Oh Say Can You See: East End Artists Inspired by Old Glory

Stage Setter by Michael Knigin
Michael Knigin (American 1942-2011) “Stage Setter" Acrylic on canvas, 34 x 60 in, 1991

The American flag has long been a symbol for the ideals and beliefs of the United States. And like any great image, it has not escaped the eye of some of the country’s finest artists, many of whom reside, or once resided, on the East End of Long Island.

Here, in honor of Independence Day, we’ve selected a few examples of Hamptons artists using the American flag in their work. Some of these painters are famous, others are emerging, and yet others remain here only through their work and legacy, so many years after their deaths.

Childe Hassam, “The Fourth of July,” Oil on canvas, 36 x 26 inches, 1916

Jasper Johns is far and away the most famous painter of American flags, but he was not the first or the last to appropriate the image. Hamptons visitor and Impressionist Childe Hassam’s most renowned work is his “Flag Series,” which began in 1916 and featured the building lined “canyons” of Manhattan festooned with American flags. Later, East End painter Fairfield Porter (1907–1975) found more subtle places for the flag in his work, as evidenced below in “Great Spruce Head Island with Flag.”

Fairfield Porter-Great Spruce Head Island with Flag
Fairfield Porter (American, 1907–1975), “Great Spruce Head Island with Flag” n.d., Oil on canvas, 24 x 30.25 inches, Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, New York, Gift of the Estate of Fairfield Porter, 1980.10.185

Today, the flag continues to be used in work by local artists, including “Stage Setter” (1991) by late East Ender and master of digital media Michael Knigin, which uses uncomfortable juxtaposition to make a statement about war (see image above story). “Birth of a Nation” by Oliver Peterson uses a black star, Confederate Money and other symbols to reflect on the founding of America on the backs of its native inhabitants and black slaves.

Oliver Peterson, “Birth of a Nation,” Mixed/acrylic on canvas, 18 x 14 inches, 2006

Joseph Eschenberg‘s “Sweet Liberty” also adopts the flag into art, here using images of London burnt onto a negative-acting photolithographic printing plate then painted with enamel, as seen below.

Joseph Eschenberg Sweet Liberty
Joseph Eschenberg, “Sweet Liberty,” negative-acting photolithographic printing plates and enamel

Finally, one of the most famous living Hamptons artists, Ross Bleckner, created his “Gay Flag” lithograph in an edition of 500, demonstrating how the American flag can be used in conjunction with other icons—in this case the rainbow flag—to send an important message and fight for equality and freedom for all, which is what America’s independence is all about.

Ross Bleckner, “Gay Flag,” Lithograph, signed and numbered in pencil, Edition of 500, 38 x 25 inches, ca. 1993, Copyright: Ross Bleckner
Courtesy: Mary Boone and Lehmann Maupin Galleries

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