Greenport has become a beacon to artists over the past ten years. Whether it’s the seaside ambience, the local food scene, or just something in the air – there is a bohemian draw here that’s undeniable. Perhaps it’s the proclivity of North Forkers to stay low-key even in the face of booming tourism and exploding popularity – rivaling that of their Hamptons neighbors to the south – that has made them the anti-hip heroes of a new generation of young artists and entrepreneurs. Now boasting nearly a dozen art galleries, Greenport has easily the highest concentration of exhibitions on the North Fork; and you can see them all in one night during the Greenport Gallery Walk, held on the first Friday of every month. For this issue of NF Insider we picked the brains of two gallery owners for their thoughts on the burgeoning Greenport art scene: Caroline Waloski of Siren’s Song Gallery which opened in 2006, and Jonathan Weiskopf who just opened VSOP Projects a few months ago.
Caroline is a veteran of the Greenport art scene who has been part of the Gallery Walk since its inception in 2008. She is also a member of the Greenport Business Improvement District and an avid promoter of local artists.
GNF: Why do you think there are so many art galleries in Greenport?
CW: Because there are a lot of artists in Greenport. We actually had even more before 2008. At one point we had 11 galleries, and then with the [recession] many of them closed. Then there were only about 3 galleries and over time we rebuilt everything, but the light here is great, a lot of people relocate here who are in the arts.
GNF: Would you say it’s become something of a magnet for local artists?
CW: It’s a magnet, yeah. First of all Greenport is the only village on the north fork that has so much water access, so that’s an attraction in itself. And then we have wonderful restaurants, as well as [Kontokosta] winery and the Greenport Harbor Brewery. All of those things come together to make it a desirable destination.
GNF: How would you describe the current art scene?
CW: All of the galleries are contemporary art, with different leanings. Some are more realistic, some are abstract. Gallery M for instance is a very high end craft gallery. Hector deCordova used to have a full gallery, now he’s just showing his own work. Nova Constellasio shows her own work, she’s an oil painter. At the South Street Gallery Amy Worth does her own work but she mostly shows other artists. At Greenport Harbor Brewery they have their own art gallery upstairs. Then at Olive Studios [Carla Oberlander] does murals and painted furniture and decorative items. VSOP is a new gallery, [Jonathan] curates very conceptual art, he has furniture but it’s very abstract concept furniture. There’s also a new gallery [North Fork Art Collective] opening on Front Street. I wish them success because the more galleries there are the better it is for the group. It becomes a destination because people come here, and if they don’t like one gallery there is always something else to see.
GNF: And what about your own gallery?
CW: I show my own work but I show other works as well. Mainly New York artists, some international artists. The gallery is a mixed style but I’m a print maker, so I do a lot of etching, wood block, and linoleum cuts. I tend to have a lot of artists in that medium, but I also have painters and sculptors and the like.
GNF: So then prints are your medium of choice?
CW: I’m partial to the multiples - hand-made prints. It’s a down and dirty business. I used to work in advertising and I’d be at my studio at my night doing etching, rubbing the paints, and I’d have all the ink underneath my fingernails so I’d have to dip my hands in Clorox so that I could make a presentation. Sometimes I’d be making a presentation to my clients and I’d have my hands behind my back the whole time because I looked like some kind of garage mechanic.
GNF: That’s passion right there. You also seem to be particularly focused on the ocean motif.
CW: Well we’re in Greenport, it’s maritime, and my work prior to coming here was focused on women’s issues and feminist type issues. People would come in, and since I had named the gallery Siren’s Song, they were always asking me about mermaids. I thought it was appropriate. Life comes from the water. Babies are born in water. Water created us from little amoebas in the beginning of the world; so I became interested in this amniotic-sea concept. And you know, mermaids, water, life, everything comes from the water. We’re 75% water.
On the west end of Front Street we caught up with Jonathan Weiskopf at VSOP Projects - whose gallery immediately stands out for the colorful permanent abstract installation "A Woman in Motion" by Naomi S Clark on the side of the building. Weiskopf is the new kid on the block but he feels he has been warmly welcomed by the Greenport community.
GNF: What brings you to the North Fork?
JW: I’ve been living here full time since last year. I own a house in Southold. My sister got married in the area four years ago at Martha Clara Vineyards and we all really enjoyed our time out in Mattituck. Then we came back out year after year, and slowly started going further east. First we discovered Southold, then we discovered Greenport. We fell in love with the area and then moved here when I finished graduate school last May.
GNF: And then you decided to open an art gallery here?
JW: This project has been in the works for about three years. I had an art gallery years ago. I closed it and went back to school at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and got two degrees. Ever since I started graduate school I knew that this project was going to be what I landed on, but I didn’t really have a complete sense of what the space would look like and where it would live. The closer I got to finishing grad school the more this began to crystalize - after spending more time here, falling in love [with Greenport], and making some new friends. It felt like the puzzle pieces were fitting together in a way that looked right for me and this is just such an incredible place to live.
GNF: What do you think makes Greenport so attractive to artists?
JW: I’ve had my eye on Greenport for a while and it has all of the moving parts that I think are right for a gallery like this. There are a lot of young business owners here and a lot of brand new businesses. It has the right kind of company you would want for a [artist] scene like this, great restaurants and a great community. It’s a tremendous place to have people come visit, whether its friends, family, or clients. One of my favorite things about this place is that the food that I eat and the wine that I drink is grown right around the block from my house. It’s easy for me to go to all of the places I like to go and it’s just the sweetest home.
GNF: I was interested in your gallery because it was a bit different – kind of an abstract sculpture, mid-century modern vibe.
JW: What sets me apart is that I work with both artists and designers, which is a bit of an unusual thing for this setting. I have a network of artists that I work with from around the country: Massachusetts, Connecticut, graduate students at Yale and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. I also have some international artists that bring work in, many of whom haven’t been shown in the United States before. I have a British woman who is a furniture maker whose work is being shown here for the first time in the US. I have a Japanese potter who lives in London, a Danish painter from Copenhagen. Again, this is the first time their work is being exhibited in the United States. So it’s many of those kinds of projects that set us apart from what has been typical for Greenport.
GNF: Would you say it’s been well received thus far?
JW: I’m very happy, obviously there are lots of ways to gauge the success of an art gallery during its first season. I feel very welcomed by my neighbors, both the people that live in the area and the other business owners. I’m new here and I recognize that I’m doing something that could be perceived in any number of ways, so I’m really glad to be welcomed for what I’m doing, and for being someone that this community is open to.
Read more about the Greenport Gallery Walk here - the next walk is October 6th 6-9PM. The Greenport Gallery Walk runs every first Friday of the month through December 1st.