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DE KOONING’S BICYCLE by Robert Long

DE KOONING’S BICYCLE

Artists and Writers in the Hamptons

By Robert Long

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-374-16538-6
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Agreeable series of sketches about notable residents of Long Island’s East End, by the art critic for the East Hampton Star.

A short introductory chapter traces the East End’s history from the time the first settlers arrived in the mid-17th century through prosperity fueled by the whaling industry to the arrival of the first artists in the 1870s. Then this straightforward chronicle gives way to impressionistic snapshots of the area (which began to be known as the Hamptons in the 1960s) at various significant moments, usually seen through the eyes of a famous artist or writer. William Merritt Chase paints figures against the Shinnecock Bay landscape in 1902. Jackson Pollock’s ghost, wandering through the Metropolitan’s 20th-century art wing, recalls his years with wife Lee Krasner at a cottage in Springs during the 1940s. Poet Frank O’Hara leaves his day job at MoMA in 1966 to board the Montauk Line’s 4:19 train; his friend Fairfield Porter, meanwhile, has an affair with unstable Jimmy Schuyler while wife Anne seethes in their Southampton house, “the New York school’s summer camp from the late 1950s through the 1960s.” Jean Stafford drinks away her final years after A.J. Liebling’s death, in the book’s saddest chapter. And, of course, de Kooning rides his bicycle from his home to the studio where he paints in between drinks. The familiar material is (mostly) redeemed by Long’s fine prose, particularly the lovely descriptions of the Long Island landscape and light. Alcoholism, adultery and professional jealousy among creative people seem to hold a perennial fascination, and Long’s pleasant text is warmed by a longtime resident’s intimate knowledge of the East End’s landmarks: the Green River Cemetery where Pollock’s body lies under an enormous boulder; the Springs General Store run by Dan Miller; the Holiday Grill that marks “the real gateway to the Hamptons.”

Nothing new, but for those who can’t get enough, a nice addition to the groaning shelf of books about the Hamptons’ artsy crowd.