At a time when many local galleries are closing, Richard J. Demato Fine Arts Gallery in Sag Harbor appears to be steadily on the rise. But owner Richard Demato is no stranger to success. He’s also intimately familiar with the golden rule, the spirit of giving, a desire to help others and gratitude for his many blessings.
A longtime art enthusiast, Demato opened his gallery to show and work with the artists he collects and admires—including Harriet Sawyer, a figurative painter and his wife of 28 years. The 61-year-old former businessman also saw an opportunity to promote and support the charities closest to his heart. Chief among those charities is The Retreat, an East Hampton-based organization created to help victims of domestic violence. “It’s a great way to raise money and awareness,” Demato said, noting that he served as president of The Retreat but stepped down to vice president when the gallery began demanding more of his time and effort.
Demato and Sawyer flourished in the textile business for many years before moving to the East End in 2003. No longer needing to work, the couple enjoyed their time in Sag Harbor and began giving back through charities such as The Retreat, which had been struggling before Demato took the reigns. He said events like The Retreat’s annual Artists Against Abuse Gala showed him how lucrative art sales could be for a nonprofit, and opening Demato Fine Arts was the logical next step.
“We started three years ago with no artists and no clients. Now we have 15 artists and 150 clients,” Demato said, noting that his gallery has been growing and improving since opening on Main Street in November 2009. The gallery represents artists and sells work in the traditional sense, but Demato isn’t really in it for the money. He donates much of his potential profit to charity at special benefit exhibitions he holds throughout the year.
On October 27, the gallery is exhibiting the top 25 pieces from an art contest benefiting The Retreat, and the winner will get a solo show at Demato Fine Arts within the next year. Demato said he’s mounting similar shows to benefit Fountain House NYC, a home for the mentally ill, and the Southampton Animal Shelter, and the proceeds from each will be split between the artists and charities. “It’s a win-win,” he said, pointing out that he’s happy to help emerging and mid-career artists along with such worthy causes.
Demato said he enjoys working with artists, especially with those who could benefit from his help. “It’s exciting,” he said, explaining that most of his artists are younger than thirty. Demato described a “symbiotic relationship” where he offers guidance and shares his contacts, sales acumen and marketing skill, and the young artists give him a fresh point of view and excellent work to sell. “It keeps you young,” Demato said. “They keep us on our toes.”
The roster of talent at Demato Fine Arts comprises primarily emerging and mid-career artists with a focus on narrative figurative portraiture, American magical realism, mixed media and contemporary landscape. Highlights include Andrea Kowch, a narrative painter of surreal, dreamlike scenes that feel a bit like Andrew Wyeth with a darker tone, and mixed media artist Bart Vargas, who creates glassy, brightly colored and patterned pieces out of recycled everyday materials. Painters Zachary Thornton, Maggie Taylor, Harriet Sawyer, Kevin Sloan, Frank Oriti, Donato Giancola and Kevin Muente are also standouts among Demato’s well-considered stable of artists.
Richard J. Demato Fine Arts Gallery is open Thursday-Sunday at 90 Main Street in Sag Harbor all winter. For more information about the artists, the gallery or the charities Demato supports, call 631-725-1161 or visit rjdgallery.com.