In the fall of 2012, the Northeast was struck with the unprecedented force of monster storm Hurricane Sandy that irreparably damaged lives, altered landscapes and neighborhoods, disrupting families and communities in devastating ways. The shores of Staten Island were among the areas hardest hit with devastation that overwhelmed not only the immediate areas but incurred a major psychic wound shattering any sense of security for those inhabiting shore communities throughout the world.
On the north end of Staten Island is Sailors’ Snug Harbor, originally constructed as a refuge from the storm for generations of maritime veterans who had braved the elements on the sea, the same sea that now had cruelly inundated this island with an unrelenting fury and devastation witnessed throughout the world.
Although perched on a promontory above the Bay on the north side of the island, avoiding the direct hit of a storm surge, the historic complex, now a vibrant cultural center, did not escape the ravages of the storm, with beloved landmark trees uprooted on the grounds.
And yet it is within this safe, Snug Harbor that an art exhibition of the work of the local artist David Loncle, thought to be a casualty of the storm devastation, would instead be a gathering place of hope, bringing together ravaged survivors, binding gathered people together in community, and also multigenerationally, through the crucible of the experience of art, whose transforming mechanism was strongly evident during the short time this exhibition inhabited the space in this quiet refuge.
Indeed, the Art Lab, nestled in a building behind the historic Temple Row of Sailors’ Snug Harbor where the exhibition was installed, would prove to be a refuge not only from the storm, but also from the hype and self centered obsessive venturing that characterizes so much in the art world today.
The opening of the exhibition was marked by a steady stream of visitors from throughout the island and the rest of the city whose memories and consciousness had been seared with visions and experience of horrific loss.
The art itself would prove an extraordinary catalyst for renewal and healing. The masterful paintings with their complex and visionary evolution throbbed with life and thrived in the light of the gallery, for this is art in its layering and application that endlessly reflects and exists in a dialogue with the light that confronts it and then is bounced back kaleidoscopically to the viewer and the surrounding space of the room. The experience of the work becomes a source of wonder itself, bringing the viewer back again and again as new light, relationships and perspectives, minute and monumental, capture light and release it back to the heart and the soul.
These are not facile works, but major creations, the stunning product of months of life and work, and embedded in them are insights, emotions, dialogue and music that easily enthrall.
For the survivors on this storm-washed island, the paintings in the room became as magnetic as a myriad of infinitesimal lighthouses guiding the eye and the spirit to a home place, a realm in which an intrinsic and overwhelming benevolence resides, entrancing and then transforming the viewer and almost engendering a private dialogue that easily becomes public and shared when others are in the space at the same time.
Remarkably, on many occasions, the artist David Loncle was there to engage in complementary and benignly confrontational colloquy with the visitors in gentle, thoughtful exchanges that were enhancing and profound, provoking and eliciting further explorations and enlightenment.
The transformations that were occurring were deeply moving.
At first, and in continuing process, these recent survivors of the storm were seen greeting, sharing and knitting together community in their relating of the horrors experienced and the assessment of missing place and people, and then renewing and reconnecting, all surrounded by the watchful gaze of the paintings. Attention would shift back and forth to the paintings with their benevolent, visual embrace, in which a cacophony of both riotous and studied color and applied paint would appear and then yield most wonderfully and easily to the discovery of light in a heart and spirit-binding flow that would exist in ever present emanation, so that the paintings too would soon become part of the dialogue, guiding and shaping the repartee in ways that were affirming and empowering.
People who had arrived with vestiges of hopeless exasperation and desolation were seen transformed as they left the space, affirmed and uplifted.
The bringing together and binding was extraordinary also in its reach through many generations from the young elementary school children who seemed entranced with continuing discoveries to the older generations, some arriving with physical difficulty looking at creation with old but new eyes, just as the children would look with new eyes that would grow and age in the remarkable space.
The coming together and binding was taking place on other levels also:
As an art event, this gathering brought together artists from the Staten Island art community and beyond, from some of the youngest children exploring art in classes to the teenagers torn away from their social media and textualization to interact with this very living art, to the veteran artists who make up the strong artistic community of the island.
Mr. Loncle is an important transitional and linking figure in this regard. He was a prized student of the much beloved artist and teacher, Pat Passlof who trained and inspired generations of artists on this same island, and here one could witness Mr. Loncle effortlessly continuing the same tradition, with patient and illuminating colloquies about his art with visitors of all ages and generations, but especially in dialogues of great import with emerging student artists from the island who had come to the gallery.
For some of the veteran artists, who had been fellow members of the art community with Pat Passlof, this was a quiet yet powerful affirmation of the continuity of the artistic tradition on the island so brilliantly in evidence here.
During its short run, the exhibition also drew artists and academics from Manhattan and other boroughs of the region, thus connecting this rather small but spectacular happening to the larger art world that is often overwhelmed with itself, but here on this quiet, wounded island, a quite extraordinary breakthrough had occurred, binding together community and generations, while connecting to the finite and the infinite at the same time in an affirmation of life that is also at the heart of the artistic process and intrinsically characterizes its importance to all human endeavor.