For artists, as the painter Gerald Brommer once noted, “the environment becomes inspiration.”

This theme echoes throughout two exhibitions currently on view at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Both “A Sense of Place: Selections from the Guild Hall Permanent Collection” and “Cornelia Foss” highlight works illustrating the influence of the light, landscape, and seasonally bucolic ambiance that has attracted artists for more than a century to the East End of Long Island.

This tendency for artists to actively and intentionally channel and reinterpret the ambiance and atmosphere of their surroundings is not unique to this part of the world. Cezanne depicted buildings and people as mere extensions of the natural landscape of Aix-en-Provence while the traditional Chinese landscape painters of the Song and Yuan dynasties used their depictions of the mountain ranges in the Shaanxi province as analogies to humankind’s insignificance in the grand order of the universe.

Simply put, while artworks always reflect the personal subjective vision of the artist, the environment becomes a touchstone from which the work derives much of its singular measure of sincerity and power. As the author and bioregionalist Wendell Berry wrote, “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.”

This is notable in the “Sense of Place” exhibition in the Moran Gallery, which includes more than 60 works from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Curated by Christina Mossaides Strassfield, the exhibit is engagingly diverse in its balance between representational and abstract works. Of equal importance, it is sensitively arranged so that the stylistic variety encourages a dialogue both between the viewer and the works and also between the works themselves.

Of particular interest in the exhibition is Childe Hassam’s Adam and Eve Walking Out on Montauk in Early Spring (oil on wood panel, 1924), which succinctly reflects the artist’s desire to replicate the Greek Classicist ideal translated to painting, and historically is considered one of Hassam’s most ambitious landscape works.

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"Adam and Eve Walking Out on Montauk in Early Spring" by Childe Hassam, 1924. Oil on canvas.

"Adam and Eve Walking Out on Montauk in Early Spring" by Childe Hassam, 1924. Oil on canvas.

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Evoking the tone and mood of many of the allegorical murals he created earlier in his career, Hassam noted of the work at the time that “Montauk must look now as did countless years ago, when gods played their last game of jackstones, the mosses and low flowers grew as they do now and there could be no great forests, no higher than now, for the winds were always blowing.”

This atmosphere of timelessness and of nature’s perpetuity is also apparent in works such as Priscilla Bowden’s Shinnecock Inlet (oil on canvas, 1977), Rae Ferren’s The Water Garden (oil on canvas, 1978), and Bill Durham’s powerfully evocative Under Accabonac (acrylic on canvas, 1973), which illustrates the power of abstraction in conjuring the invisible maelstrom that exists beneath the surface of the seas.

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"Shinnecock Inlet" by Priscilla Bowden, 1977. OIl on canvas.

"Shinnecock Inlet" by Priscilla Bowden, 1977. Oil on canvas.

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"The Water Garden" by Rae Ferren, 1978. Oil on canvas.

"The Water Garden" by Rae Ferren, 1978. Oil on canvas.

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The relationship between civilization and the natural environment is also reflected in Nan Orshevsky’s Sag Pond Winter (mixed media collage, 1979), in which the farmhouses in the distance seem dwarfed and made insignificant by the band of trees and bushes that dominate the foreground of the work’s composition.

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"Sag Pond Winter" by Nan Orshevsky, 1979. Mixed media collage.

"Sag Pond Winter" by Nan Orshevsky, 1979. Mixed media collage.

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In a similar vein, Dan Flavin’s Sailing Across Gardiner’s Bay Near Lionhead Beach (lithograph, 1982) uses abstract calligraphic impulses to picture the mast of a sailboat seemingly perched precariously atop the crest of a wave, conjuring a dramatic sense of frailty and motion through an effective use of negative space.

Also of interest are a series of photographs by Anne Sager, James Brooks’s The Springs (lithograph, 1971), Marcia Gygli-King’s Main Beach, East Hampton (oil on canvas, mixed media frame, 1988-91), and Terry Elkins’s Montauk (collage and pencil, 1994-97), a work which is memorable both for his signature collage technique but also for the use of shadowing, which adds a significantly suggestive intimation to the image of the Montauk lighthouse.

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"Main Beach, East Hampton" by Marcia Gygli-King, 1988-91. Oil on canvas, mixed media frame.

