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Through The Looking Glass

Through The Looking Glass

Flanking the living room hearth, at left, an oil on paper on board by Donato Giancola, and at right, an oil on canvas by Michael Viera.

Flanking the living room hearth, at left, an oil on paper on board by
Donato Giancola, and at right, an oil on canvas by Michael Viera.

Tim Burton’s upcoming interpretation of Alice in Wonderland is set to hit the big screen later this year and I believe it is fitting to draw an analogy between this classic tale, that was always just a bit left of center, with the lives of [link2post id=”10″]Richard Demato[/link2post], collector and gallerist, and his wife [link2post id=”164″]Harriet Sawyer[/link2post], artist and collector. They live an enchanted life in a spectacular shingled house overlooking Long Island Sound where they have created the penultimate respite from the cacophony of the commonplace. Richard and Harriet worked for many years to achieve this uncommon balance of proportion that is at once perfectly in harmony and simultaneously asymmetrical. There is a natural beauty in the organic and in things being just a bit “askew” in the best sense of the word. To me, finding perfection in imperfection is the highest form of art. Richard is akin to a magician of the modern, he makes “things” happen; and Harriet has an uncanny ability to “see” a completed vision where others may only notice a blank canvas or an empty room. This highly evolved couple, making alchemy the mantra of their daily lives, are not only rarefied collectors, but share a goal of making our world a more beautiful place by leading us down the rabbit hole where we may suspend disbelief for one shining moment, opening our eyes to the endless possibilities of art for art’s sake.

Three paintings by Harriet Sawyer next to a mixed media piece by Mersad Berber called Chronicles of Sarajevo; among the pieces at right are eight prints by John Copley.

Three paintings by Harriet Sawyer next to a mixed media piece by Mersad Berber called Chronicles of Sarajevo; among the pieces at right are eight prints by John Copley.

Eric Cohler: I’m mesmerized by the depth and breadth of your collection and how you’ve managed to meld so many disparate objects into a seamless whole.
Richard Demato: Thank you. I have collected since I was quite young and, although I grew up in modest circumstances, knew that I wanted to be involved with art in some way one day.

EC: It looks as though you are living your dream, and now you have a thriving art gallery as well. That’s a collector’s fantasy. How did you make this a reality?
RD: My career started very differently. I was in the textile and apparel business for many years and was able to achieve a certain level of success which in turn allowed me the ability to better pursue my passion not only of collecting, but of launching the Richard Demato Fine Arts Gallery.

EC: How recently did you open the gallery?
RD: We opened early this fall in Sag Harbor, just north of East Hampton, Long Island. The area has a rich tradition of local artists who were also nationally known figures; including de Kooning and Jackson Pollack. This history appealed to my romantic sensibility, and it was a logical location as there are several other prominent galleries in town creating a destination for collectors.

In the hall, from left to right, Progeny by Donato Giancola and The Beach by Jack Gerber; the balustrade was commissioned by the collectors.

In the hall, from left to right, Progeny by Donato Giancola and The Beach by Jack Gerber; the balustrade was commissioned by the collectors.


The Long Island Sound home of Richard Demato and Harriet Sawyer.

The Long Island Sound home of Richard Demato and Harriet Sawyer.

EC: I spent time browsing in the gallery last month, and I was impressed by the artists that you represent as well as the variety of subject matter, from landscape to abstraction, to figurative work.
RD: We try to keep a diverse range of talent on display and in our inventory, but the overriding shared characteristic among our artists is the quality of their work.

EC: When you say we is it the royal “we” or are there other people involved in the gallery?
RD: No blue bloods here (laughing), except, of course, my wife, Harriet, who is an artist and designer in her own right; and our associate director. We collaborate on artists, exhibitions and catalogues. Our featured artists include David Peikon, Robert Reynolds, Jeff Aeling and Jack Gerber, among many others.

EC: I was wondering how you did it all yourself. Now that I know your secret, please tell me more about Harriet’s work.
RD: Harriet and I were in the textile business together when we met in the late 1980s. It was boy meets girl…

EC: And they are living happily ever after.
RD: You beat me to it. Emphatically yes! Every day is a new adventure for us, but back to Harriet, she is an artist of great depth. As a trained textile designer, she brings this discipline and sensibility to her painting. FIT named Harriet as one of their best textile designers of the 20th century. She’s a master of color, texture and composition and was recognized by the Cooper-Hewitt Museum when they included her in a group exhibition.

In the dining room, a painting of a nearby body of water by David Peikon titled Mecox.

In the dining room, a painting
of a nearby body of water by
David Peikon titled Mecox.


In the first floor guest room, an oil on canvas by Robert Reynolds titled La Columb D’Or.

In the first floor guest room, an oil
on canvas by Robert Reynolds
titled La Columb D’Or.

EC: That’s heady stuff. How did you start collecting seriously?
RD: I knew that I was hooked when I had more art than wall space. Harriet and I then set about designing our present house in North Haven. Actually the house represents mostly her design acumen and vision. Harriet worked directly with the builder and a local architect on the design and she and I found many of the pieces that give our house its unusual character; such as the mantels, railings, fixtures and architectural details.

EC: The house has a definite Lutyens feel on the exterior, and an elegant Art Nouveau meets arts Aesthetic Movement look to the interior.
RD: We adore it. And so do our children and seven grandchildren. No matter where we travel, coming home here is always special.

EC: What was the first piece that you collected?
RD: I began with baseball cards, comics and board games when I was 10; oh and bicycles as well.

