I returned home from my summer vacation in Italy with art on the brain. And it wasn’t necessarily another museum visit I had in mind. I was more interested in the artists themselves. My search began with Helen Gates, the executive director of the Rye Arts Center, the largest multi-arts center in Westchester.
“There are thousands of artists in Westchester County working at it full-time or creating art when they can,” Gates said.
And so I asked her for a few recommendations of artists she knew who lived, worked and exhibited in their homes.
The first stop on my expedition was the home of Elizabeth Derderian, a realist painter in Rye who works in acrylic and oil. You may have come across Elizabeth’s work around town as she does commissioned work and has painted a majority of the landmarks in Rye. Her home is filled with the art she’s created over the years; some pieces have won awards. Taking it all in as a collection, it’s obvious she isn’t compartmentalized into one particular style and you can tell she enjoys the play between light and dark.
“My inspiration comes from composition, a scene that strikes me, the lighting or the color,” Derderian said.
Walking from room to room, the people and landscapes she’s painted come to life and almost speak to you. Her studio is in the basement, a small space carved out of the remnants of a large active family. And it’s right next to the laundry machine where she says she can multi-task by throwing in a load. I asked her if it was lonely working in her basement for so many hours.
“Growing up as an only child with older parents, I learned how to be independent and do my own thing, create my own world,” she said. “That’s what my painting is for me.”
Next up on my quest was Bob Clyatt, a sculptor specializing in the Japanese method of Raku, which creates the most interesting crackled pieces of art I’ve ever seen. His home and studio are off a main road in Rye and yet completely hidden from view. When you arrive at his front door, you are transported to another place in time and his pieces, both large and small, make you stop and think. Almost all of the work I saw at his studio was sculptures of the human form, which lend themselves perfectly to the Raku method.
“I take anything I have on hand that will burn and throw it into the canister so the piece that gets fired has the immediacy of the day,” Clyatt said. “The smoke swirls around the art, pickling it, and, as it cools, it creates the cracks on the surface of the glaze. I enlist nature as my partner in the process.”
Clyatt said he never knows how the piece will look when it comes out of the fire; it’s always a surprise. He enjoys giving studio visits so people can learn more about the art they are buying and the context of the work. His studio is completely made of glass and perfectly placed in the backyard of his home with extreme care for his surroundings. It’s no wonder he considers nature his partner.
The last artist I met on my tour was Jim Langley. Jim’s home was under renovation, but he was gracious enough to let me in and show me some of his artwork while I carefully stepped around the construction. What struck me when I first walked in were basket upon basket of beautifully illustrated children’s books.
“I haven’t made the switch to ebooks, and I have two young children,” Langley said. “I’ve always been drawn to beautiful illustrations in books and have spent many afternoons in the basement of The Strand bookstore in New York City combing through thousands of children’s books.”
Langley told me a bit about his process.
“When I’m working on a piece, most of the work gets done in my studio. I’ll use photographs from my personal experiences and then mentally Photoshop them into a different landscape or setting,” he said.
Ten years ago, with the birth of his first child, Langley quit practicing architecture and stayed home to raise his daughter. That is when he picked up his brush and started to paint. While touring his home gallery, I was quite taken with several of his paintings of horses.
“My daughter started riding lessons and I spent a lot of time at the stables,” Langley said.
His life experience comes right through each canvas. Langley is gearing up for his one-man show at the Rye Arts Center next spring and a new website is in the works.
But my journey wouldn’t be complete without a visit to an actual in-home gallery. Glenn Aber is the owner of Glenn Aber Contemporary and Aibo Fine Asian, both of which are combined in the basement of his gorgeous home in Rye. Aber spent most of his career in textiles and didn’t get into the art business until he retired eight years ago. On a whim, he and his wife took a trip to Vietnam after reading an article about artists in Hanoi. Within a day, he had acquired 15 works of art. Within a month, it was 150. A fascination with Asian art quickly turned into a business and now he represents artists from all over the world.
“I’m lucky to have something at my age that I enjoy,” Aber said. “I have a chance to meet a lot of wonderful people. This is something I’ll do forever. It’s in my nature to work and I like the challenge.”
Charity plays an important part in Aber’s business and he donates a portion of every sale to his favorite charitable organizations. His gallery is a must-visit for anyone interested in contemporary art.
To sum up my week of artistic wanderings, I asked Helen Gates why she thought Westchester was a great place for artists to live and work.
“Westchester County provides artists with access to potential buyers and patrons to financially support their work,” she said. “This, combined with direct access to New York City puts Westchester in a sweet spot for artists to thrive.”
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