"Main Beach, East Hampton" by Marcia Gygli-King, 1988-91. Oil on canvas, mixed media frame.

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"Montauk" by Terry Elkins, 1994-97. Collage and pencil.

"Montauk" by Terry Elkins, 1994-97. Collage and pencil.

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The retrospective of paintings by Cornelia Foss, presented in Guild Hall’s Woodhouse Gallery, includes works that emphasize the artist’s relationship to the ecology of the East End and also incorporates ruminations on nature from New York’s Central Park (in addition to a series of portraits of family and friends).

In their emphasis on the artist’s instinctive and empathic relationship to the natural world, the works on view reminded me at times of Fairfield Porter, particularly in Foss’s application of paint and use of color. At other points, especially in regard to the broad radiance of her seascapes and the ethereal impulse in her landscapes, quite often I sensed a distinct association with Jane Wilson in the manner each walk that fine line between abstraction and realism. As Gerrit Henry wrote in Art in America, “Foss has as much to do with abstract expressionism as painterly realism.”

This connection, or tension, is apparent in Yellow Dune Grass (oil on canvas, 2011), in which the compositional structure emphasizes the point at which land, water, and sky meet while still allowing the eye to roam deep into the composition. Her use of extremely subtle coloration, though, is what adds the element of mystery that makes the work singularly captivating and entertainingly intimate.

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"Yellow Dune Grass" by Cornelia Foss, 2011. Oil on canvas.

"Yellow Dune Grass" by Cornelia Foss, 2011. Oil on canvas.

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Yves’ View (oil on canvas, 2014), by contrast, uses a similar structural configuration of the surface composition and yet, by heightening the viewer’s point of lookout, the artist is able to conjure a more commanding (albeit less intimate) perspective. This effect is magnified by Foss’s use of the vibrant greens of the farm fields, which seem to grow in intensity as the eye moves further into the picture plane. Meanwhile, the gentle coloration of the sky--featuring pastel-like reds that melt into an ethereal blue haze--allows for a distinctly magisterial sensation.

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"Yves' View" by Cornelia Foss, 2014. Oil on canvas.

"Yves' View" by Cornelia Foss, 2014. Oil on canvas.

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Interestingly, when Foss shifts her focus to New York City’s Central Park, the compositional structure of her works changes as well. The open fields and expansive ocean vistas give way to a more dense arrangement of the canvas, putting me in mind of the density of urban life itself.

In a work such as Central Park, January (oil on canvas, 2015), for example, the only glimpse of open sky is through a tangled cacophony of leafless branches. In Central Park White Carriage Horse (oil on canvas, 2015) any horizon is completely covered, with the artist using bold gestural brush strokes to create a wall of green that firmly establishes the work’s visual boundaries.

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"Central Park, January" by Cornelia Foss, 2015. Oil on canvas.

"Central Park, January" by Cornelia Foss, 2015. Oil on canvas.

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"Central Park White Carriage Horse" by Cornelia Foss, 2015. Oil on canvas.

"Central Park White Carriage Horse" by Cornelia Foss, 2015. Oil on canvas.

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This movement toward a more overall organization of the picture plane reaches a crescendo of sorts in Central Park Trees (oil on canvas, 2015), in which the sky appears only as flashes of light through the trees while the entire surface is otherwise occupied by a lush green glade. The leaves, rendered in controlled yet wildly exuberant green slashes of paint, are seemingly being tossed about by an unseen wind and create a sense of unbridled energy reminiscent of Chaim Soutine’s Ceret landscapes.

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"Central Park Trees" by Cornelia Foss, 2015. Oil on canvas.

"Central Park Trees" by Cornelia Foss, 2015. Oil on canvas.

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BASIC FACTS: “A Sense of Place: Selections from the Guild Hall Permanent Collection” and “Cornelia Foss,” remain on view through January 3, 2016. Guild Hall is located at 158 Main Street, East Hampton, NY 11937. 631-324-0806; www.guildhall.org.

Also at Guild Hall through January 3, 2016 are “Dancing with Truffaut,” works by Stephanie Brodie-Lederman, and “Portraying Artists: Photographs by Walter Weissman.”

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Copyright 2015 Hamptons Art Hub LLC. All rights reserved.

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