A Sea of Local Faces

Aubrey Roemer’s goal was to capture at least 10 percent of the hamlet’s year-round community
While others catch fish in Montauk, Aubrey Roemer has decided to capture people, in this case subjects for portraits, all taken from the year-round population. Janis Hewitt

Visitors to Aubrey Roemer’s cool, sizable studio, in a rented basement apartment in Montauk, are greeted with a sea of local faces painted on linen and strung from the rafters of the room. The work was originally called “The Montauk Portrait Project,” but she has since decided to call it “Leviathan,” to represent a large vessel of the sea.

Her goal was to capture at least 10 percent of the hamlet’s year-round community, roughly 400 people. At last count, on June 19, she had completed 100 pieces, and has now decided to shoot for 500.

A graduate of Pratt Institute, Ms. Roemer had never been to Montauk before she jumped on a train in October to get away from a troubled time in her life. Friends had warned her that the locals were a crusty, unfriendly group, but, she said, she found just the opposite. “Everyone has been so friendly, and so helpful.”

On the train back to Brooklyn, she said, she felt as if she were wrapped in a big cozy blanket and knew she would return. “I was super-grateful and left with a smile on my face.” That was when the idea hit her. “I saw the project in my head. I saw the vision, and I just wanted to be here in Montauk.”

She had created a similar work once before, with strippers as her subjects. The owner of the strip club allowed her to exhibit the finished work in the club. “It turned a nontraditional venue into a venue of high art, and people loved it!”

When Ms. Roemer returned to Montauk she spoke with bartenders, fishermen, and other service workers, all of whom offered her advice. Some sat for their portraits, a process that takes only about 20 minutes.

She uses blue paint on fabric foraged from all over the place, including bedsheets from the Montauk Community Church’s rummage sales. The paint leaches through to the cloth, creating an aura of haze, typical of the East End fog.

Ms. Roemer plans an exhibit at the end of the summer, to be held near a body of water. The sun on the water, she said, will lend a stained-glass effect.    If the East Hampton Town Board gives the go-ahead, she will install her work at the pier at the end of Navy Road, to be visible by land or sea. If anyone wants to sit for their portrait, she said, she can be reached at aubreyroemer@gmail.com.