The popular Dan’s Reimagined East End Arts members show, which tasked participants with creating work inspired by past Dan’s Papers cover art, concluded its monthlong run in Riverhead last Friday, but not before Baiting Hollow painter Eileen Kelly was given the exhibition’s coveted People’s Choice award. Inspired by Elaine de Kooning’s painting on the very first Dan’s cover to feature art (dated September 11, 1987), Kelly’s acrylic painting, “The Journey Within,” earned the most votes from visitors to the show.
Kelly’s stunning, expressionistic piece, measuring 22 by 56 inches, beautifully captures the essence of de Kooning’s take on the famous Paleolithic Lascaux cave paintings while adding her own voice with heavy impasto, earthy tones and more detail to the animals on the cave wall.
“It was incredible,” East End Arts (EEA) Executive Director Diane Burke says of the show’s closing party, where Kelly received her award on Friday. “There were a lot of people who came to the gallery to see the work and see who was the winner.” Burke notes that they had a large turnout at the East End Arts Gallery, which reflected the popularity of the exhibition throughout its run.
“It’s beautiful. … It really was the prize of the show,” Burke says of “The Journey Within,” pointing out that Kelly’s win seemed especially fitting because her painting reimagined the first-ever example of Dan’s cover art. Burke also notes that the award was well-deserved for Kelly who’s done much for the EEA organization. “Since we’ve opened back up post-pandemic, Eileen’s been very involved. She’s volunteered regularly, she’s now teaching at the school and she’s been a real big part of our coming back from closure.”
“It was a tight race!” EEA Membership & Gallery Manager and Dan’s Reimagined creator Wendy Weiss says, explaining that Kelly had stiff competition from several artists, including Patricia Kelly Derenze’s “Ride ’em Out” (inspired by Patricia Feiler’s July 28, 2017 cover), Janet Fink with “Our Water Lily Pond” (inspired by Joe Chierchio’s April 16, 2021 cover), Thomas McSwane’s “Summer View, Moonlight” (inspired by Pamela Topham’s April 26, 2019 cover) and Kim Mendelson with “Headway” (inspired by Howard Stern’s December 18, 2020 cover). “The top 10 were really close,” Weiss says, noting that five pieces sold, and while it was the visitor favorite, “The Jouney Within” is still available.
On Monday, Kelly was still thrilled with her win. “I was very surprised,” she says. “When you have an award based on what people are drawn to, you never really know. So, no, I would never have a feeling that I won something like that, but I’m very happy because that means the feeling that I put into it definitely came through.”
A retired high school math teacher and computer science teacher and robotics coach, and an adjunct math professor at Hofstra University, Kelly says she won’t do anything without fully researching and understanding her subject, and that also proved true with this particular piece. “Nothing for me happens without a lot of thought and research. I’m an educator and I’m a researcher,” she explains. “I love knowledge. I believe that knowledge is power. I love empowering people in knowledge, but I’d also never move forward without a really good feel and understanding of what I’m doing.”
With this in mind, Kelly says she explored the history of Dan’s Papers, eventually landing on an article by Dan’s Papers founder Dan Rattiner, explaining how he began putting the work of local artists on his covers. “I have a lot of art friends who have been featured on Dan’s Papers art covers. I just never really looked into the process of where they began until this show came about.”
Once Kelly felt she understood that piece of the puzzle, she looked for the right cover to reimagine. “I am a huge fan of abstraction and Willem de Kooning’s works. I love Elaine de Kooning’s work, but she’s more of a portrait artist and that is not something that I’ve delved into,” she recalls. “But then I saw she was in the process of doing something that to me was really moving. She was reimagining, or re-imaging, cave paintings … so I needed to really understand what Elaine was feeling when she was trying to do her renditions of the cave paintings,” Kelly continues, noting that she tried replicating de Kooning’s paintings before attempting to make them her own. “I have a whole series of cave paintings right now that led up to that,” she says, calling those initial studies “The Journey Begins” series. And, of course, those led to “The Journey Within.”
“Because of who she was and her work, and her husband’s work, I’m already drawn to (the cave paintings), but because we were re-imaging a painting, and her painting was re-imaging artwork as well, it really had a tremendously deep meaning to me,” Kelly adds. “And I said, ‘Oh, this is perfect because she is re-imaging something that existed before.’”
Kelly says her whole process took more than a month with research, studies and execution. And the entire experience, including being a part of East End Arts and its closing party, was a joy. “It’s a wonderful feeling, it’s a wonderful community, it’s always tremendously fulfilling to be with likeminded people with artistic energy, and sharing inspiration,” she says, adding later, “There’s always a possibility of learning something new.”
See more of Eileen Kelly’s work at eileenkellyart.com. To learn more about East End Arts or join one of Kelly’s classes, visit eastendarts.org.