 40 years later, the Romany Kramoris Gallery is showcasing the work of the late artist, an innovator in woodcutting, screen printing and photogram techniques, who captured the intricacies of New York City street scenes and created timeless pieces of social criticism.

“He’s the one that got me started in the art world,” Ms. Kramoris said of her friend and mentor, who died in 1993.

Ms. Kramoris was renting a small studio space at the end of Main Street in Sag Harbor during the 1970s when one day Mr. Davies, who had a second home in Sag Harbor and spent much of his time out East in his later years, wandered in and suggested she open a gallery.

“I said, ‘Well, how do you do that?’” Ms. Kramoris recalled.


“Broadway and Bowling Green” by Ted Davies. Courtesy Romany Kramoris Gallery.

“He said, ‘Well, I’ll help you do it and I can be your first show,” she added. “I said, ‘Oh, that sounds pretty good.’”

He showed her how to create a press release, mount a show and host a reception and in the summer of 1980, Mr. Davies became Ms. Kramoris’s first artist.

“Ted was always getting involved in the different art community situations here and helping other artists,” said Ms. Kramoris. “He absolutely loved doing what he was doing—he was an artist through and through.”

A Queens native, Mr. Davies studied under Harry Sternberg and the German Expressionist George Grosz, who instilled in him the importance of political commentary in art.

“Ted’s work was sociologically charged,” said Ms. Kramoris.

Mr. Davies captured the New York he loved in his woodblock prints, intricate carvings of famous destinations such as Central Park, Broadway and Wall Street, as well as common places like the old elevated train stations, Chinese laundries and shoe shine stands. He captured 1960’s New York City through renderings of barbershops, second-hand bookstores and bars frequented by artists and writers.

“His vision of the city is intimate and amused, catching the quirky details and human touches, the city’s hard edges softened into tilts, curves and loops,” Christina Schlesinger, a cultural historian and art critic, wrote of Mr. Davies.

An old friend of Mr. Davies, master printer Dan Welden, called his friend’s technique of woodblock printing “the honest medium,” because mistakes are permanent and every stroke made is clear.

Mr. Davies would take a piece of wood, usually a soft type that was easier to mold, and first draw a pencil outline. The artist then pounded chisels, hammers and other hand tools into the block to make impressions before he chiseled away the negative space.

In order to make a face, for example, Mr. Davies would draw the outline and chisel it down from the flat block, leaving the nose and other parts of the face that jut out. Undercuts would be made around the eyes, then he would chisel away the whites of the eyes, leaving the iris raised. After ink is applied to the raised parts, the piece is put through a hand press, so that the raised areas are reflected in the print while the chiseled negative space remains plain.

Mr. Davies also “developed certain techniques in the photogram genre that he more or less invented,” Ms. Kramoris said.

In photogram, a photographic image is made without using a camera. Objects are placed directly onto a light-sensitive material and then exposed to light, resulting in a negative shadow image that highlights the textures and depth of objects with gray and pale blue tones.

In the mid-1960’s, Mr. Davies created his “Cards of Life, Cards of Death” series of woodcuts, a politically satirical pinochle deck of cards.

“They’re certainly not outdated even though he did them 50 years ago,” Ms. Kramoris said of the prints, which highlight the abundance and excess of American culture.

Unattractive prostitutes surround the King of Hearts in “The Great Lover,” while a 1960’s Playboy bunny—closely resembling the king himself—serves him drinks.

In “Resources,” the Ace of Diamonds card has a circle filled with money, factories and consumer goods flanked by oceans, mountains and the sun. The King of Spades is a matador, who faces a pair of bullhorns in the grim sport of bullfighting as an audience of spectator skeletons looks on.

The King of Diamonds appears as Uncle Sam in “The Government,” standing on a pile of money with crosses and the capitol building behind him and fighter planes, grenades and helicopters overhead.

In addition to the standard critiques of capitalism, big business and war-mongering, “there are many subtleties to which such a simplified reading cannot do justice, and close study is repaid by many delightful discoveries in both form and content,” Helen Harrison said of the suite of woodcuts in a 1981 New York Times article.

