Island light, in summer

The art of Joseph Reboli
Sun, 07/09/2017 - 7:15am
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Take in the salt air, warm from a steady south-westerly breeze, and there’s a feeling on Block Island in summer, of breathing pure sunshine. For more than 30 years, until his untimely death in 2004, renowned realist painter Joseph Reboli took it all in. His art, as a result, captures the sunshine with mastery. Still, many may not know his name or his art. In an effort to change that, honor the artist, preserve his work, educate, inspire, and provide access for generations, the Reboli Center for Art and History in Stony Brook Harbor, New York, was created.

Before Joe Reboli died at 58, he produced more than 3,000 paintings depicting the landscapes he fully inhabited, from the Three Village area on the North Shore of Long Island to the quiet corners of Block Island, and beyond. His work radiates a mood from a simpler time and place, a feeling that’s inherent to us all and shared instinctively.

The Stony Brook, New York native, and U.S. Army veteran, held his first solo exhibition in 1971, when he was 25 years old. His work has appeared as part of five museum exhibitions, numerous solo exhibitions, and continues to be collected throughout both America and Europe.

Joseph Reboli studied at the Paier School of Art (now Paier College of Art) in Connecticut — a small, private four-year institution, founded by artists from Yale, known for its discipline in the fundamentals of technique, drawing, and mixing colors. Among Reboli’s teachers at Paier was the noted American realist Ken Davies, a meticulous painter whose exacting work is often likened to photographs, tromp l’oeil (an optical illusion), and surrealism. Davies’ influence on Reboli was great, as was evidenced with a project they did together for the White House Historical Association in 1999, where the mentor and student shared the honor to depict a room in the White House for its official calendar.

Reboli was a master colorist who evolved over the years from Wyeth-like subdued, textured compositions to depicting en plein air (outside) scenes that glow with warmth and light. The absence of people in his work, coupled with Reboli’s evocative quality of light, often elicit feelings of loneliness or nostalgia. In response, he was quoted to say his paintings are about the "truths found in the immediacy between the artist and the world he sees — and the creative impulse that binds them."

George Schectman, owner of the Christopher Gallery on Madison Avenue and the Gallery Henoch in SoHo (now in Chelsea), continued to exhibit contemporary realism through the mid-1980s, and helped build a considerable following for Reboli’s work through annual exhibitions.

For a low-key artist, Joe Reboli acclimated well to the high-brow world. Asked why Reboli’s style of realism appeals to such a wide range of people, Schectman explains, "Only the best realist painters are able to transcend the mere depiction of our everyday world — they make us see anew. The familiar forms in Reboli’s paintings are incidental; his subjects are all about light, shadow, place, and mood. He sees in any given situation the elements of what is within us all." Schectman adds that Reboli’s subjects are typically American in view, and in them we find a shared experience.

The Reboli Center for Art and History was meant to make it easy for people to find that so-called "shared experience" and "see the world anew" through Joe Reboli’s art, his life, and his history. When asked what the Reboli Center means to the Block Island and Long Island communities, Lois Reboli, the artist’s widow, and founder of the organization, explains: "The Center is not all about Joe. He always wanted to encourage and support local artists, which is why these collections showcase his work but also serve as a focal point for other artists, art education, and similar cultural activities beyond the area."

The Center almost didn’t come about. At first, Lois Reboli, along with Colleen Hanson and B.J. Intini, started a nonprofit to collect and preserve the artist’s paintings and artifacts with a goal to make them available to the public. But after numerous setbacks, location changes, and fundraising challenges, The Friends of Joseph Reboli came close to losing hope.

Then, as if Joe himself pulled the strings, everything fell into place. Support from the community, past patrons, and state politicians, as well as the sudden availability of the most ideal location, all came together. It took the organization six years of perseverance before the Reboli Center opened its doors in 2016, in a beautiful old bank building in Stony Brook Harbor — one where the artist’s Aunt Anna worked for over 40 years, and located directly across the street from where Joe Reboli was born and raised.

Reboli was a modest man. His nature was, just as a Block Island summer, uncomplicated and easy — and that's exactly how it feels inside the place designed to preserve his legacy. Just as his Aunt Anna arranged art shows for him when he was young, only to anonymously buy up any remaining paintings as a way to encourage his art, the Reboli Center strives to be a warm, welcoming place where the artist within us all feels inspired and encouraged. Admission is free. 

Now until July 30, visitors are welcome to enjoy the current exhibit, "In Bloom," which features garden paintings by Joe Reboli and fellow artist and friend, Ty Stroudsburg. 

Visit rebolicenter.org to learn more, including hours of operation and directions.