The Fire Island Ferry Source: Getty Images

Day-Tripping to Fire Island for Art's Sake

Dr. William Kapfer READ TIME: 12 MIN.

Let me take you on a captivating journey through my recent day trip to Fire Island Pines. Now, I must confess, I've been visiting the Pines for over two decades, but this was the first time I decided to embark on a "day trip" adventure. I felt like one of those spirited Long Island natives, coming over on weekends with their umbrellas and folding chairs, ready to bask in the sun on the inviting sandy shores; and indeed, I was ready to relax, reset, and rejuvenate.

My sole purpose for this visit was to attend the much-anticipated Fire Island Pines Arts Project's biennial, a celebration of creativity and talent at Whyte Hall. But before I could revel in the vibrant world of art, I had to conquer my own version of "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles"– the classic comedy starring Steve Martin and the late John Candy.

You see, getting to Fire Island can be a bit of an adventure, and it always brings back memories of hilarious misadventures.

My odyssey began early Saturday morning, when I left my apartment and hopped on the subway at the crack of dawn, 8 a.m. sharp. The subway whisked me away to the bustling Penn Station, where I boarded the 8:45 Long Island Rail Road, eagerly heading east toward Sayville. Now, most trips out of Penn Station usually require a train switch along the way, typically in Babylon or Jamaica Station. Luckily for me, my connection was a breeze, right across the platform at Jamaica.

After just over two hours on the train, we arrived at the charming Sayville LIRR depot. As I stepped off the train, a fleet of white Colonial Transportation shuttles greeted us with a promise of a swift ride to the ferry terminal. The summer months bring forth these shuttles, charging a mere $6 for a quick one-way trip directly to the dock. Just a friendly reminder, make sure to have cash on hand since they don't accept credit cards. The shuttle ride itself took a delightful five minutes, and I was ready to set sail across the shimmering waters.

Aerial view of ferry docking on Fire Island

Upon arriving at the island, I couldn't wait to rush to our beach house, conveniently nestled near the art show's venue. The air was buzzing with excitement as I settled down with my dear housemates, relishing a moment of pure bliss with a freshly brewed cup of coffee.

A special shoutout goes to my talented housemate, Dennis Trunfio, an award-winning producer behind remarkable productions like "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window" and the acclaimed "Eisenhower: This Piece of Ground." Dennis truly outdid himself that morning, taking coffee brewing to a whole new level. With meticulous care, he prepared the Joe using a stove-top espresso maker, affectionately known as an Italian moka pot.

The moka pot's magic lies in its unique process, where finely ground coffee dances with hot water, creating a velvety elixir that indulges the senses. The result? A cup of liquid bliss that often tastes sweet and nutty, with delightful hints of chocolate and coffee. A true morning awakening and a treat that never fails to delight the senses as I embrace the day ahead.

SAGE cart and driver Larry Tallamy

Touched by Art

I arrived at the Art Show at 12:01 p.m. for the FIPAPA Patron Preview. I was one of three people in the queue; there was a stately couple ahead of me, I'd guess in their mid-70's. She was particularly elegant with her quaffed hair teased out just so. I remember my mom, a former hairdresser, excelled at high 'dos, particularly during the 1980s when teased hairstyles were popular. Now retired and in her 80s, she once shared that modern beauty schools simply don't emphasize backcombing or teasing for adding volume in today's training. Despite the evolution of trends, teased hairstyles remain a part of fashion history.

The couple had just been dropped off by the Fire Island Pines SAGE Cart; I actually stepped aside as I was ascending the ramp to the venue to get out of the way of the cart as its driver, Larry Tallamy, skillfully maneuvered the narrow ramp that leads from the boardwalk to the entrance of Whyte Hall.

Patrons at Fire Island Pines Arts Project's biennial

Masterfully Mobile

The Fire Island Pines SAGE cart has actually been a lifeline to many who are unable to get around the island on their own. The thoughtful and practical SAGE initiative was designed to assist older individuals and those with mobility issues in navigating the beautiful surroundings of Fire Island Pines.

SAGE stands for Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders. The dedicated Sage Cart volunteers provide an essential service free of charge to both residents and visitors in the Pines. The Mobility Cart offers hundreds of trips every season to anyone who needs transportation assistance, ensuring that everyone has reliable and accessible transportation.

After paying my $10 entrance fee I entered the beautifully staged art show. Guests walked into a host of curated panels and staged areas of various art, including photographs, oil paintings, watercolors, and mixed medium pieces.

When I first stepped into the show, my eyes were immediately drawn to the artists I knew and admired, and at the top of my list was none other than Mark Beard. As an accomplished artist and renowned set designer, he has a unique way of exploring the intricate dynamics that exist in relationships between men. From athleticism and sportsmanship, to camaraderie and bromance, his art delves into the many facets of love.

Artists Mark Beard and Kenn Nadel

Mark Beard on the Make Form

What has always fascinated me about Mark's work (full disclosure: we have three of his pieces in our New York apartment) is his indelible capture of the male form, which fearlessly explores themes of gay eroticism, harkening back to the aesthetic of Bruce Weber. It was as if his brushstrokes effortlessly incorporated the essence of the men, celebrating sensuality and intimacy within the LGBTQ+ community.

There is a certain realism and vulnerability in his pieces as well that strike a chord within me, making them so evocative and thought provoking. I admire how his art goes beyond mere physical beauty, aiming to convey a profound emotional and psychological depth that resonated with audiences worldwide. Mark's art has become an instant personal favorite of mine, leaving me in awe of his ability to challenge societal norms and celebrate the diverse expressions of human desire through his masterpieces.