The work of Ted Davies will be on display at the Romany Kramoris Gallery, located at 41 Main Street in Sag Harbor, from Thursday, September 18, through October 9. An opening reception will be held on Saturday, September 20, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. For more information, call (631) 725-2499 or visit kramorisgallery.com.

East End Weekend: Labor Day Highlights

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Danielle Leef, "Flying Point Sunrise." Courtesy Southampton Artists Association.

Danielle Leef, “Flying Point Sunrise.” Courtesy Southampton Artists Association.

By Tessa Raebeck

With the East End at full capacity this Labor Day, what better way to unwind from a crazy summer than with a little party hopping? Here’s our highlights of what to check out this weekend:


With an opening reception on Sunday, the Southampton Artists Association Labor Day Show will show paintings, photography and sculptures by local artists.

The free reception is from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Levitas Center for the Arts in the Southampton Cultural Center, located at 25 Pond Lane in Southampton. The show runs through September 7.


The king of nerd humor and that stand-up comedian who doodles on television, Demetri Martin is coming to the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Sunday, August 31.

He earned an Emmy nomination as a writer on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” has been a correspondent on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” and starred in the Ang Lee film “Taking Woodstock.” He also created and starred in the series “Important Things with Demetri Martin” on Comedy Central and wrote “This is a Book by Demetri Martin,” a New York Times bestseller.

Jeanelle Myers, "Untitled," for "Curious" at Ashawagh Hall.

Jeanelle Myers, “Untitled,” for “Curious” at Ashawagh Hall.

Mr. Martin’s performance at the will begin at 8 p.m. The PAC is located at 76 Main Street in Westhampton Beach. Tickets are $60, $75, and $90. For tickets and more information, call (631) 288-1500 or visit WHBPAC.org.


On Saturday at Ashawagh Hall in Springs, “Curious” exhibits a selection of contemporary artists exploring the concept of “Curious and Curiosity.”

Works include painting, sculpture, photography and mixed media. Out of 50 participating artists, five are from Sag Harbor: Ted Asnis, Barbara Freedman, Jonathan Morse, Jeanelle Myers and Pamela Topham.

The group show is curated by Ellen Dooley, a painter and mixed media artist focused on social and political commentary.

An opening reception for “Curious” will be held on Saturday, August 30, from 5 to 8 p.m. The gallery is open all weekend from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Ashawagh Hall, located at 780 Springs Fireplace Road at Old Stone Highway in East Hampton. For more information, call (631) 987-7005.


At the Romany Kramoris Gallery in Sag Harbor, Sheryl Budnik will show her work in “Turbulence II,” open from August 28 to September 18. An opening reception for the artist will be held on Saturday, August 30, from 5 to 7 p.m.

“The term ‘Lumen Naturae–the Light Within the Darkness of Nature’ refers to the Middle Age idea (Paracelsus c. 1493-1541) that knowledge springs from the Light of Nature,” Ms. Budnik said in a press release issued by the gallery.

“This light in Nature illuminates the consciousness and allows inspiration and intuition to rise from human subconscious,” the artist continued. “This is the core of my study; this is what I want to capture with my paint. Not paintings defined as ‘seascape’ or ‘landscape,’ but paintings so powerfully about nature that an open spirit responds with human emotion and an intuitive understanding of the immensity and power of Nature itself.”

The Romany Kramoris Gallery is located at 41 Main Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call (631) 725-2499.

Sheryl Budnik, "Light at the End of the Day" will be on view at the Romany Kramoris Gallery in Sag Harbor.

Sheryl Budnik, “Light at the End of the Day” will be on view at the Romany Kramoris Gallery in Sag Harbor.


East End Weekend: Highlights of July 18 to 20

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"Calabrone" by Ramiro. Courtesy Grenning Gallery.

“Calabrone” by Ramiro. Courtesy Grenning Gallery.

