RIVAA to Sell Islander’s Art in Fundraiser

by Ashton Barfield

Gordon Reiss didn’t plan to live on Roosevelt Island. In the late 1970s, he co-signed an Island House lease for his newly-ex-wife, so that she and their two daughters could meet the income minimum. Then, when she bolted for Manhattan the following year, he was responsible for the rent. Since the divorce had so impoverished him that he was living in the back of his Brooklyn dental office, he moved into the Roosevelt Island apartment that he was paying for anyway. And, as he did with everything, he enthusiastically made the best of the situation.

When he moved here, he was already an amateur artist, and a participant in The Painting Group, a weekly live-model session in Manhattan co-founded by David Levine, the renowned caricaturist. On Roosevelt Island, he took full advantage of the many outdoor subjects, and joined the first artists’ group here. For several summers, he also went to artist-friendly Monhegan Island, off the coast of Maine, to take a course and to paint its wide variety of landscapes.

He painted as much as he could, wherever he could, indoors and out. Any person or object offered challenges and opportunities. Dental colleagues have said that there was even artistry in his dentistry.

Gordon also got into the politics and mechanics of Roosevelt Island, initially by joining the Westview/Island House Task Force, formed to fight periodic rent and lease outrages. The Task Force is where I met him, and we fell in love. Later, we joined the RIRA Common Council. We cared a lot about this place, and wanted to help protect it and foster its healthy growth.

We had a lot of fun together for five-plus years. We even got married! Unfortunately, he died suddenly, in 1987, at a still-vibrant 57. He left me with many wonderful memories – and many wonderful paintings. I gave some to friends and family over the years, but there were still too many for me to hang, even in rotation.

Then, last year, I realized that if I gave them to the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association, they might be sold to help pay for the Gallery’s onerous new rent and electricity costs. And so, a number of the works are currently displayed in the RIVAA windows at 527 Main Street. In a couple of weeks, they’ll be moved inside during the next Gallery exhibit.

I hope that you’ll enjoy seeing them. (People say that Gordon’s work is very accessible – I was always grateful, and relieved, that it was something that I loved without having to try.)

And I hope that some of you will end up owning one, in exchange for a generous donation to RIVAA. He would have been really pleased with both sides of that transaction.

Tags: RIVAA Art & Music Community Profile Ashton Barfield

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