When Patrick J. Peters III picks up the phone last Friday afternoon, he is standing in front of an 80-square-foot canvas, staring at a cacophony of color — and, within it, two dichotomous dragons.

The first is black and red, greedy and fear-driven, overshadowed by the beast behind him. She, on the other hand, is vibrant and playful, her taloned hand plunged deep into her foe.

And, out of the struggle, comes energy and light.

“It’s one of my favorite pieces so far, because it encapsulates the swinging, back and forth, between being on the dark side and the pain, what everybody’s experiencing right now, or most people, and then the beauty of it, as well,” Peters said. “Which is, like, you can choose that journey.”

Patrick Peters at work in his studio.

The large-scale painting is easily a metaphor for his past 10 months, explained Peters, forever changed by a bout with COVID-19, and the subsequent brain swelling, that burned his old life to the ground, only for the 35-year-old to dust himself off, buy a canvas and start anew — having painted six or seven times before, without ever having taken an art class.

“I am still struggling with severe, severe mental anguish and all I can do to escape is to paint, and I get lost in it,” he said. “It’s my drug, it’s my escape.”

Having captured the eye of curator Paton Miller, Peters has landed himself among the 34 artists with work now on view in “East End Collected6,” a group show committed to the seemingly never-ending pool of talent in the region. It’s a “barrel that has no bottom,” said Miller, who will lead a gallery tour on Saturday at the Southampton Arts Center.

“It’s like a reflecting pool of our times, it’s exactly like what’s going on,” he said of the show’s sixth iteration. “We have a great collective of artists — and we have some artists who died last year.”

Breaking his rule to never show an artist twice, Miller chose to pay tribute to three late “East End Collected” alumni — David Geiser, Shimon Okshteyn and Charles Waller — by displaying their early cartoons, surreal sculptures and a wry assemblage, respectively.

“I adored Charles and his work,” Miller said of Waller, who died at his home in Springs on January 16. “The first time I saw his work was at Morgan Rank, which was a gallery on the corner of Newtown Lane in East Hampton, and I was elated and surprised, and every time I’d see his work — that was 25 years ago — it was the same thing. I was like, ‘Damn, it’s so creative, it’s such an unusual use of materials.’ And if you can feel that way about an artist’s work, that’s a real good thing, to be continually surprised.”

Curator Paton Miller with artist Charles Waller, who died recently, at the “East End Collected2” opening.

The vivacious, 90-piece show, which ranges from sculpture, paintings and photographs to conceptual work, photorealism and tapestry, is a mix of longtime locals and new voices — among them Deborah Buck, who, according to Miller, “paints to the beat of her own drummer.”

And the Sagaponack-based artist doesn’t deny that, often using her art to respond to current events and societal issues with boldness and humor.

“I’m very interested in the layers of my life, I’m very interested in the layers of meaning in things and I’m very interested in the physical layers in painting,” she said. “It just makes you dig a little bit more. I never want to make paintings where you go, ‘Huh, that’s cute.’ My paintings are not cute.”

She interrupted herself with a laugh. “They’re to be looked at, they’re to be thought about and, I hope, to take something away,” she continued. “I hope they leave the world a different place than it was before I made them — and perhaps somebody feels challenged to question something, even if it’s just, ‘Why would someone make a painting that looks like that?’”

Of her three paintings in the show, it is perhaps “Uphill Battle” that most solicits this reaction — considering the giant pink caterpillar wearing neon lipstick, donning her finest shoes on each of her feet in a commentary on feminism and the fight against marginalization in the art world, she said.

“Uphill Battle” by Deborah Buck.

“I fill my world with these characters and I wish I could walk outside and see them in the backyard. Wouldn’t that be fun?” she said. “They make the world more interesting to me. As a kid, I spent a lot of time by myself and reading fairy tales and ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ and I just really wished that the frog on the edge of the pond would talk, or he’d wear a crown, or I could walk outside and see something like that big pink caterpillar, and that she could talk.”