By Tessa Raebeck

Summer is in full swing and there’s plenty to choose from to do on the East End this weekend. Here are some highlights:


The Grenning Gallery in Sag Harbor is hosting an opening reception for Ramiro’s Solo Show on Saturday, July 19, from 6 to 8 p.m.

“Ramiro solo show this year steps forward into a more mystical and hopeful realm,” owner Laura Grenning wrote in a press release.

“Anchoring the exhibit is a suite of four substantial figurative works, with each painting representing a season of the soul.  Although well known for his expert likenesses in portraiture and grand figurative work, Ramiro’s distinguishing characteristic is, ironically, his ability to let go of the discreet reality of the eyes when necessary.  With this, he infuses his narrative compositions with mystery that allows the paintings to endure the critical test of time,” added Ms. Grenning.

The Grenning Gallery is located at 17 Washington Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call (631) 725-8469.


Water Mill’s  Parrish Art Museum is hosting its second edition of Gesture Jam, an adult figure drawing class in which artists sketch live models in a high-energy environment, Friday, July 18 at 6 p.m.

Facilitated by local artist and educator Andrea Cote, this year’s Gesture Jam will be held outdoors on the museum’s terrace and include live musicians Nicolas Letman-Burtanovic on bass and Sean Sonderegger on saxaphone. Local dancers Adam and Gail Baranello are the models.

“Imagine going home with drawings that look like you’ve been to some sort of psychedelic cabaret, and feeling that way too. Andrea Cote’s Gesture Jam classes have just that effect,” Parrish Curator of Special Projects Andrea Grover said in a press release.

The Parrish Art Museum is located at 279 Montauk Highway in Water Mill. For more information, call (631) 283-2118.


Celebrities are coming to Bridgehampton for CMEE’s 6th Annual Family Fair on Saturday, July 19 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The Children’s Museum of the East End‘s largest fundraiser, this year the fair will have a magical theme.

George Stephanopoulos, Dan Abrams, Jane Krakowski, Joy Behar, Julie Bowen, Molly Sims and Tiffani Thiessen (of Saved by the Bell fame) are some of the CMEE supporters expected to be in attendance.

Children and their families can enjoy magical arts and crafts, water slides, games and entertainment, music, food, and CMEE’s brand new nine-hole miniature golf course.

CMEE is located at 376 Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike on the Bridgehampton side. For more information, call (631) 537-8250.


A painting by Georges Desarmes. Courtesy Christ Episcopal Church.

A painting by Georges Desarmes. Courtesy Christ Episcopal Church.

Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor is hosting its fourth Haitian Art & Handcraft Sale all weekend, July 18 to 20, to benefit the village of Chermaître in partnership with the Vassar Haiti Project.

An opening reception will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday and the sale will continue in the Upper Parish Hall on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Two hundred original paintings and a large assortment of unique and affordable gifts, including silk scarves, jewely and iron sculpture, will be on sale.

Many women in the village, Chermaître in northwestern Haiti, are struggling to start small businesses to support their families by selling the crafts they create and the coffee they grow. Proceeds from the church sale will go toward building a community center in the village to support those women.

For more information on the charity, call (970) 946-7614 or visit haitiproject.org. The Christ Episcopal Church is located at the corner of East Union and Hampton Street (Route 114) in Sag Harbor. For more information, call the church at (631) 725-0128.


The gallery at Sag Harbor’s Canio Books is hosting artists Ron Focarino and Jeanelle Myers, with her latest assemblage series, Plains Reverie, with an opening reception Friday, July 18 from 5 to 7 p.m.

“Myers work reflects the influence of her Nebraska roots, echoing the work of Wright Morris and Joseph Cornell,” the gallery said in a press release. “Myers incorporates a diverse array of found objects including old letters, metals, writing implements, fabric and many other materials into her compelling assemblages.”

"Golden Scarab" enamel sculpture by Ron Focarino. Courtesy Canio's Books.

“Golden Scarab” enamel sculpture by Ron Focarino. Courtesy Canio’s Books.

