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A Leafier Place To Bloom
The New York Times, Sunday, May 22, 2005
Art Reviews/ Benjamin Genocchio/ page 14

The North Fork has undergone many changes in the last decade, with more upscale shops, restaurants and even art galleries cropping up in Greenport, for example, which many years was best known as an old working-class seaport.

But unlike the towns of the South Fork, the area is not known as a refuge for artists. Yet these days it is home to a number of artists, among them Michael Combs, a successful young New York City sculpture who went there seeking cheap, ample studio space and a break from the monotonous grisaille of city buildings.

New York artists have been migrating to the city's leafier surroundings for over half a century; Jackson Pollock moved to the Springs section of East Hampton in 1945, and Richard Prince moved to an abandoned ranch-style building on 80 acres in Rensselaerville, N.Y., near, Albany, in 2001. But moves like Mr. Combs's - to towns not particularly recognized as havens for artists - are the latest wrinkle in this exodus. And he is far from alone in taking shelter in an unlikely place.

Timely evidence of this development may be found in "Greater New York 2005," the behemoth survey of more than 150 emerging artists, all from the greater New York area, at the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City. Some live in the recognized artists' outposts of the last decade, like Peekskill and Beacon, N.Y., or Jersey City. But others have chosen unexpected towns - Poughksepsie, N.Y.; Asbury Park, N.J., and Greenport.

At first, artists like these make the move in search of studio and living space, a commodity so expensive and rare in New York. But although many find they miss the cultural stimulation of the city, they also discover, in some cases to their surprise, that they can concentrate on their work more intensely in calmer surroundings. Some even find new inspiration.

What follows is a profile. of a selected group of young, emerging artists who have moved to an unlikely town. Some are included in the "Greater New York" survey, while others are represented by recognized city galleries and have blossoming careers. But all have shifted their creative center of gravity away from New York.

The North Fork
For some artists, leaving New York City is all about access to cut-rate studio space. But for others, like Mr. Combs, it is also about setting up shop in an alternative environment as a source of creative nourishment. Born in Huntington and raised in Southold, Mr. Combs, 34, comes form a long line of local boat builders, duck hunters and decoy makers. His works are a spin on that heritage, consisting of intricately carved wooden objects with social and environmental messages.

Mr. Combs had often thought about returning to Long Island during a decade in the city. But he did not make the move until late 2001, when he was offered a studio in Southold, the entire second floor of an old carriage barn owned by a friend. He rents a house in nearby Greenport, where he lives with his wife and young son.

He was drawn there, he said, "by the natural beauty of the location and degree of serenity and solitude that living out here affords."

Mr. Combs still keeps a loft in Manhattan. But his creative center is on the North Fork, he said, where he now makes his sculptures in a light, airy space measuring 30 feet by 30 feet, several times the size of his former city studio.

"Just being here I feel alive, energetic and anchored to my roots," he said.

He also finds being on the North Fork in conductive to work. "I was very much surprised when I first started working here how much I could get done," he said. "It also helped me appreciate the city more, using it for what it offers, like the cultural scene, then heading back up here. It is a nice balance."

Mr. Combs exhibits locally and in the city. Recently, he had a major installation at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton and has an exhibition that closes June 5 at the Icehouse Gallery in Greenport. He also had work in an exhibition at Exit Art in Manhattan earlier this month.


Michael Combs  |  New York, NY  |  info@combssculpture.com
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