On August 18, people came from all over the Hamptons and the North Fork to participate in the 9th annual Artists of Shelter Island (ArtSI) Open Studio Tour. Fourteen local painters, sculptors, potters, mixed media artists, and one woman who creates “works that show surprise,” opened their in-home studios to tour participants — sometimes serving watermelon and other snacks, always eager to talk about their lives and works.
The Reporter interviewed three artists about their respective mediums, messages, and relationships to Shelter Island.
Janet Culbertson is a painter and activist who creates multi-layered, political works that aim to express the urgency of the environmental crisis at hand, she said. Ms. Culbertson studied painting at Carnegie Mellon, taught painting at Pace and Pratt universities, and has been showcased in over a dozen museums, including the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Library of Congress.
Her best known series of paintings — many of which were exhibited at her open studio — is called “The Billboard.” Its pieces often feature roadside billboards, or “the icons of American consumption,” according to Ms. Culbertson, juxtaposed against glittery, desolate landscapes.
“The current situation politically is destroying the environment faster than we ever believed was possible, so it’s necessary that I put that in my painting,” she said. “The signs are meant to ‘hit you over the head’ with the situation.”
The New York Times praised her for this series, with one reviewer writing that she creates “chilling renderings of landscapes that appear at first to be imaginary.”
Ms. Culbertson lives on the Island full time. She loves its “peacefulness.” She travels all over the world to paint endangered wildlife. In her studio, she chose to display landscapes in the first part of her exhibit and gradually transition to her more political pieces in the second. That way, viewers could see “how things used to be” and get a strong sense of “what needs to be protected.”
Mike Zisser is a year-round Islander and painter who uses acrylics and watercolors to render abstract geometrical shapes and patterns that grant, he said, each viewer a “unique, individual experience.” A founding member of ArtSI, he remembers when it was just a small group of local artists, “sitting in a circle on some grass, talking about how things were going to be.”
“It’s much different now, but it’s still a good group,” he said.
Mr. Zisser uses simple colors, lines, cubes and circles because he’s “intrigued with geometry.” He loved painting as a child, but spent the first part of his adult life working in design, graphics and advertising. When he retired to the Island, he began to focus on painting full time because he “loves the privacy of it.”
His work has been showcased in a number of curated exhibitions, including the Parrish Art Museum, the Salmagundi Club and recently at the Port Washington Public Library Gallery, among other venues.
Mr. Zisser doesn’t paint to make money and isn’t very concerned with selling his paintings, “Though it’s great if someone buys one!” he added, gesturing toward a studio-goer who had paused to thumb through some of his prints. “There is something about starting, working, and finishing that is gratifying,” he said.
Mixed-media artist and teacher June Shatken rarely knows what a piece is going to look like when she starts. An experienced abstractionist, she layers watercolors, pastels, and oils to create works that — as written in her artist’s bio — “show surprise.”
She says she enjoys the process because it suits her personality. “I’m not a controlling person, I like things to unfold,” Ms. Shatken said.
The paintings she chose to display at her in-home studio were mostly colorful, abstract landscapes, some of them depicting parts of Mashomack Preserve. Several them were watercolors, others were composed of layers of watercolor, pastel and collage intended to “create depth.”
Ms. Shatken spent the first part of her adult life working as an occupational therapist. Fifteen years ago, she read a book titled, “The Artist’s Way,” by Julia Cameron, and was so inspired she decided to pursue art and art education full time, working on paintings and teaching creativity workshops based on Ms. Cameron’s book.
She loves living on the Island, she said, adding, “There is just so much beauty here. It’s hard not to be an artist.”