“Art has a job to do.” This is the mantra that drives Quogue painter Steve Alpert to create paintings that people can connect with deeply, to honor U.S. servicemen and women in military-oriented pieces and to use his art for important philanthropic causes. His upcoming exhibition, Desire, will raise money for the Quogue Wildlife Refuge on Saturday, August 22.
The one-day outdoor exhibition takes place at Alpert’s Quogue home, where he’ll display a collection of oil paintings inspired by his love of the outdoors, including locales such as the Amazon region of Peru and the East End. “I love being outdoors! If I could live outdoors, I would. I love the natural world. I just feel in my element being outside,” he says reminiscing about an extensive hitchhiking/camping trip he took in 1972 to explore the American West, Vancouver and beyond. His affinity for nature is evident in his Desire landscapes, which each excel at encapsulating the unique magnificence of each location they represent.
Having collaborated with Quogue Wildlife Refuge over a decade ago to create a benefit poster that sold 500 copies, Alpert sought them out in their hour of need to help alleviate some of the financial loss of replacing the annual Wild Night for Wildlife gala with a virtual one. “I don’t expect that I’ll be able to raise the kind of money that they’d raise at the fundraiser, but every little bit helps,” he says. For every painting sold, Alpert will donate 20% of the gross
Desire can be seen as a return to Alpert’s roots—after he left his 30-year career as a Manhattan television producer/director around 1999, he began following his artistic passion as a commercial landscape painter before focusing largely on military paintings. “The military work is deeply satisfying to me, because it allows me to participate in the world in what I think is a powerful way, where I can actually give back and tell the stories of veterans who served,” he says. “I did not serve my time with Vietnam; I was in the lottery and had a high enough number that I wasn’t called. I feel very guilty that I did not serve. It’s the greatest regret of my life that I never served in uniform.”
That desire to support those in uniform has inspired him to contribute in any way that he can—he’s donated paintings to veterans’ organizations to raise money and awareness; loaned the “Portrait of a Woman” triptych to then-Vice President Joe Biden before unveiling it at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial; installed the seven-painting Full Honors series, which depicts an Arlington National Cemetery funeral ceremony, at the Pentagon; inspired the Off-Broadway play The Steadfast with his large painting “Legacy,” a grand sweep of the American military story; and teaches art to veterans as part of the Fordham Veteran Initiative. For the past three and a half years, he’s also been working on a project called Proudly She Served, a series of 12 portraits that honors active duty military and veteran women who exemplify courage, which he plans to finish by February 2022.
“Art has a job to do. Some art is decorative to make people’s home life experience richer, and the paintings I’ve been making since 2003—the military-oriented pieces that give honor to men and women who wear the uniform—those paintings are to remind people who see them of all the men and women who volunteer to fight for us, wear the flag on their shoulder and are confronted with situations that they never thought they’d have to face. I have such admiration for the men and women in uniform who exhibit such courage,” Alpert says.
Splitting his time between his Quogue and Manhattan homes pre-COVID, his art interests continue to evolve, with his focus shifting from military scenes to portraits, both military and civilian, for the last three years. “The most satisfying thing, to me, is to have executed a painting, putting my unconscious best and conscience best onto the canvas,” he says. “I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing! I think it’s important to wake up in the morning and love what you do. My work is my pleasure!”
Whether he’s painting a triumphant military scene or a somber one, a luscious landscape or a soulful portrait, Alpert knows that each work serves a purpose, be it decorative, memorial or philanthropic. “I make them for myself, but I feel that my paintings have a job to do, and my job is to get those painting out into the world and let them do their work.”
Desire takes place on the lawn of Alpert’s Quogue home (29 Old Main Road) on Saturday, August 22, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. The rain date is Sunday, August 23. To see more of his work, visit stevealpertart.com.