Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Summer in the Hamptons - 1960s- 1970s - Recollections of Artist Jane Wilson by her Daughter Julia Gruen

Photo ©Michael Leonard
My parents bought a house in Water Mill, NY, in 1960. Previously, they had spent summers with friends in the area: Jane Freilicher and Joe Hazan; Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale; Fairfield and Anne Porter; Ell. en and David Oppenheim, among others. I was born in 1958, so I also stayed with the above-mentioned friends, though I know this only from photographs and my parents’ stories.
Julia Gruen

Recollections of Jane Wilson
Julia Gruen

Over the past few months, DC Moore Gallery in New York, has been providing inside views into how their artists continue their practices to create new works of art, while sharing perspectives of their current, everyday lives. For Contessanally Julia Gruen looks back on her summers with her mother artist Jane Wilson (1924-2015), in Water Mill, NY.

 Jane Wilson and Julia Gruen – New York – NY – 1980c.

Photo ©Estate of John Gruen

Once my parents bought their own house, a 1920s carriage house with a huge studio upstairs, we would spend most of our summers in Water Mill. My mother didn’t paint every day, but when she did, it was often in the mornings and after lunch. The studio has ten incredible north-facing skylights, and those were one of this home’s great features. But even when my mother wasn’t painting in Water Mill, she painted almost daily in her various city studios.

We would often go to the nearest (Flying Point) beach for hours on end, just she and I, or with my father and groups of their friends, including Willem de Kooning, Jane Freilicher, Fairfield Porter, Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, Jasper Johns, and the writers, poets and playwrights Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, Janice Koch, John Ashbery, Edward Albee, Arnold Weinstein, and many performing artists, as well.

Southampton - NY - 1962
Mary Rattray Kanovitz, Howard Kanovitz, Clarice Rivers, Willem de Kooning, Jane Wilson holding daughter JuliaLarry Rivers 

Photos ©Estate of John Gruen

The summers of the 1960s and 1970s, when my parents and their wide circle of friends were mostly in their 40s, were a time of great freedom and creativity. But also, of endless parties! The social scene during that era in the Hamptons was incredibly active, and the art community was creating and celebrating in what was then a uniquely affordable, beautiful, and serene setting, far from the steamy city summers with no air conditioning. Out here, the sea breezes and periodic dramatic summer storms were more than sufficiently cooling.

Montauk - NY – 1963  
Jane Wilson and daughter Julia
Water Mill - NY – 1962
Tibor de Nagy, Rudy Burckhardt, Roland Pease
Jane Wilson, Yvonne Jacquette, Jane Freilicher
Arthur Gold, Robert Fizdale, Joe Hazan

Photo ©Estate of John Gruen

Water Mill – NY – 1960

As with many artists who frequented the East End of Long Island, it was the unique light that drew them to this region. The air, the sea, the clouds, the fields, and the then openness of the landscape provided so many artists of my parents’ generation with the inspiration to summer out here.

My mother’s landscapes were most inspired by the meeting of the sky, the sea, and the potato fields that she found in Water Mill. She was born and raised in land-locked Iowa, so the essential horizon line in her landscapes was not only that line between sea and sky and fields, but between the huge skies and endless plains of her birthplace.

Robert Rauschenberg, Maxine Groffsky, Fairfield Porter, Larry Rivers, Morton Feldman
Rene Bouche, Jane Freilicher, Jane Wilson
holding daughter Julia, Arthur Gold, Katie Porter, Naomi Newman, Anne Porter, Robert Fizdale, Lizzie Porter

“My mother’s subject matter evolved during these and the following decades. She painted cityscapes, portraits, still lifes, and even abstractions, but ultimately, her soul was most connected to landscape, and it is in those landscapes that she found her truest self.”

Jane Wilson
Receding Sea
 – 1987 - Oil on canvas, 80 x 74 inches

 Jane Wilson
Green Palisade1997 - Oil on canvas, 30 x 36 inches

“Even while teaching at Columbia (and previously at Parsons, Pratt, the New School, Dartmouth, the Vermont Studio School, and others), my mother ALWAYS painted. But during the summers, while happy to be in this beloved place, she sometimes felt pressured to create, and that pressure was rarely productive. To be creative without feeling obligated, she would turn and return to drawing and watercolors, largely landscapes and nature.”

Jane Wilson
1991 - Oil on canvas, 74 x 80 1/4 inches

“It must also be said that my parents put the house in Water Mill to good use by renting it out, facilitating frequent summers in Europe, where my mother would spend hours in the great museums and do many, many watercolors and drawings. She was, in a sense, documenting the places visited, but also finding inspiration in simply being elsewhere, absorbing the astonishing history of European art that she had studied for her entire life.”

Jane Wilson
Fourth of July
– 2003 - Watercolor on paper, 8 x 8 inches

“My mother was a loner, as am I. Difficult as this period is for the whole world, I think my mother would have eventually thrived, and would be painting more than ever. She always loved being in Water Mill for its serenity and abundant nature. With the city being under lockdown for so long, I believe she would have been perfectly happy to spend much more time out in Water Mill. Although renowned for her wit, intelligence, talents, and great beauty, my mother was not a particularly social animal (nor am I). It was my father who most needed other people – both professionally and personally. He would have gone completely mad during this period of isolation and social distancing!”

Jane Wilson
Blue Carafe
- 1979-81 - Oil on linen, 30 x 30 inches

Photo ©Estate of John Gruen

In the city, when cooking for just the three of us, or for an intimate dinner party, she would sometimes prepare elaborate meals. Somehow these always felt relatively informal, and she loved to experiment with cuisines from all over the world. Whenever my parents hosted large parties in the city (these were always my father’s idea), she would pull out all the stops. With no assistance, she might make, for example, cassoulet for 50! During our Water Mill summers, however, her meals were simpler, making use of the abundant fresh produce and seafood. She often made gazpacho and other cold soups such as lettuce, cucumber, and potato-leek, as well as a multitude of salads, grilled fish, raw clams, the occasional lobster, and anything incorporating corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, and greens.

I have written these words in Water Mill, in the very house my parents bought 60 years ago. I feel my parents all around me here. Although I was born, raised, educated, and employed in New York City, I have always thought of Water Mill as my heart’s home. As I read the newspaper, listen to classical music, play the piano, or take long beach walks, my father is omnipresent in my mind. But it is my mother’s essence that inhabits this place. I cook in her kitchen, I cultivate her garden, I am surrounded by her paintings, and upstairs in her studio, the fading scent of turpentine remains for me the smell of home.

Jane Wilson in her studio – New York - June 4 - 2000

photo right – Julia Gruen

Water Mill – NY
Jane Wilson
and John Gruen - 2005 c.
 Jane Wilson’s painting table – 2012

Jane Wilson
Still Dawn 2006 - Oil on canvas - 24 x 24 inches

Photo ©Estate of John Gruen

Water Mill – NY – 2005
Jane Wilson and Julia Gruen

Many Thanks
Julia Gruen for her text and use of her father’s photographs and
DC- Moore Gallery New York

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New York: DC Moore Gallery – Jane Wilson at 90 – East Village/East End exhibition

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