LONG ISLAND—There’s something special happening in Wainscott, the tony yet unassuming town between Sagaponack and East Hampton on Long Island’s South Fork. Off route 27, on Ardsley Road, sits a 2,400-sq ft warehouse that’s the new home of Tripoli Gallery. Formerly on Jobs Lane in Southampton, and founded by Tripoli Patterson in 2009, the new gallery space is larger with higher ceilings and is replete with parking out front. Mr. Patterson has curated and organized hundreds of exhibitions showcasing the best local artists like Darius and Nico Yektai, the late Keith Sonnier, and internationally acclaimed artists like Ashley Bickerton. And now, in the wake of Covid-19 —and in response to the myriad of challenges posed therein to the business of being open for business— ‘Trip’, as he’s called by friends, together with Max Levai (son of Marlborough gallery patriarch, Pierre Levai), collector Bob Rubin and the design firm Bean LA, have created the first exhibition space designed entirely with the pandemic-forced governmental mandates pertaining to safety and social distancing in mind. The result is pure genius and ingenious: Here, art is to be experienced in solitary confinement, solo. And as such, a new moniker: Alone Gallery. Best of all, this new art-viewing-at-the-gallery-concept forces the visitor to have a dialogue with no one but themselves and the paintings on hand. There are no distractions or queries from a sales agent. No sounds other than the pulsing of one’s heart. But the gallery unravels its true power and magic slowly, especially with the current show by an artist whose fundamental interest in life other than painting is meditation.
First, an appointment has to be made for entry via their website. After selecting a date and time, the gallery will send a confirmation email and text. On the day of your viewing, you will be granted a half hour alone in the gallery. You may, if you must, bring up to three quarantine partners along for the experience, but don’t. Stick to the concept and come alone. Expect no one to assist you upon arrival. Expect no gallery staffer behind a big white desk once inside. Expect only a text message and email to give you the day’s secret passcode for entry just before the visit. Pray for WiFi and make sure to charge your phone’s battery in the car while sitting in traffic getting there, because there will be traffic getting there whether you’re coming from Montauk or up-island. Press the code numbers on the door’s entry panel. Turn the door handle upwards to get in, not downwards. But before entering (and cameras are everywhere watching), you must slip on some plastic footwear coverings by stepping one-foot-at-a-time into this metal tissue-box-looking contraption on the ground immediately outside the entrance door. Don’t worry; another text will be sent to you if you try to skip over this process as I did. The process of getting inside might seem like an obstacle, but once inside, the modern-mind’s constant ‘on’ switch is almost instantly switched to ‘off’. An immediate peacefulness engulfs the space. The lack of others presents a stillness. A stillness quieted still by that very solitude —and quieted even more by the pictorial majesty humming off the walls in the form of three magnificent paintings by the hand of Cuban artist, Tomás Sánchez.
Born in Aguada de Pasajeros, in the province of Cienfuegos, Cuba, in 1948, Tomás Sánchez began his training as a painter at the age of 16 at the oldest and most prestigious art school in Cuba, the San Alejandro National Academy of Fine Arts. Founded in 1818 by the Frenchman, Jean Baptiste Vermay, the school’s de rigueur tutelage in the fine arts was based on those taught at the French Academy. Drawing was at the heart of it all, the turning of form, the learning of light and shade, chiaroscuro the Italians call it. This solid foundation in the basics of traditional picture-making has served Mr. Sánchez well. His works often sell for six-figures, and his attention to craft forms the basis for all his multifaceted paintings, of which most are landscapes. Paintings that proffer the world an idealized version of itself, or, perhaps more accurately, are an idealized naturalism inspired by his tropical surroundings such as that found around his current home in Costa Rica.
His naturalistic style is oft compared with the German artist, Caspar David Friedrich, just as his treatment of place, space, depth, and meticulous and observant care to nature’s details are often aligned with the Hudson River School. But Mr. Sanchez brings more to his work and is more than an artist who follows in tradition. He is an artist who imbues tradition with modern sentiment and sensibilities. He does so in a way, only a true master of paint can: by breathing life’s mysteries and air into and onto his canvases. His treatment of light, early morning perhaps, captured in Inner Walker, a 2019 acrylic on canvas, whispers gently on the eyes like morning dew clinging gingerly to a blade of grass. The painting’s membrane dances between soft and hard edges to guide the eyes through a labyrinth of Mother Nature’s lush foliage and dense forestry and back again only to settle them softly on a tiny figure standing confidently and still inside this otherworldly tableau. It is because of paintings like this that Gabriel García Márquez once said, “No one escapes the spell cast by Tomás Sánchez.”
Funnily enough, it is for tiny figures in his paintings like this that got him in trouble with Fidel Castro when the artist was young and accused of misanthropy and belittling the Cuban people. Mr. Sánchez’ interest in yoga, Vedanta and Indian philosophies in the late 60s and early 70s made him a target, because such things cut against the grain of the revolutionary patriotism (and communist ideals) sweeping across Cuba at the time; even though he was then teaching (and graduated from) the art school founded by Fidel and Che Guevara, if you can believe it. Mr. Sánchez was eventually dismissed from his teaching position, and his art was burned while other canvases were given to students to paint over. But what would you expect from Fidel who, in 1961, regarding the rights of artists and writers, said: “Within the revolution, everything, against the revolution, no rights at all.”
In the painting “Thought Cloud,” the largest painting in the show, an impressive and rare-looking, sharp-edged cloud cuts through the sky like a machete slicing its way through cane fields. It is the lone wolf in the sky, floating auspiciously over a green and lush, rolling crescent valley field. Its shadow follows tepidly and obediently beneath. Consciously or not, the outline of said shadow mimics the island of Cuba. A metaphor. His past clearly behind him, and he, not Fidel, is now in control of his art-making. And his thoughts. Sitting on the rolling hill in the foreground, in a complete state of zen, one of his tiny figures watches the cloud, his life filled with gravitas and intention, as it passes by. Or perhaps it’s Father Time moving forward, always in one direction only and the artist is giving pause to being still for one moment at a time, to reflect on all that has past, to all that is, and to all that will be. To continue living peacefully, meditatively, and mindfully with nature. To share that with others. One person at a time.