Artist Ron Focarino will also be exhibiting, showing his “creature creations, delightful enamel sculptures of insects, including a dragonfly, crane fly, scarab and others,” according to Canio’s.

The exhibit runs July 11 through August 5 at Canio’s Books, 290 Main Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call (631) 725-4926.

The Romany Kramoris Gallery in Sag Harbor presents the artwork of Anna De Mauro and Thomas Condon, with an opening reception Saturday, July 19 from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

Sculptor and painter Anna De Mauro is a figurative artist working from the live model.

“Her work process includes observation from life to record instinctual responses to the subject, passage of time and impressions of the metaphysical and the human condition,” the gallery said in a press release.

Thomas Condon lives part-time in East Hampton and focuses on the local landscape here on the East End, as well as the urban scenes of New York City.

The show runs July 17 through August 7 at the Romany Kramoris Gallery, 41 Main Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call (631) 725-2499.

Spontaneous Order

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"#571" by Tory Cowles, 48" x 48," mixed media.

"#571" by Tory Cowles, 48" x 48," mixed media.

By Joan Baum

Though it’s serendipitous that Tory Cowles and Ruby Jackson will soon share space at the Romany Kramoris Gallery, their separately striking, colorful dimensional pieces seen together will generate a surprising – and, because unexpected – delightful harmony, which Romany Kramoris no doubt intuited. Cowles’ joyous mixed media “Abstractions: Paintings” and Jackson’s playful “Suspended Animations” complement one another while also evincing similarities. A third artist, Annemarie Feld, is represented in the show as Cowles’ collaborator in fashioning stunning, one-of-a-kind wearable art – in this case, handbags, made by stitching together odd pieces of soft leather hand painted by Cowles, and adding appliqués of fabric and organic fibers. The result?  Real handbags, complete with stained bristle brush handles. Seeing is believing, and even then . . . .

Both Jackson and Cowles, well along in their artistic careers, seem to be moving in experimental directions that evolve from earlier work – taking abstract forms and color designs they typically explored in textured two-dimensional work and reconfiguring them in three-dimensions. Another connection between the women has to do with the kind of confidence that encourages risk taking. Though both Cowles and Jackson celebrate “spontaneity” as part of their artistic process, the order that informs their compositions comes from years of experience.

Cowles, who hails from Alexandria, Virginia and exhibits at the innovative Torpedo Gallery Art Center, and Feld who also shows there, make quite a team, but Cowles might easily claim that her involvement with three-dimensional work — seen particularly in her smaller, sculptured “bas reliefs” — is something of a coming home. She started out, professionally, doing three-dimensional work — stonewall building, woodworking, architecture, interior design, carpentry. She was also painting representational landscapes and portraits. Then she went abstract, incorporating into her paintings swaths of free-form bold color, sometimes juxtaposing pulsing color zones with more neutral-tone areas, some containing simulations of writing, and dots and drips and confetti loops.

Recognizable objects are suggested by way of painted ribbon streaks that seem to contour the partial outlines of, say, a table, curtain, chair, pillow, items in a room. Up close, the paintings reveal low-gloss layered effects — bumps that bubble out from the canvas, sections of recessed crosshatching, fragments of cloth and corrugated cardboard affixed under paint, clogs of pigment. Cowles’ former professional life is also on impressive display in the smaller works of more subtle hue — cleanly defined mixed media geometric designs that, along with some of the paintings, recall for Romany Kramoris the “dancing” forms of Kandinsky, Klee and Miro.

If one word were to describe Cowles larger canvases, it might be “energy”; in a phrase, “perfect compositions,” achieved mainly through distribution of color. Arguably, red seems to determine the color-field organization, even where — or is that especially because? — in some works red makes a slight but judiciously placed appearance. Try blocking out red in the cooler, blue-suffused paintings, and see what happens. Hint: texture and line rule. And when red is concentrated in a mass? A dramatic tension is put in play, as in mixed media #628, between the solid colors on the canvas and between these and the fabric patterns. And when red is widely distributed, as in mixed media #512? A kind of patchwork design emerges, or something decoratively similar. Cowles might also lay claim to being a savvy user of black. Set near sections of intricate contrasting detail — a row of small dots, a clutch of thin parallel lines — black planes take on an enriched hue, background becoming foreground.

