Four artists who lived and worked in the Hamptons
From romantic Impressionists of the 19th century to cutting-edge contemporary artists, many distinguished art and design figures have lived and worked in or near the Hamptons. The area’s natural beauty and lovely light combined with its proximity to New York City have long made it ideal for those creating visual arts. Following are four who found their creative muse in the East End.
Jackson Pollock (1912–1956) is arguably the highest-profile artist to have lived and worked in the Hamptons. After becoming established in the early 1940s as a pioneering Abstract Expressionist painter, he and Lee Krasner (his wife and fellow artist) rented a modest farmhouse in the hamlet of Springs, East Hampton. In 1946, Pollock’s dealer and patron Peggy Guggenheim lent them the down payment to purchase the house; they eventually owned five adjacent acres. This would be Pollock’s home and creative lair until his death in a car accident less than a mile away. At first he painted in an upstairs bedroom until converting a small barn on the property into his studio. Here he would create his most celebrated works, including Autumn Rhythm, Convergence and Lavender Mist.
Pollock’s work underwent a major transformation after moving to the East End; his compositions became more expansive and his colors brighter. He liked to lay canvases on the floor of the barn/studio and walk around them, applying liquid paint from all four sides spontaneously. This pouring technique would make him and his work world-renowned.
After Pollock’s 1956 death, Krasner continued to live and paint in the house until her death in 1984. Per her wishes that the house become a public library and museum, it was subsequently transformed into the current Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, where visitors can tour both the house and studio. Remnants of the iconic paintings Pollock created are still visible on the floor of the latter. (830 Springs Fireplace Rd.; 631.324.4929)
Willem de Kooning
In 1961, the same year the Dutch-born Abstract Expressionist painter Willem de Kooning (1904–1997) became an American citizen, he moved to Springs, East Hampton. Previously he and his wife Elaine had been weekend guests of Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner at their home (see above); De Kooning would remain an East End resident for the rest of his long life.
De Kooning, who reinvented himself several times during his 60-year career, started out painting pure abstraction before turning to depictions of mainly female figures (including his well-known Woman series) in the 1950s. By the time he moved to East Hampton, he was painting both figures and landscapes, employing bold brush strokes and richly varied colors. In the1980s, he began creating spare, large-scale works concentrating mainly in primary colors of red, yellow, and blue.
De Kooning designed the house and cavernous attached studio himself, inspired by the area’s densely wooded land and quality of light, which reminded him of his native Holland; he began painting there in 1964. The house is located directly across from the Green River Cemetery where Pollock, Krasner, Elaine and other well-known artists and writers are buried. (De Kooning himself was cremated.) He clearly thrived in the space, once declaring, “It would be very hard for me, now, to paint in any other place.”
In 2015, the house became the site of an artist-in-residence program called Accabonac House, designed to unite di erent artistic disciplines, particularly lm and stage, under one roof. The program was created by de Kooning family friend Alex Kilgore, who chose the location in memory of de Kooning’s only child, Lisa, who passed away in 2012.
Another East Hampton house related to de Kooning is also being used as a haven for artists in residence. The Elaine de Kooning House (55 Alewive Brook Rd.) was purchased in 1975 by Willem’s artist wife as a place for them to reconcile—they’d separated in 1957—and for her to work. (They remained together until her death in 1989.) The house has been the site of two shows mounted by the nearby Halsey McKay Gallery.
Celebrated handbag designer Judith Leiber and her husband Gerson, a Modernist painter, are yet another artistic couple who migrated from Manhattan to the East End. Both now in their 90s, they continue to live in a renovated incarnation of the East Hampton farmhouse they purchased in 1956, the same year their Springs neighbor Jackson Pollock died in a car crash. In 2005, the couple opened a unique, Renaissance-style museum on the property that houses the couple’s extensive art collection as well as examples of their own work.
The couple, who met in Judith’s native Hungary when Gerson was a young American GI and she was a fledgling handbag designer, moved to New York City in 1947. The rst woman to join the venerable handbag-makers guild in Budapest, Judith worked for several manufacturers before opening her own business in 1963. After creating nearly 5,000 different styles of handbags for a clientele that included numerous First Ladies and other celebrities, Judith sold her company and retired in 1998.
When the couple purchased the Springs farmhouse, Gerson would come out every weekend to clear the heavily wooded land. Over the years, the house underwent several renovations and additions. Once Judith retired, the couple devoted their energies to building their two-story, Palladian-style museum and creating the extensive gardens that surround it. Both are open to visitors every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday afternoon from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. (446 Old Stone Highway, 631.329.3288)
Robert Motherwell (1915– 1991) was part of the 1940s Greenwich Village artist scene that included Pollock, de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Franz Kline. He and his wife Maria had already visited the East End several times when he bought a four-acre lot on the corner of Georgica and Jericho Roads for about $1,200 in 1945. Like many other artists, he figured that the serenity and beauty of the place would help him break new creative ground. He asked renowned modernist French architect Pierre Chareau, who had fled Nazi-occupied Paris for the U.S., to design the house and studio. The resulting “architectural oddity,” a Quonset hut with an outer membrane of corrugated steel and exposed interior structural elements, shocked Motherwell’s neighbors, but proved to be what he’d hoped for in terms of inspiration. The first works he painted there were Personage with Yellow Ochre and White and Woman in Green, finished in August 1947, and The Emperor of China, painted that September. In 1948, he began his monumental Elegy to the Spanish Republic series that marked a pivotal moment in modern art.
By 1952 Motherwell was feeling disenchanted with his surroundings (his marriage was crumbling, as well) and he sold the house, which was eventually leveled in 1985. In 2014, the exhibition “Robert Motherwell: The East Hampton years, 1944-1952” was held at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Though he may not have lived in the area as long as some of his contemporaries, “I did my best work there,” Motherwell declared when he was in his 70s, looking back on his days in East Hampton.