Dan Rattiner's Stories

Choosing 1,000 Dan’s Papers Covers

Dan’s Papers, now 51 years old, didn’t always have full color glossy works of art on the front cover. From the time it started in 1960 until the mid-1980s, Dan’s was just a regular newsprint newspaper that had in it, among other things, a section about art galleries and the grand openings they had every other week. We’d sometimes feature a painting of two. But in black and white it didn’t do the work justice.

There were about a dozen galleries sprinkled throughout the Hamptons in the quieter time of those days, and on Friday afternoons at 5 it was a very big social event for many people to go gallery hopping, from one to another, to see the latest works of some of the great painters of the day. There would be wine and cheese, and sometimes a classical string quartet, and of course, the artist him- or herself, happy to shake hands and discuss the work. [expand]

Painters and their works were major contributors to the intellectual community in the Hamptons in those years. Larry Rivers was here, Fairfield Porter, Peter Max, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Leroy Neiman. But in today’s world, where much of the Hamptons seems to be about celebrities and billionaires and the many fundraisers, things began to change.

I had always wanted Dan’s Papers to support the arts. We could promote the arts to some degree. We did our best. But before about 1980, the art world really didn’t need us. As it turned out, though, in the 1980s, artists and gallery showings began to play a smaller and smaller role in the community. Whereas, during the third quarter of the 20th century the entire world looked to the eastern end of Long Island, particularly Springs, to celebrate the works of Abstract Expressionism and the creative and sometimes quirky behavior and output of such leaders as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, things had changed. Art in the Hamptons went into something of a decline.

In 1987, I thought it might really help the artists of the Hamptons if I put a glossy wrap around the paper and published the artwork of some of our fine painters as a frontispiece to the publication. It would be unique, something nobody had ever done before. Would people still pick up the paper? I would lead off every week with the celebration of some local artist and their artwork.

Amazingly, at first, I got resistance from the painters themselves. Some of them said artists would never allow their paintings to be used in this way unless I paid them for the privilege, which I was not offering to do. It would have been nice if I had been able to afford to do this, but from a printing perspective, printing hundreds of thousands of images of the work, 52 weeks a year, all for the benefit of the artists, would be cost enough. We were the largest circulating paper in the Hamptons after all. The cover art would showcase the artists.

It took a while until I could find an artist who would let me put a detail of their work on the cover. But a few took the plunge. And pretty soon there were lots of artists who wanted this. After a while, it became a mark of excellence to be on the cover of Dan’s Papers.

I’ve always taken the selection of these covers very seriously. I studied English as an undergraduate in college. But my graduate studies, for three years, were at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in Cambridge. There I learned about graphics, art history and I gained an appreciation of artwork. It came easily for me to curate these works.

Between 1987 and 2011 I have selected more than 1,000 covers for this newspaper, probably from the studios of more than 500 painters. I long ago decided that the best way to choose the paintings—other than those of the great masters who we are happy to feature—was to simply go with what I enjoyed rather than with who painted it. When work comes in—it comes in all the time—and is posted on the screen by our Art Director Kelly Shelley, I just choose what I love the best.

I have shared what I know about curating with all our art directors over the years, not to see paintings as paintings, but as potential covers, either full bleed or boxed, how the work could be enhanced or not enhanced by our logo. Sometimes a wonderful work will come in and Kelly or I will have a “that’s it” moment, but if it does not lend itself to being cropped, or if the Dan’s Papers logo would cover up an important part of the painting, it gets eliminated from consideration. I often wished we did not have to do that. But if we cannot present a work of art properly, we cannot use it.

Regarding this Saturday night’s Dan’s Papers Cover Artist Show & Cocktail Party at Seasons of Southampton, I asked Kelly to do the curating from the vast selection of painters we have celebrated over the years. Although I select the covers, I thought Kelly, who makes the initial cut for the covers and sometimes gets me to see certain paintings in ways I have not before, should have the honor for this event.

So yes, we have had 1,000 paintings made by 500 artists on our covers for 23 years. I cannot even begin to mention one artist without another, but I can say that some of the works just take your breath away and have become favorites of mine. Indeed, at the Cover Artist party we will honor Mickey Paraskevas, who has painted more covers for us than anyone else. The work speaks for itself.

So I raise a toast to Mickey Paraskevas, Kelly Shelley and the 50 or so other participating artists in this event on Saturday. Without them there would be no event. And without all our artists and more, this community would not be as rich as it is. Putting art on the cover of Dan’s Papers might have been the best decision I ever made. Who could have known it would come to this? Enjoy our show and our auction.

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