Jackson, who lives in Sag Harbor and works as an assistant to the director of Pollock Krasner House, is an avid snorkeler, a love that has surfaced in the sparkly mixed-media, underwater-themed painting-collages she’s been doing for years. Now, with “Suspended Animations,” delicate, airy mobiles made out of hardened glitter glue, and consisting of from three to seven brilliantly colored hanging “elements,” she has turned her abstract sea representations into flexible free-form designs that also hint slyly at another former love — trapeze flying. The elements of the mobiles, she says, are “in flight.” The immediate attraction of “Suspended Animations,” however, is luminous color. Some elements are crafted as variations on a shade — crimson, pink, lilac, cherry, plum, purple, ruby [!]; others slowly spin in a full shiny palette.

The recent move to three dimensions also reflects Jackson’s earlier artistic life as a sculptor, but with a “twist” — literally. Instead of the viewer walking around a stand-alone object, she points out that the objects in “Suspended Animations” themselves move around and thus must be shaped to engage from any perspective. Constructing them also presented the challenge of considering how light and motion might affect the color, form and structure — of each element, of each mobile and of the mobiles as a group installation, were they to have such room for display. Where the individual lacy elements are almost aligned horizontally (when seen at eye level), one element may temporarily eclipse part of another, creating an ever-changing view, the way the sea moves and things of the sea glide and are pushed by currents. The sea is also suggested by the netlike quality of the elements, some feathery thin, others curved to floral and coral effect. The complexity of Jackson’s new designs is seen not only in the way the elements are molded and cut, but in the way they hang. The colorful filigree-looking elements drop not directly from translucent plastic threads but are suspended from translucent overarching amoeba shapes or circular bands — a practical matter turned to aesthetic advantage.

Between Tory Cowles’ “Abstractions: Paintings” and Ruby Jackson’s “Suspended  Animations” visitors will be hard pressed not to touch their way — carefully — around the gallery.

The Romany Kramoris Gallery is at 41 Main Street, Sag Harbor. 725-2499. The show runs from May 18 to June 7. Opening reception: Saturday, May 19. 5 – 7 p.m. The handbags will remain in the gallery throughout the summer.

Hypnotic Voyage: Knigin’s ethereal images

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Michael Knigin’s collaged landscapes may be abstract by definition, yet they feel like places that might exist in some other dimension. In a single image, he assembles many elements — paint strokes on paper, classical objects like Bernini sculptures or photos of mountains and living things in nature. 

Though there are elements of the familiar within his work, the parts are rearranged and revisited, offering viewers a stark new vision of places they have never been before — or perhaps they have.  

From social commentary to the intellectual or the purely emotional, Knigin presents his collages in series — be it flowers, fireworks, classical sculpture or, in the case of a new show opening at the Romany Kramoris Gallery, abstract landscapes.

“You jump right in to his work,” says Kramoris, curator of the exhibit which comes to her gallery after a run at the Montauk Yacht Club. “Somehow it’s like being on top of a roller coaster.”

“It’s landscapes that collide,” she adds. “It’s not a real world. There’s definitely the feel of surrealism where things don’t belong but are put together.”

“I think the most fascinating thing about Michael’s work is you feel the loss of gravity,” she adds. “It’s like you’re up there floating in another world. You feel that kind of release from the earth — the weight of problems — you’re drawn into a hypnotic voyage.” 

It’s perhaps no accident that Knigin’s landscapes resemble something that might have been sent back to earth by the Hubble telescope. In fact, Knigin has been fascinated by rockets, jet planes and all things related to space for as long as he can remember. 

In 1988, Knigin’s space dreams were realized when he was invited by the head of NASA’s art team to travel to Cape Canaveral in Florida and work with four other artists to interpret the launch of the shuttle Discovery — the first after the Challenger disaster in 1986.

