Town Line Road, like the name implies divides Southampton and East Hampton. When you’re driving east from Bridgehampton, Town Line is on your right just after Town Line Bar-B-Q. Turn right and two miles down the road is the beach referred to by the same name. To the east you can see the Kennedy House on the dunes and the jetties just past Georgica Pond. To the west lies Peters Pond. Town Line beach is usually easy to access but in the evening there might only be a few people there so I’ll find a parking spot close to the beach. I’ve spent countless evenings watching the sun set here. Always beautiful.
I’ve also spent countless nights here watching the moon rise. In the summer the sun sets late and the sky remains twilight until after 9:00. Friends meet for a beach fire sometimes impromptu. I load up the jeep and set up before dark. I bring firewood, a shovel, some beach chairs, a table, a grill, a Coleman lantern, a garbage can, a cooler and anything else that we might need, drive onto the beach and unload everything. Sometimes others show up and bring their own blanket or chairs. Sitting by a beach fire and having a cold beer and a hotdog on a paper plate is more enjoyable than waiting 15 minutes for a table some place that can’t make anything as good as hotdog or hamburger at the beach. You can’t compare the ambience to anywhere else. Having a beach fire is allowed by permit in Southampton, although the Town is pretty lax unless someone complains. On my birthday one year I set off fireworks, the largest loudest ones I could legally buy. I brought them back from a trip to South Carolina. What a show, no one complained. And then there are times I enjoy just hanging out down there by myself. I look out to ship lights on the horizon, the ocean stretches on for thousands of miles from there, the world and all it’s troubles are behind me, ideas for paintings happen. How can one not be inspired or at least calmed by the moon rising over a reflective sea casting back the light on the face of waves rolling in.
I’ve sat on the beach and watched the stars, the moon and the night sky since I’ve lived here. I remember one night when I first moved here and living in Amagansett, Jim Gingerich and I were walking back from beach and a shooting star lit up the sky directly overhead. It went from night to day to night in 2 seconds, the flash of light incredible. There is very little light pollution this far away from the city. We’re at the end of an island that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean. The South Fork is surrounded by nothing but ocean, bay and sound. The moon looks incredibly large rising over the sea, the sky darker, the stars brighter. One night I set up my painting gear on the beach. I put my folding table and easel as close to the water as I could and began to paint. It’s not easy painting in the dark. A lantern helps. Gingerich likes to wear a gadget that’s has a small flashlight on a headband. The air was warm, the water calm and the reflections from the moon were like sparklers on the surf. Every wave that rolled in carried those reflections along it’s surface, closer and closer to the beach until it washed in and turned the sand white with foam from the moonlight. The waves are darker than any black on my palette. The light on the horizon turns into a luminous blanket of cover as moisture settles over the sea. As I worked the legs of my folding table began sinking into the sand. Every wave that rolled up dropped the table a little lower, the tide rising, chasing me back as I’d pick up table and easel and move a few feet up, bare feet and long pants getting soaked, moisture settling on everything until I thought I could work no longer. A painting can’t do the experience justice no more than a snapshot. There’s an indiscernible amount of subtlety in the color of night. The contrasts are extreme. It takes a while for your eyes to adjust to seeing in the dark, it takes hours longer for your thought process to relate. I woke up the next morning, looking at the painting in the daylight, it was alright. I’ve had this painting Moonlight Symphony in my collection for a long time. One of my favorites because it brings back a memory, a close observation of the sea at night and a sense of achievement. I can pull this one out of the racks and my thoughts immediately flow back to that night.
It was a mid summer night, I was at the beach by myself. The air was warm, the moon was up, the sea calm and peaceful. I wasn’t there to paint. I just came down to take in a moment of nature, to relax after a hectic day. What I saw were ships on the horizon, their lights reflecting, the moon rising above a cloud bank that started to move in, changing shape as it lifted up from the horizon, following the moon as it rose. I tried as best I could to remember what that looked like, to etch that scene in my memory, looking again and again, telling my mind’s eye this is what I see. What I was able to bring home was a momentary impression of that night. It’s tough to recall the details, it’s a struggle trying to imitate nature, difficult to duplicate. I worked on this canvas for weeks layering the darks, letting the whites dry so I could glaze them, going back in and raising the contrast, trying to get the color of the sky, clouds, the rising waves and sand right, creating the texture and surface of the paint, thin in places, heavy in other areas. The results of my labor finally came together. The painting titled Town Line Moonlight sat around the studio for a year longer. No one took an interest. My friend and art dealer Peter Marcelle once told me people aren’t drawn to dark paintings, they’re hard to sell. Time went by and one of my reps Mecox Gardens wanted to ship it to their store in Pittsburg. Fine with me, it’s just taking up room in the studio but I thought no one in Pittsburg is going to buy a seascape. I was wrong. Perhaps inlanders need something to reming them of the coast on a moonlit summer night. I love doing these nocturnes. They don’t always turn out though. Still it’s worth a try.