While Buck explores absurdity, romanticism and the darker side of fairy tales through the interplay of surrealism and abstraction, Flanders-based artist Isadora Capraro looks at the intersection of nature and the human figure in a quieter approach, offering peace and tranquility in her yoga paintings — two of which, “Water Body” and “Lord of the Fishes,” are on view in the show.

“Being present, feeling the smell of the fresh air, the wind in your skin and really observing the colors and shapes around you, this is the same as doing yoga, and these are the moments I like to paint and to capture,” she said. “When the noise of the mind disappears, and the body becomes one thing with the whole, is what I try to transmit in my paintings.”

Born in Italy and raised in Argentina, Capraro grew up wanting to be an actor and, at age 18, took her first drawing class. She hasn’t stopped since, integrating her love for yoga into her work over the last three years. In her practice, she finds comfort in the uncomfortable and beauty in the stillness, even during the most difficult moments — allowing her to enter the mindset to create, she said.

Isadora Capraro at work in her studio.

“For painting, I need to be in the best version of myself. I am not the kind of artist that can use depression or trouble to make wonderful things,” Capraro said. “I need to be very shiny, very zen. I meditate before I start and the whole act of painting is a meditation itself. I enter this beautiful world where there is nothing else other than colors, shapes, vibrations and textures, and I have my best time.”

For Peters, painting now elicits a similar sensation, but it was devastation that led him there. On April 6, he turned in early for the night in his New York City apartment, feeling run down and burnt out — in part from his role as chief marketing officer for the marketing company he started with his three best friends, but mostly due to watching the coronavirus pandemic unfurl around him.

When he woke up the next morning, his throat was on fire. He wouldn’t leave his room for the next 20 days — not to visit the hospital, or even for a COVID-19 test, though an antibody test did, later, confirm his suspicions. Instead, he isolated from his two roommates and relied on acupuncture, IV drips and Chinese medicine to keep his lungs open, he said.

“During that time, I was literally fighting for my life, gasping for air,” Peters said. “The only thing that saved me was meditation and I picked up a paintbrush.”

Putting pigment to canvas, he felt a release of agony and fear flowing out of him, he said, to the point where he wouldn’t think about the pain. Time melted away and, once the doctor cleared him, he packed up his belongings and moved to Southampton — where the true recuperation began inside a garage-turned-artist-studio, he said.

“I thought I would be there a week and I never went back to New York City, except for one night to pick up some stuff,” he said. “That really led me into my healing journey, which I’ve been stuck in ever since. I’m one of the long-haulers.”

Every other week, Peters finds himself in a dark, spiraling hole, he said, unable to put any pressure on his head, carry groceries, exercise, journal or read more than a short email. He knows, in this condition, he’ll never return to his marketing company, but he is slowly finding solace in his current studio in Austin, Texas, and embracing his new path.

“To be honest with you, it’s like losing a child in the beginning, because I’m an entrepreneur and I built this with my business partners,” he said. “But I think in everything in life, you can see the good or bad, and I’m an alchemist. My mind naturally goes toward finding the better in things.”

His two paintings in “East End Collected6” — a 10-foot-by-8-foot rabbit called “JADE,” and a deer about half the size named “LULU,” inspired by a real-life fawn running down Main Street in Southampton one summer morning — both tap the same energy that he now pours into his new creative outlet, though it is a reality he never would have believed 10 months ago, he said.

“It feels good to have a purpose, but it does not feel good to have everything that you have built your entire life taken from you,” he said. “I have to go with the flow, I have no choice. You can sit down and feel bad for yourself in life, or you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and say, ‘What am I gonna do about my situation?’”

He paused, turning his attention back to his dragons in the making.

“This is the best I can do — and now it’s my love, it’s my passion, it’s my life, it’s my escape. It’s everything for me,” he said. “It’s becoming beautiful.”

As published in the Sag Harbor Express and the Southampton Press

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