EC: Witness your staircase railing and balusters…it’s like one flowing sculpture.
RD: Love that; I smile every time I go up and down the stairs.

EC: It’s whimsical, yet unobtrusive; and that’s a good thing.
RD: Subtlety is everything.

EC: Elegance in restraint and all that… would you say that, for you, collecting is an emotional bond?
RD: Absolutely.

The collectors, Richard Demato and Harriet Sawyer; above them is an oil on canvas by Jamaican painter Phillip Thomas.

The collectors, Richard Demato and Harriet Sawyer; above them is an oil on canvas by Jamaican painter Phillip Thomas.

EC: And for Harriet?
Harriet Sawyer: (Joining the conversation) Richard and I only buy what we love. As a couple, we are dual curators in almost all that we do in life. If there is no emotional response; no tug-of-war back and forth, then we pass. It’s about having fun and purchasing the best of what we can afford whether for our home or the gallery.

EC: I saw a Jamie Wyeth hanging in the gallery when I visited.
HS: Wyeth is one of Richard’s favorites. He couldn’t resist the purchase. However, it’s fair to say that we both believe firmly in buying only what one feels an immediate positive visceral reaction with; I’ve never felt compelled to make a purchase on name value alone. I can’t understand why so many people seem to do exactly that.
RD: Harriet was born to paint; even beyond this, though, is her ability as a “seer.” Her extended range of vision constantly amazes me.

EC: Have you always been so layered in your collecting?
HS: No. In fact, I was a minimalist until I met Richard.
RD: Hey…
HS: It’s OK. I enjoy taunting him.

Amid the international collection of masks over Harriet’s desk, an oil on wood panel by James Del Gross, Shells.

Amid the international collection of masks over Harriet’s desk,
an oil on wood panel by James Del Gross, Shells.

EC: Aside from your husband, what was the catalyst for the transformation?
HS: Exposing myself to new painters and sculptors; going to galleries and exhibitions, meeting artists in their studios, and, of course, the work of Mark Rothko.
RD: His paintings diametrically changed our perspective on the way that we view the art world.

EC: My thesis was on Rothko, so you’re preaching to the converted. His work is luminously ethereal — there’s nothing else remotely like them in modern art. What are your favorite museums?
HS: The Louvre; and of course the Met also hangs unbelievable shows.
RD: I love the Guggenheim, walking through that great spiral of galleries and being part of art unfolding as a progression.
HS: The Rothko show at the Guggenheim was breathtaking for that very reason.
RD: Seeing those color fields across the rotunda. Wright was a genius.

EC: The fusion of two great minds — Wright and Rothko. Which is your favorite city?
HS/RD: (In unison) Venice!

EC: And then there’s Sag Harbor…
RD: We love life here, it’s true.
HS: Absolutely. We have our family and dogs; our home and studio; the gallery, and our involvement with Fountain House in Manhattan — which exhibits work by mentally disabled artists. It’s vital for both of us to contribute to our community.

EC: Who needs Venice?
RD: Who indeed?


eric-cohler-nggid03841-ngg0dyn-110x110x100-00f0w010c010r110f110r010t010Eric Cohler, president of Eric Cohler Inc., holds a master’s degree in Historic Preservation from the Columbia School of Architecture. He won a Designer of the Year Award in 1998, and in 2000 the D&D Building in New York recognized him as one of the 26 leading designers in the U.S. Eric has appeared on CBS Morning and Evening News and CNN Style and he is a featured designer on the Home & Garden TV Network.

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I’m More Than My Story

16" x 32" / 40.6 x 81.3cm
Watercolor on Clay Panel

The Retreat

24" x 18" / 61 x 45.7cm
Watercolor on Clay Panel

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6" x 6" / 15.2 x 15.2cm
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Oil on Canvas

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20" x 16" / 50.8 x 40.6cm
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7.1" x 5.6" / 18 x 14.2cm
Acrylic on Panel

Mrs. Robinson

22" x 30" / 55.9 x 76.2cm
Watercolor on Paper

The Old Man’s Shoes

44" x 32" / 111.8 x 81.3cm
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32" x 44" / 81.3 x 111.8cm
Oil on Canvas

Berlin

28" x 22" / 71.1 x 55.9cm
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The Blue Fan

38" x 26" / 96.5 x 66cm
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Beautiful People 2

30" x 30" / 76.2 x 76.2cm
Oil on Canvas

Beautiful People 1

30" x 30" / 76.2 x 76.2cm
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79" x 61" / 200.7 x 154.9cm
Charcoal and Water on Paper

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30" x 22" / 76.2 x 55.9cm
Charcoal and Water on Mounted Paper

Great Grey Owl

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Charcoal and Water on Mounted Paper

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16" x 20" / 40.6 x 50.8cm
Oil on Canvas

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16" x 20" / 40.6 x 50.8cm
Oil on Canvas

Warrior

12" x 12" / 30.5 x 30.5cm
Oil and Acrylic on Canvas

As If and If Only

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20" x 16" / 50.8 x 40.6cm
Oil on Wood

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20" x 16" / 50.8 x 40.6cm
Oil on Wood

Sinners in the Sun

39.37" x 39.37" / 100 x 100cm
Egg Oil Tempera on Canvas

Waiting For The Snow

58" x 58" / 147.3 x 147.3cm
Egg Oil Tempera on Canvas

Circus Nights

78.5" x 138" / 199.4 x 350.5cm
Egg Oil Tempera on Canvas

Blue Velvet

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Oil on Canvas

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