Artists Examine Retro Americana

Roman Fine Art gallery in East Hampton presents a new exhibit “Pastime/Time Passed,” featuring new work from Brooklyn-based artists Lizzie Gill and Ciara Rafferty, with an opening reception Saturday, May 26, from 6 to 8 PM, and on view through July 1.

Both artists take inspiration from the post WWII era of the 1950s and 1960s. Holistic, romanticized values are depicted through mixed media and architectural spaces.

Gill uses her mixed media artwork in a contemporary context to divulge into thematic “retro America.” She has a BS in Fine Art from Skidmore College in New York and has studied at the Studio Arts Centers International in Florence, Italy.

Ciara Rafferty takes spaces in public architecture and explores “the psychology of perception,” taking a seemingly simple subject into the forefront of thoughtful consideration. She obtained a BFA in Visual Arts and Art History from the University of San Diego and an MFA from the New York Academy of Art.

Lizzie Gill

Describe your artistic process.
Speaking to my collage process, I’ll search for an image that resonates with me, and from there begin to build the piece.

Utilizing a hole punch, I’ll flip through pages of advertisements, looking for colors, text, and patterns to create the dots that form an almost abstract, pointillist collage. It’s very painterly how I work, so choosing these elements is integral to my process.

How has Brooklyn inspired your art work?
The artist community in Brooklyn has been very inspirational and supportive, especially in the medium of collage.

Early on, collaborating with local artists to put on group shows and discuss work was a formative building block of my experience as an artist in Brooklyn.
What single image captures the essence of the ’50s/’60s era?

The Marlboro Man.

Using An Image from yesteryear, describe how you would portray your own personality.
The vintage toilet tissue ads. In the series of ads, the women are dressed in elegant ballgowns, rubbing the paper to their face, and holding back their elation at how soft it is. I find this image speaks to my sense of humor and my interest in the absurd.

Why does this era captivate you so much?
I find this era fascinating because to me, it is all very theatrical. I often pull from advertisements, with outfits and dialogue as shiny and glossy as the pages.

From my present-day perspective, the perfect ensembles read like costumes and this idealized way of life feels so foreign, it’s the pleasantly empty aesthetic that keeps me coming back.

Compare your studies in New York to Florence.
I would say the biggest difference is the pace of the two places.

Florence was a great opportunity for studying art history, experiencing another culture and way of life. While there, I spent more time at museums, piazzas, and churches, studying the art and religious objects. Back in New York, the creative pace of my colleagues kept me on my toes and positively molded my studio ethic as a working artist.

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Ciara Rafferty

Have you worked with Lizzie Gill before?
Lizzie and I met at the Get with the Program 2017 group show opening at Roman Fine Art last fall. I was instantly a fan of her work and was thrilled to have the opportunity to show with her again.

Describe the psychology of perception.
What we look at effects our mood and interpretations. I always joke that I have chronic FOMO, because beautiful scenes often make me sad. Personally, something beautiful acquires sadness the moment I realize it is transient.

Faced with a beautiful landscape/cityscape, I am aware of where I am, but perhaps more so of where I was, and therefore where I am not. I am reminded of what I am missing and a sense of loss and nostalgia lingers. I think a lot of the retro imagery I rely on evokes a similar feeling.

How has Brooklyn inspired your art work?
Living and working in Brooklyn and NYC has afforded me the opportunity to be surrounded by a melting pot of artistic talent in all styles, mediums, and genres.

Seeing how other people are participating in the contemporary art scene and what is being represented in the galleries keeps me up to speed and motivated to keep up.

Describe your artistic process.
The subject matter arrives in a variety of ways. If I have a specific idea in mind, I will seek out imagery that fulfills certain criteria. Conversely, I often run across imagery that ignites an idea, and I then start manipulating the image to support that instinct. In both cases, I play with an idea in Photoshop to nail down composition and color choices to prepare for the third iteration, which is the final piece.

In all three stages, adjustments are made that lead to the final product. The resulting spaces are meant to be real in the sense that they actually existed, but are combined with fictional, futuristic elements which underscore the intent: a space, that in its original conception was meant to be quite modern and forward thinking, but quickly dissipated into an antiquated remnant of its time period.

What imagery of the past captures the essence of the ’50s/’60s era?
Americana. Particularly signage and advertisements. Whether it be for bowling alleys, hotels, motels, Coca Cola, candy bars, cars, bars, strip joints, etc.

The neon signs and posters all have this optimistic sentiment, even when they are portraying something seedy.

Using images of yesteryear, describe how you would portray yourself?
I grew up in a beach town in San Diego, [born] to Irish immigrant parents, so I have always been drawn to surf culture with a flair for folky-ness. Images for the old surf movies like Beach Blanket Bingo and Endless Summer and a mix of Roy Orbison fashion, and hairdos with the laidback ways and sounds of Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson are all images that come to mind.

Why does this era capture you so much?
Everything seemed so raw and easy. It was less about showing how you were living in the now and more about actually living right now. There was an ever-present sense of pride that seemed to exist.

How has world travel molded you as an artist?
Travel is my primary source of inspiration. It is continuously shaping my direction as an artist by eroding away unnecessary elements.

I am currently on a month-long cross-country road trip, gathering reference imagery for future paintings of some great Americana gems that you don’t find till you get lost down a dirt backroad or can’t help but run into in big historic cities. Every place I have traveled to has helped me evolve into a more authentic artist by providing provocative evidence of the times we love to remember and can’t seem to forget.

Follow @ciara_rafferty_art

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