Sunday, September 14, 2008

Kapell Gallery Presents WET PAINT

The Secret Abstract World of an American Sign Painter
Sherrill B. (RiP) Pemberton

October 11-December 14, with a reception October 11th from 5–7

Show designed and curated in cooperation with Megan Barron

(Click on images to enlarge)

Sherrill B. Pemberton was born in 1910, one of 13 children of Henry and Daisy Mae Pemberton of Greenport, New York. Nicknamed RiP, he showed an early interest in music and art. After graduating from Greenport High School, he worked as a house painter with his father. Later, he took a job at Greenport Basin & Construction Co. as a ship painter and letterer. With the onset of World War II, the shipyard became active in the war effort. During this time, RiP designed and produced the shipyard newsletter “Bowline”, which he illustrated with patriotic cartoons. He joined the navy in 1943.

After the war RiP completed his training at Boston School of Practical Art and returned to the East End, where he married and started a sign business. His work was ubiquitous in the North Fork landscape from the 1950s through the mid-70s. He created many of the iconic signs of the time, including the famous roadside billboards of Mitchell’s Restaurant & Marina and signs for Soundview Motel, Claudio’s, South Ferry, Rothman’s Dept. Store, William J. Mills & Co., Fleet Lumber among countless others. All the while, he led a band on piano, which he'd taught himself to play.

When RiP moved to a nursing home in 2000, we had the good fortune to purchase the contents of his studio. It was just as he left it, carefully packed with paints, brushes, and random discarded materials for indulging his secret passion: abstract painting.

Sorting through an eclectic collection of painted whimsies on scrap wood, cardboard, carpet remnants, and other odd materials, we unearthed a large archive, bound in twine, of small, exquisite abstract paintings. They are executed in oil on 7” x 12” coated-paper “Wet Paint” signs used by painting contractors years ago; and 4” x 7” coated-paper signs advertising a circa 1960 used car sale. Some abstracts are painted on the blank side, while others incorporate the printed letters in the work. We estimate that RiP worked on this trove for at least a decade beginning circa 1960. None are signed.

The influence of Jackson Pollock draws a common thread through much of the work. In addition, shades of Salvador Dali and Japanese art are also present. But because RiP kept this side of his artistic life secret even from his closest friends and family, it is not known precisely which other artists, if any, he admired.

Bold ivory, deep red, neon orange, and cobalt saturate many of RiP’s lively compositions. Abundant playfulness is at the heart of the swirls and splotches, the gestural overlay, the forward momentum of a repeated pattern. Occasionally representative forms appear: a grove of dark pine trees against sea and sky rendered in an unusual combination of pink, ochre, & turquoise, or white lines of paint forming into a lone figure against a black background.

RiP passed away in 2004, but not before winning the Greenport Poster Contest at age 91 and creating a series of pastel paintings of local lighthouses at the nursing home. If not the first, RiP was one of the earliest native-born abstract artists of the North Fork.

We are pleased to offer a sampling of this historic archive to the public for the first time at “Wet Paint,” a show and sale of 32 paintings. We will also display some of RiP’s whimsies, signs, and cartoons, although these items will not be for sale. Gallery hours are by chance or appointment.

400 Front Street
Post Office Box 463
Greenport, New York 11944