East Hampton Star

GERRY GILIBERTI: Art Against The Odds

By Sheridan Sansegundo

The promised Riverhead renaissance can't come too soon for Gerry Giliberti, a Springs photographer and musician who opened the Image Gallery in the county seat a couple of years ago.

The spare and elegant gallery, whose main focus is on photography, is divided into two spaces, one of which is available for rent for a ridiculously small fee.

It's a perfect place for artists to have complete control over exhibits of their work or for young artists to put on their first solo show, but Mr. Giliberti still meets resistance when the address is mentioned; it seems that Riverhead just doesn't have the cachet of the South Fork. Hey, let's be honest, it doesn't even have the cachet of Speonk.

Groundbreaking Venture

But someone has to be the groundbreaker, and with property prices driving young East Enders west, with the popular aquarium now open, and with French and German tourists taking over the town's hotels in summer, things are looking up.

A gallery specializing in French and Spanish fine art has opened next door and artists are beginning to take more of an interest - the Sag Harbor photographer Ann Chwatsky is one of those who will be showing soon.

Even if the gallery were fully booked, Mr. Giliberti and his partner, Ken Rubino, don't stand to make much money after they have taken out an ad for each show ("in Portfolio magazine - we can't afford anything else").

But that's not what it's all about.

Twin Passions

"It's this art stuff that some of us feel compelled to do. Against the odds. In spite of the people who ask why we bother."

Mr. Giliberti himself has been taking photographs since he got his first 620 box camera in third grade, and playing music for almost as long. "I grew up in the Beatles era - everybody wanted to be a musician."

His house in Springs, designed by Walter Brown, is divided between art and music like the right and left sides of the brain. It is a complete surprise. Seen from outside it looks not much bigger than a garden shed, but the front door opens onto a stunning light-filled space with double-height windows for passive solar heating, an elegant floor of sealed concrete squares, and a staircase leading to a sleeping loft.

Black, White, And Gray

The sculptural space is a minimalist composition of black, white, and gray. There are two black and white photographic prints on the wall - a Burt Glinn portrait of Sammy Davis Jr. against a background of the Manhattan skyline and a small Tibetan child in Lhasa.

The latter is a print from a series of archival portfolios of Heinrich Harrar's photographs from the "Seven Years in Tibet" exhibit that Mr. Giliberti worked on a few years ago.

The other room is the music room, a low, comfortable space dominated by a black and white Alfonso Ossorio lithograph and filled with a full drum set, amplifiers, and other musical equipment and instruments. This represents the musical side of his life, a space where he can get together with the other members of Rick Salter's percussion group and practice for their East End gigs.

Teaching Degree

Mr. Giliberti majored in fine arts at the New York Institute of Technology in the 1970s, but, torn between art and music, was living in Hampton Bays and working with a band.

He was finding it hard to get to Old Westbury for classes when he had a piece of luck that ultimately led to another career. An acquaintance at the institute taught at Hampton Bays High School, and it was arranged that Mr. Giliberti be the school's audio-visual musical coordinator to earn his final four credits.

After teaching at the school he returned to college to take a master's degree in education. This has been a mainstay of support for him over the years; he taught math and science at the Ross School, for example, when it was just getting under way.

Man Of Many Talents

But in the 1970s, teaching jobs were not so easy to come by, and he returned to school for a time to study engineering. A job on a weather balloon project in 1981 enabled him to combine his teaching, artistic, and engineering experience in a written and diagrammatic explication.

This gave Mr. Giliberti yet another string to his bow - technical writing. "Everyone in the Hamptons has to have five or six jobs," he said with a laugh.

The music and the photography have remained a constant, but all the other strands of his life tie together to contribute to the whole.

"I'd had a really good background in printing and archival processing at school, and I'd take my new Nikon and go out experimenting. After a while I started to get a feeling for texture and I began to be fascinated by the hidden imagery in natural objects - simulacra - and started to actively look for these hidden references."

"Faces in stone and wood, things like that."

This was where Mr. Giliberti's engineering and technical expertise spilled over into his artistic life. He has taken the photographic image and translated it into different mediums, digitally altering images, using solar-plate etching, composing photographic collages.

Experimental Video

He has had a show at Ashawagh Hall with Dennis Leri, "The Sound of Visualization," where photographic images were projected on the walls on top of printed images.

He won the Suffolk County Film and Video Festival's award for best experimental video with a work "Circular Images and Mandalas," made with Lou Stevens, which incorporated an abstract photographic collage.

And in March he will have a show in SoHo of the work he is doing at the moment - taking a single image and reproducing it in a number of different ways: as a black-and-white photo, a color photo, a digital image, and a print, for example.

"As more and more people turn to digital work," he said. "I see black-and-white and color photography becoming increasingly more of a fine art form."

"Team Player"

You'd think all this restless energy and enthusiasm for experiment, this juggling of nighttime band gigs and fine art photography with the down-to-earth world of technical writing and running a gallery, would leave Mr. Giliberti little time for anything else. Far from it.

"I'm a team player. I like to be in a group - not board-driven groups but member-driven groups."

He was in at the beginning of the East End Photographers Group, and has helped organize its annual shows at Ashawagh Hall for the past 10 years. For good measure, he is on the board that manages the hall, the Springs Improvement Society.

He is enthusiastically active with both the Southampton Artists Association and the East Hampton Artists Alliance - he's been vice president of both - and in 1996 co-directed the East Hampton Visual Arts Festival.

As they say, if you want something done, ask someone busy.

Click on the following link for another article about my work.

Artists Among Us Artist Profile: Gerry Giliberti