Dr. William Capfer and Ron Chereskin

Ron Chereskin: Visionary Creations

After thoroughly enjoying Mark's captivating art, I couldn't resist the opportunity to say hello to the renowned artist and designer, Ron Chereskin.

As I ventured into my friend's exhibit, I was instantly mesmerized by the striking diversity of his creations, a testament to his remarkable journey through a brilliant career.

From humble beginnings as a freelance illustrator, to soaring heights with award-winning magazine covers and commissioned artworks, Ron's path has been awe inspiring. Discovering that one of his illustrious pieces graces the esteemed library of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, and even graces the prestigious MOMA, left me truly awestruck.

His undeniable talent and boundless creativity beckoned me closer, drawn to the intricate details and emotional depth in each masterpiece. Spending time with Ron was an absolute delight, witnessing the passion and dedication he pours into his art, leaving an indelible impression of his extraordinary artistic prowess.

At the Pines show, I couldn't resist acquiring a captivating yet simple silkscreen from Ron's collection: "Optical Stripes." It fills me with excitement as I eagerly await the joy of displaying this treasured piece in our own personal gallery.

Joseph Conforti's art

Joseph Conforti: Artistic Transition

Joseph Conforti, a versatile artist hailing from New York, has captured hearts with his innovative paste sculpting and captivating paintings. Known for his intricately detailed sculptures that breathe life into ordinary pages, Joseph's artistry elevates the beauty of the everyday. His mastery over paste sculpting is renowned, and admirers are spellbound by the way he transforms simple materials into stunning works of art. However, recently, Joseph has embarked on an exciting new journey, shifting his focus from sculpture to painting.

In this new phase, Joseph Conforti brings his keen eye for detail and mastery of form to the canvas. His paintings, his crafted wall hangings–made in the traditional Japanese Raku style–showcase his use of organic textures and vibrant tones, exuding a distinctive blend of realism and abstract expression

All added up: he creates a visual language that deeply resonates with viewers. As he delves into this uncharted territory, Joseph's unwavering dedication to storytelling through art remains unchanged.

Court Watson and his art

Court Watson: A Queer Artistic View

Also at the show, the spotlight shone on the award-winning set and costume designer Court Watson, a talented queer artist who brings a unique perspective to his art. Painting from life, Court is fortunate to have a selection of alluring models in New York City and across the globe. His drawings and watercolors beautifully celebrate male sensuality and wit, pushing boundaries and transcending convention.

With remarkable finesse, Court skillfully leverages watercolors and ink on cutout toned Canson paper mounted on various colors of leather to portray the depth of human emotions and connections through male nudes. A notable connection between the artists emerged as one of Court's pieces was drawn from a live model at Mark Beard's salon.

Not only did Court showcase his captivating male solo drawings, but he also presented recent ink and acrylic drawings featuring the iconic and ironic slogan, "WE ARE HAPPY TO SERVE YOU."

You might recognize this slogan from the blue, white and gold Greek coffee cups found all over New York City. These cups, known as "Anthora," have a rich history rooted in Greco-Roman culture, with Court brilliantly infusing the Greek coffee cup pattern with his naughty Greek lover images, making his work truly genius and evocative.

Cole Puetz and his art

Cole Puetz: Art as Psychoanalysis

Another talented queer artist at the show was Cole Puetz. Drawing inspiration from the works of great masters, such as Bruce Sargent, Paul Cadmus, and Lucian Freud, Cole embraces their influences while infusing his unique perspective and lived experiences into every brushstroke.

A passionate and visionary creative, Cole uses his craft to illuminate the multifaceted tapestry of the LGBTQ+ existence by expressing profound emotions and stories that resonate with viewers, while offering himself a personal form of expression and exploration as he leverages art to work through his own personal life experiences and trauma.

As a self-taught artist, Cole has been honing his skills and creating his works using oil paints and various media for over 6 years.

His artistic journey has been a testament to the beauty of the queer relationships he has lived and experienced, weaving those experiences into vibrant, evocative and surreal works of art.

Drawing inspiration from the works of great masters, such as Bruce Sargent, Paul Cadmus, and Lucian Freud, Cole embraces their influences while infusing his unique perspective and lived experiences into every brushstroke.

Cole's art is a celebration of queer love, resilience, and self-discovery, becoming a visual tribute to the diversity and complexities within the LGBTQ+ community.

His artistic vision is fueled by the belief that art serves as a universal language, capable of evoking emotions that words often fail to convey.

As he continues his artistic journey, he's setting his sights on enriching the dialogue surrounding LGBTQ+ experiences through creating work that celebrates queer lives and encourages conversation about what it means to be a queer individual in the modern day.

The poster art for the Fire Island Pines Arts Project's biennial

There's No Place Like Home

I was on the 1:55 pm Ferry from Fire Island Pines to Sayville, where I had a lucky encounter with a car and driver who got me to midtown by 4:00 pm. It was like a whirlwind journey!

With some time to spare, I decided to make the most of it. So, I dashed off to squeeze in a quick workout before getting dressed up for the theater. I felt so energized and ready for the show!

The world, they say, can be an ugly, brutal place. But I don't see the world that way; I see beauty everywhere. But to do so, one must seek it out. I did just that, and what I found were enclaves of heroes who are championing love, diversity and most of all equality.

I am eternally grateful for this beauty.

by Dr. William Kapfer

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