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Love And Passion Heating Up Ashawagh Hall This Weekend

Originally Posted: February 13, 2008

Joan Baum

"Horizons", Shanna D'Antonio

Who was Saint Valentine, an early Christian martyr in Rome, or does the name stand for several martyrs called Valentine, a popular enough name at the time since "valens" means strong, powerful, worthy? Because the Church didn't know, the feast that settled in on what became Valentine's Day was not included in the pantheon of holy days. That left secular celebrations, and did those ever take off in the 14th century, with testimonies to courtly love enshrined in late medieval art. How fitting that "Love and Passion", which will be on display at Ashawagh Hall in the Springs on Feb. 16 through Feb. 17, continues that tradition of observing the legacy of Valentine in art while also reaffirming its own recent tradition, an annual observance in honor of erotica and exotica. This is the third year for "Love and Passion", but the first time the exhibition will be at newly renovated Ashawagh Hall.

Unfortunately, too often like passion itself, the show will have only a brief run, but what a concentrated embarrassment of riches - approximately 75 artists, working in all media, genres and styles and representing all attitudes toward romantic love. Though size was restricted to 3' x 3', it will be interesting to see how Ashawagh Hall's expanded space will accommodate so many entries. The theme of love and passion was a "must" for consideration, says Karyn Mannix, who curated the show, with the assistance of Vito Sisti, a familiar presence at the Hall. Mannix, an artist, art teacher, and poet, with a background in fashion and set design (and a degree in Post Modern Art Theory & Criticism which taught her "how to curate") was not daunted by the numbers.

Mannix notes that the inception of the show three years ago was prompted by a desire to bring the local arts community together during the bleak winter months and "warm it up with a hot theme." Most of the participating artists, beginners, emerging, and established, are local (from Montauk to Southampton), but some come from "all over the country." In any case, what's on the walls and floor of this historic building is a Valentine for the eyes and a timely tribute to the many Cupid-inspired painters, sculptors, mixed media artists and photographers who rose to the challenge of picking out just one recent work to show.

Of course, it's impossible to name everyone from A to Z, though in this regard, who can resist making note of Abby Abrams' witty, tactile bronze sculpture of a most pregnant woman, "Bridgit in Bloom", and Evan Zatti's lively, colorful acrylic/foil/ink on canvas "Dancing Hearts". Some others to mention include Mary Grossman, with a nicely composed overhead perspective of "Checkerboard Bathroom" and Setha Low's smoke-fired stoneware "Broken Promises". The notable "Emotions Are Over-rated" by Mannix features a taped mouth half-face photo which Mannix says, "states exactly what it means - emotions ARE overrated, but in the midst of love and passion - some things are better left unsaid." Ruby Jackson's "Escapade" is one of her larger-series pen, ink and glitter-glue abstracts, whose cross-hatched and dotted mix of shapes and color simulates "people getting together to mix it up with love."

Trish Franey has put in one of her signature folk art pieces, Linda Capello, another exquisite figure drawing, and Phyllis Kriegel, one of her colorful allegorical paintings. Georgia Griffin, from Corpus Christi, is represented with a disturbing photo of a doll with a cracked head and bruised leg that lies abandoned against a slatted wooden bench through which the viewer sees ripe summer grass. Startling as well is abstract sculptor Dennis Leri's macabre mixed media "I Doubt", with its tombstone-like text, bordered and set inside what appears to be blood-smeared squares. But perhaps Justin Smith wins the award for ghastly, with his savagely bloody India ink and wash illustration, "She Doesn't Like Roses".

Interpretations of love and passion go from sweet to shocking. Christa Maiwald's cotton, silk and thread design, "True Love", shows that cute pandas do it, while NJ artist David Dziemian's "Love Less" swirls wildly in body pinks and reds. How surprising, though, to see the pastel-hued mixed media on birch "Horizons", a tranquil piece by Shanna D'Antonio, a Katrina survivor, Mannix points out. And then there is Camille Perrottet's vaginal not so "con" [bloody] but a con, in the grifter sense, "Le petit con multicolore".

Most of the artists in the show appear to be women, but many exhibit a decided feminist sensibility. Do compare their work with that of the men, a critique that is likely to prove psychologically revealing as well as evidential of talent all around. And stand by for some special effects, Mannix hints: Kara, a model and performance artist, and artist Khristi Hood, the owner of the Springs General Store, both attired as 1920s cigarette girls/sex-kittens will be slinking around the room selling raffle tickets.

 • Ashawagh Hall is at 780 Springs Fireplace Road, East Hampton. Gallery hours are 12 noon to 5 p.m. with an opening wine reception on Saturday, Feb. 16. The raffle drawing is at 8:15 p.m. The 50-50 raffle proceeds will go toward the Ashawagh Hall building fund.

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