It is not always clear where or how to look at the installation of Gerson Leiber’s recent drawings, titled “Drawings Drawings Drawings,” on view this summer at the Leiber Museum in Springs. Efforts to do so can be exciting and confounding at the same time.
Calling it an installation rather than an exhibit is clarifying. The works tend to be around the same size, about 30 by 22 inches on average, and are hung by pushpin, stacked on top of each other and abutting their neighbors to create a kind of unified mural.
Josh Dayton grouped the works according to a loose plan of like with like in terms of color, content, or style. The result is almost staggering in its effect.
The room itself is a jewel of staid propriety — an open plan divided by a central wall with soaring ceilings where natural, muted light is augmented by traditional museum spots. It is the kind of well-planned family museum one might stumble upon in Provence or a country village in Spain.
The work itself, all from the past three years, is a distillation of some of the styles and even personal painting features of many of the great artists of the 20th century. Look to one work and see Pablo Picasso or Arshile Gorky, look to another and see Willem de Kooning, yet another might yield Mark Rothko, and so on.
These references might seem trite, and yet they are rendered with a curious eye and always seem to find something new to say.
In “Le Jardin Americain” from 2010, Rothko might be the direct antecedent, but the lines (these are drawings) are dynamic, creating a tactile energy. The fact that the three colored and layered quadrangles are grounded by the title puts another twist in our assumptions of how the space is organized. No longer are we looking at a horizon, which Rothko has trained us to perceive, but instead we have an aerial view of something quite literally grounded, with a profusion of color not typical of the late artist’s work. A painted ground and random charcoal lines throughout, sometimes perceived through the crayon and pastel, also let one know that something else is going on here.
The works can be specific in their titles, such as “Spring Riot on Pussy’s Pond,” but in some cases are left without titles. Mr. Leiber is an artist who appears to know exactly what he wants to communicate even when he is being coy about doing so. “Willem’s Gift” would appear to channel de Kooning, although if so, certainly not directly. Sometimes the titles are allegorical, such as “Yea from the Clouds He Becometh Me. Yea, Even From Multitudes Am I Summoned,” a stark work in charcoal and oil stick.
Mortality is also a recurrent theme in works such as “One Hundred Ways to Circumvent Death” and “In the Vicinity of Green River,” the famous burial ground of many of Springs’s most renowned artistic denizens. Here the meaning can be symbolic and literal since the Leibers live quite close to the site.
Mr. Leiber knew early that he wanted to be an artist and took every advantage of what was at his disposal, including taking art classes in Budapest when he was stationed there in World War II. Not knowing Hungarian, in which the classes were taught, did not faze him. Returning from the war with his Hungarian bride, the handbag designer Judith Leiber, he studied at the Art Students League and the Brooklyn Museum of Art, picking up classes in printmaking along the way to add to his other mediums of drawing, painting, and sculpture. He took on teaching responsibilities as well.
There is no doubt he was immersed in the art making of the time and that those impressions have stayed with him through the years. He cites the South Fork’s bounty of Abstract Expressionists in addition to Bonnard, Picasso, and Matisse as influences. Through the passage of time he has taken on many mediums and many subjects, including portraits. What seems to have most inspired the artist in these works, however, are his immediate environs and the gardens he has meticulously maintained since he first cleared the property and began them many years ago.
What one sees on display is a daily channeling of different modes of expression, sometimes the colorful simplicity of floral shapes, other times a more abstracted quilt of colors, sometimes the absence of color with big moody black orbs. Line is omnipresent, even in works like “Sagamore Hill Series No. 5,” which at first appears to be nothing but form. The linear underpinning is strongly there though, too.
The exhibit will remain open weekend afternoons through Labor Day. An exhibit of Ms. Leiber’s handbags is also on view. Entrance to the museum is free. More information is available at leibermuseum.org.