The End: James Katsipis Explores Life and Death in Montauk

"Heaven's Gate" by James Katsipis
“Heaven’s Gate” by James Katsipis

James Katsipis, one of the East End’s finest photographers, and a man known for documenting Montauk from its most splendorous to its roughest edges, is exhibiting a selection of his powerful pictures in The End at Manhattan’s Redu Studios. The exhibition opens with a private reception this Wednesday, February 23 from 6–9 p.m.

The End is Katsipis’s first solo show in NYC, and it will run through March 23.

Comprising five large, acrylic-mounted prints and 12 framed C-prints, the exhibition offers viewers a look at images from the artist’s various series, including colorful, painterly abstractions of the ocean using a slow shutter speed, called Blurz; his sensual, black and white Mermaids of Montauk; and, of course, his local Landscapes series, which seems to squeeze every drop of beauty out of each captured moment and puts them on display.

“The concept at the root of the works featured in The End is the near-death experience,” Katsipis’s statement about the exhibition explains, pointing out that he and the Grim Reaper have crossed paths a number of times throughout his life. The photographer adds that he’s also pulled others back from the proverbial ledge, saving them from an untimely demise. “These experiences have made a profound impact on his life and on his work over the years, culminating in this collection,” the artist’s statement continues.

“Nothing makes you think about your own mortality more than being held under water by a giant wave for long period of time,” Katsipis, an avid surfer, concludes.

This connection between Katsipis nearly dying and the photographs on view seems rather ambiguous, but his artistic eye and the quality of his work could not be more clear. Carve through the esoteric talk of death, and one thing is for sure — Katsipis knows Montauk well, and his passion for the hamlet runs as deep as the sea that surrounds it. While his photos represent a diversity of style and approach, all of them shout proclamations of love and affection for his hometown and muse.

That said, Montauk’s most popular sobriquet, The End, is a perfect title for a show informed by death and life on Long Island’s easternmost point.

And maybe the greatest death of all is that of Montauk itself. Anyone who’s spent a lifetime here has seen the The End change from a quiet fishing town dotted with modest homes, to a hot tourist destination with $20 million mansions and trendy NYC pop-up shops, and Katsipis has done what he can to chronicle that which he’s lost.

Among his images at the Redu furniture studio, “Heaven’s Gate” memorializes Montauk’s very first fishing dock, a historic, almost holy place that has since been torn down and replaced, adapting to this new, shinier version of the quirky, often ramshackle burg that attracted wealthy outsiders in the first place. The change is certainly a death of a sort, but photographs like “Heaven’s Gate” and others in Katsipis’s oeuvre feel so much more like a celebration of life, whether he’s looking at bygone days, capturing a luscious sunset, the scene at a new local hotspot, or riding a frigid wave in the winter surf.

Check out The End at Redu Studios in Manhattan (1285 Second Avenue between 67th and 68th streets) through Wednesday, March 23.

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