“It was something I was always interested in — space, airplanes, anything cosmic,” says Knigin. “When I went down there, we got clearance to go into the vehicle assembly building where they put the external tanks on the shuttle. We took videos and stills, then stayed for the launch. We were two miles away, which is close as you can get with clearance. The public has to be seven miles away.”

“It was an unbelievable experience. The ground literally shakes when it takes off,” adds Knigin. “I was called back in ‘92 to cover the touch down of Atlantis. We created artwork from our experiences and that goes into the Smithsonian Museum.” 

“But my work’s not just about jets and planes,” he adds. “It’s also about the unknown, the spiritual, and hopefully that  comes out.”

“Abstract Landscapes” opens with a reception at Kramoris Gallery (41 Main Street, Sag Harbor) on Saturday, October 25 from  4:30 to 6:30 p.m. The show runs through November 10.

Above: “Night & Dreams” by Michael Knigin 


More Than Just Photos

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John Messinger doesn’t want to talk about his photographs, about their locales or their subjects; he wants the narrative of his work to remain a mystery.
“I can talk about each place, about what makes it unique, about the culture,” said the 24-year-old photographer.  “But I think the place is unimportant.”
Messinger’s belief is that by removing the story behind the image, the viewer is able to identify with it more easily and see it the same way he does, as representative of the overall human experience.  His first solo exhibition, “Chasing the Wind: Underfoot, Overhead and All Around,” opened at Romany Kramoris Gallery last weekend, and is his attempt to capture the “serendipitous moments” that best reflect humanity, like a young boy holding up a fresh caught fish or two kites hovering over an old man’s head.
“In a way, we’re all flying a kite, or catching a fish, or chasing the wind,” said Messinger.
The images, 16 in all, were culled from trips to Salvador de Baia on the northeast coast of Brazil and to Court Vila, Vanuatu in the South Pacific. All of the photos, whether of a goat sitting amidst a dilapidated building or two kids lying down in the surf, have a child-like innocence to them. Children, Messinger mentioned, live life the way he would like to, without fear and expectation.
His exhibit is unique in that the photos have no titles and his signature is nowhere to be found. Without the small sign taped to the gallery’s window, no one would even know it was his work. That though, is exactly what he was shooting for.
“A very small percentage of the world’s population looks at the name under a photograph when it appears in a newspaper,” he said. “In knowing that, I realize it’s the recording of human history, or human experience, that is important. It’s not my name or my existence. It’s not about me.”
His photos have a quiet, spiritual aspect to them. The silhouette of a man’s head in the foreground, while a soccer ball is suspended in mid air above, appears almost staged. A young boy carrying a stick twice his size on the beach seems so serious, the viewer is pulled into the moment, hoping he doesn’t drop it. They are all Messinger’s way of trying to portray more than simply a snapshot in time.
“There’s a guy, Wendell Berry,” said Messinger. “I’m paraphrasing, but he said that if we were to think about the human experience — history, evolution, the whole thing— as a container, most photos act as relics or ornaments within the container. But there are a select few who are able to create windows and doors that look through the container or beyond it or deeper into it, however you want to look at it. What I’m attempting is to create windows and doors.”
Messinger’s mother is Colombian and he spent part of his childhood growing up there before returning to the East End, eventually graduating from the Ross School. He said perhaps he’s tapping into that part of his childhood with this exhibit.
“Maybe that’s why I find myself in these warm places with warm people,” he said. “It does bring me back to a place in my past.”
Though not something he would readily admit to himself, he said, his travels might also be a type of spiritual quest.
“I had to have a friend point it out to me, but there is a purity there when it comes to living, like Dante’s ‘Paradisio.’ There’s a purity of priorities. That’s in a way what we’re all striving for. In our own way, we’re all searching for enlightenment.”
Chasing the Wind: Underfoot, Overhead and All Around is on view at Romany Kramoris Gallery, 41 Main Street, through August 7.