Bridgehampton’s Liz Gribin: A “Living Legend”
By Kathryn Georgette
With a nomination for a National Medal of Arts, an award given by the President of the United States from the National Council of the Arts, and continued success throughout galleries across the United States, Liz Gribin, Bridgehampton painter, continues to evolve into one of Long Island’s most celebrated artists.
“It’s a lovely honor,” said Gribin of the nomination. The nomination, which was initiated through her alma mater, Boston University, is the highest honor given by the United States Government to artists and arts patrons.
Gribin is not new to receiving such accolades, having won numerous awards for her acrylics on canvas from The National Association of Women’s Artists, the National Arts Club, and the National Society of Painters. She also received the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Advancing Arts on Long Island in 1996 and in 2000 was named a “Living Legend” during the United States Library of Congress Bicentennial.
Born Elizabeth Poser in London in 1934, Gribin was just five years old when her family fled Switzerland, where they were vacationing, for the United States during the summer of 1939, shortly after the Nazis invaded Poland. Gribin’s father descended from Poland, while Gribin’s mother was a Norwegian Jew, which led to the family decision.
“We had no money,” explained Gribin. “We only had our vacation items.” After a delay to collect funds for the trip, the family caught a train to Genoa, and then a ship to New York. The Poser family arrived on Thanksgiving Day, a holiday that would retain special significance for the rest of their lives. Each Thanksgiving, Gribin’s father would stand and toast to the anniversary of their arrival. Gribin went on to study at the Museum of Modern Art School before earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Boston University in 1956.
Boston University is where Gribin learned classical technique. It was then that she was introduced to Paul Wood of Great Neck, who she credits with much of her education in breaking from the classical form and moving into her own unique type of painting. “I needed someone to speak a language I could understand to teach me to break away from the classical technique to make it my own,” explained Gribin. “I was then able to free myself from the conventions I was tied to.”
Inspired by Life Experience
Gribin’s paintings have been self-described as “post-abstract realism,” usually bonding the human form with its environment “breaking into the figure and tying it to the background, so that the figure and ground hold together.” The form and composition is by no means rigid, but free and still cohesive at the same time. Gribin takes time with each of her paintings, giving them time “to cook” in her mind after the initial stages of each work. Influences include Japanese art, which Gribin was drawn to during her tenure at Boston University, Matisse for his use of color, drawings by Picasso, and Californian artist Richard Diebenkorn.
“Many of the pieces are attempting to convey some sort of emotion,” said Gribin. “They’re all inspired by life experience.”
One life experience Gribin drew on for her work Despair, was that of her mothers, when forced to exist with the knowledge that Gribin’s grandmother was living in a concentration camp in Oslo. Despair went on to inspire further paintings such as Sorrow, which touch on the same complex emotions of disillusionment and helplessness felt in such a trying situation. Gribin’s grandmother survived the Oslo camp, “but not very well.”
“Like everybody’s life, there’s good, there’s bad, there’s tragedy, there’s hope, there’s love,” explained Gribin of the rainbow of emotion shown in each of her works.
Currently Gribin is planning a 20-piece show at the Nan Mulford Gallery in Rockland, Maine, which will debut with an artist’s reception on August 4 and run through August 29. Gribin’s work is also featured by the Louis Aronow Gallery in San Francisco and Sausalito, the Elaine Baker Gallery in Boca Raton, and in Boston by the Newbury Fine Arts, among others. Locally the Gayle Willson Gallery in Southampton, the Crazy Monkey in Amagansett, and the Solar Gallery in East Hampton each have a few small pieces or prints of Gribin’s work on display. “My problem with showing locally is that I have so much work already out at other galleries,” said Gribin.
Gribin is however proud to be involved in the community through mentoring and charity art events. The Gribins have been hosting a Mentoring Program for high school seniors from all over Long Island for many years now. The students gather at Gribin’s beautiful Bridgehampton residence, which hosts a painting studio bathed in northern light, and after a demonstration by Gribin, the seniors have the chance to stretch their artistic muscles in the studio for an afternoon.
“I like teaching kids because they’re very open,” commented Gribin.
In addition to mentoring, Gribin’s work will be auctioned for two local charities this summer. The Retreat’s Annual Plate Auction will feature a plate painted by Gribin, which will go on the block on July 31 at the Hampton Classic Horse Show site on Snake Hollow Road. A painted Cigar Box by Gribin will be auctioned off to benefit the East End Hospice at the Ross School on August 7.
Her work is available for viewing online at www.lizgribin.com. Noting that the apple does not fall far from the tree, Gribin’s son (and long time model) David is hosting a photography exhibit, “The Disappearing Hamptons” at Concorde Funding, 29 Hampton Road in Southampton that will run all summer. The exhibit will feature a few of Gribin’s own photographs as well.