The cover art featured on this month’s Dan’s Papers North Fork issue is the work of Captain Bob Bozek — once president of the Montauk Boatmen and Captains Association, now an 87-year-old artist and resident of Cape Coral, Florida.
The inspiration for this week’s cover came at the request of Bozek’s Shelter Island friend who wanted a painting of the Long Beach Bar Lighthouse, aka Bug Light, which can be seen from Greenport and Shelter Island.
Once given a usable photo to work off of, Bozek spent a month creating his painting and swore he’d never paint Bug Light again because of how immensely detailed it is.
On the way home from Shelter Island, another friend asked for a painting of the same lighthouse, and the cycle continued.
While Bozek’s original vision for the painting included a gray sky, whitecaps and the shoreline in the distance, he soon realized that by turning the sky a dark blue, the lighthouse would pop off the page and grab the viewer’s attention. The cover of this month’s Dan’s Papers North Fork features the latest and most detailed rendition of Bozek’s Bug Light paintings.
A Conversation with Bob Bozek
“Each one, as I paint it, is not a carbon copy of the one I did before. Every one is new and different, but it’s basically the same sketch over and over again,” he says of his paintings that rely on the same reference photo.
Over the years, Bozek has received requests to paint a variety of lighthouses including the Fire Island Lighthouse, Rose Island Lighthouse and Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse. He’s painted the iconic Montauk Lighthouse 49 times from a variety of angles and in several seasons.
“People kept asking for them, and I kept painting them, but I don’t want to get stuck as the artist who paints lighthouses. I like to do other things, but other than my abstract, I haven’t done much else,” he says, clarifying that he does do abstract paintings and painted sneakers dubbed “Captain Bob’s Kicks.”
He continues, “To a lot of people I’m ‘Captain Bob,’ and I have that fishing background, so I think they more or less expect it. … All of the sudden I’m the lighthouse painter, which I don’t really mind.”
Having begun painting under his mother’s tutelage at the age of 12, a professional instructor advised her to give up on her budding painter.
The instructor said, ‘Save your money, he’ll never be an artist. Maybe he can do commercial work, mechanical work, industrial work or be a draftsman.’ So she stopped giving me lessons, but I never stopped painting,” he recalls.
At Oceanside High School, he took every art course they had, helped create sets for the theater group and studied photography as a means of piecing together the school’s first arts major — earning him the title of “Oceanside’s Rembrandt” in the school yearbook.
Bozek went on to work in the newspaper business for four decades, keeping his finger on the art side of things from his early role in production to his final role as the advertising production manager.
While working for Newsday in the 1950s, Bozek and former investigative reporter Bob Greene were founding members of a St. Anthony’s High School gridiron club that sought to fundraise the creation of a football team for the school.
In coming up with a logo for the team that was to be called the “Friars,” Bozek drew up the image of a galloping friar, a small monk atop a speeding racehorse, which has since become ingrained in St. Anthony’s tradition and iconography, and can still be seen within the school.
“I think that was maybe my greatest accomplishment — to do that and have it last this long — that was something that I created and that gave a name to their football team.”
Bozek painted in a shared Manhattan studio until a fire marshal closed the artists down in 1961. His focus shifted away from painting after that, when he left New York City and moved to Smithtown.
He didn’t return to painting in an official capacity until 2017 when his daughter Meghan, now acting as his art manager, asked him to paint a triptych of a giant tuna for her home, then a painting of the Mystery House, then her dogs on the beach.
“That started me again. It opened the floodgates, and I never stopped,” Bozek says, adding that in the six years since he’s returned to his art, he has created 159 paintings. He goes on to say that there was one additional person responsible for his passionate return to the paintbrush: beloved Long Island artist Danny Pollera, who died unexpectedly in March 2022.
“Danny and I went back quite a ways,” Bozek shares, noting that the friends both received their boat captain’s license at the same time and from the same tutor, both had lived in Baldwin Harbor, both attended but didn’t graduate from SUNY Farmingdale and both painted many of the same subjects. “I had great respect for Danny Pollera. He was my inspiration to start this again, even after Meghan prodded me. I did a little bit for her, but he got me going … he gave me a lot of inspiration. Even though I was about 20 years his senior, our paths kind of followed along.”
Bozek describes the style of his non-abstract art, such as the Bug Light cover, as post-impressionistic with influences including Paul Cézanne. “I’m not a realist like Danny Pollera was, by any means, but I don’t try to be,” he says.
Currently, Bozek is working to complete a total of 35 small paintings for the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce Arts & Crafts Fair on June 17 and 18. Expect to see lighthouses, abstract works and possibly Captain Bob’s Kicks, but don’t expect anything from his personal Sleeping Beauty series.
“I have a series of my wife sleeping on the sofa; I call it ‘Sleeping Beauty.’ I’m doing number five of her sleeping on the couch now,” he adds. “I do that for my personal enjoyment, and she allows me to hang them in my studio.”