12, 2000, Sunday
ISLAND WEEKLY DESK
of Getting Into Costume
BRAFF (NYT) 871 words
PARTYING in costume is a way for artists
to be creative and sociable at the same time.
When Ellen Frank, whose studio is in Springs, completes her plans
for a medieval themeevent
later this year, it will augment a tradition that has produced amusement,
sparkle and memories, along with a chance to try out alternative
identities for a brief while.
Eastern Long Island can
trace its history of artists using costumes back to Thomas Moran
(1837-1926), who collected a range of costumes, as Ms. Frank does
A series of 1980's costume
balls by the Parrish Art Museum and by the Artists Alliance of
East Hampton (originally named the Jimmy Ernst Artists Alliance)
have left rich recollections of creative costuming.
The cartoonist Charles
Addams was the judge for the Parrish Museum's 1984 edition of
its Beaux-Arts Ball, to which guests were asked to dress as a
favorite work of art. ''Just about every artist on Eastern Long
Island participated,'' said Anke Jackson, a museum official.
The concept for the event,
modeled after the Beaux-Arts Ball in Paris, was developed by a
member of the museum's Region Council, Gayle Willson, in the hope
of creating a warmer relationship between the institution and
''Artists really got
into it here,'' Ms. Willson recalled, describing one guest dressed
as a Magritte painting, complete with a black hat and green apples.
''They did some mammoth
things,'' she added. ''There were multi-artist costumes, like
a Frederick Remington sculpture group that included cowboy, Indian
and horse; an interpretation of Picasso's 'Guernica' mural; and
a white-painted group recreating a George Segal sculpture. That
cluster of artists even danced together all night.''
She has special memories
of Rocco Liccardi's creations, including a daring tableau based
on Pieter Bruegel's painting ''The Massacre of the Innocents.''
And Mr. Liccardi speaks fondly of his prize-winning costumes based
on a Jackson Pollock drip painting and on a Georgia O'Keeffe depiction
of a cow skull.
''People change when
they go into costume, and projects like this trigger the imagination,''
he said. ''It's fascinating to see what people come up with, and
it's fun to see what you can do in terms of making a costume.''
Another ambitious award-winning
creation was based on Leonardo da Vinci's mural ''The Last Supper.''
''We rehearsed our poses,''
recalled Ian Hornak, an East Hampton artist who took one of the
13 roles. ''At the proper moment for judging, we all struck our
positions in front of our huge, cloth-covered table, painted with
grapes, bread and goblets.''
He also has special memories of a costumed tableau that suggested
a Persian miniature. ''A dozen of us surrounded the central figure,
who was carried in an ornate sedan chair,'' he said. ''That creation
won the top prize, too.''
Both the costumes and
the decorations made memories at the series of Red, Black and
White Balls that the Artists Alliance presented for a decade,
first at a firehouse in Springs and later at Guild Hall, the television
studio at LTV in Wainscott and the Parrish Museum. Themes included
old movies, a night at the opera, vampires, the Roaring 20's,
the circus, outer space and science fiction.
''To carry out the space
exploration idea, we suspended a foam board rocket ship with red
paper streamers from the ceiling air-conditioning vent, so the
stream of air simulated the fiery vibrations of a rocket blast,''
said Brian Leaver, an Amagansett artist who conceived and executed
the decorations once the annual theme was determined. ''We also
had tiny white lights attached to black plastic sheets covering
Surrealism was Mr. Leaver's
favorite costume party theme. After placing black photography
paper over the walls, he applied a tumbling white stream-of-consciousness
line over the entire surface.
''These were terrific projects, for a good cause, and doing something
for a group of artists was gratifying,'' Mr. Leaver said. ''Since
we usually could get access to a space only two days before the
event, and there was really no money available, it was a challenge,
but one I enjoyed. The freedom the project allowed was a welcome
challenge, too, and the physicality involved in drawing rapidly
on such a large scale was wonderful.''
Although there has not
been an Artists Alliance ball since 1995, the organization hopes
to revive the project. ''Artists love to express themselves like
this,'' said the group's president, Diana Plitt. ''It appeals
to their theatrical nature, and they can impress their peers.''
Amy Zerner, a Springs artist, said that
being in costume transforms people. ''It inspires them to get
in touch with other energies,'' she said, ''and it changes the
chemistry of a room when people use their imaginations like that.''