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Hamptons Life

Dec 12, 2016 4:04 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

After 36 Years On Main Street, Mark Humphrey's Namesake Gallery Now Calls Jagger Lane Home

The Mark Humphrey Gallery at its new location Jagger Lane in Southampton Village.  DANA SHAW
Dec 12, 2016 4:14 PM

Perhaps you’ve noticed, but there’s a new gallery on Jagger Lane in Southampton Village.

The light-filled space is anchored by a few modern chairs, their sleek lines and bright hues a complement to the artwork that adorns the walls—large, colorful canvases dominated by various geometric shapes, many of them in shades of blue.

Welcome to the latest incarnation of the Mark Humphrey Gallery, where all the work on view is contemporary, abstract and painted by Mr. Humphrey himself.

“Usually you see a lot of blues in my work,” confirmed Mr. Humphrey during a recent visit to the gallery. “I love blue. I try to do a painting a month without a blue—but I rarely succeed.”

The work, indeed, is the defining feature and focal point of the gallery that bears his name and is also known for offering framing services, which remain a big part of the operation. Though this may be a new space for Mr. Humphrey, his is hardly a new face on the Southampton art scene.

Mr. Humphrey first opened his gallery on Main Street in Southampton 36 years ago, and the relocation to Jagger Lane is just the latest chapter in a story that defines exactly where he is at this point in his life—both personally and professionally.

While the gallery has carried some of the most successful artists of the last 50 years, including the likes of Roy Lichtenstein, Alex Katz, Ross Bleckner and many others, it is now focused solely on Mr. Humphrey’s own contemporary pieces.

“Ninety percent of the sales are my paintings, and 95 percent of those sales are through interior designers,” Mr. Humphrey explained. “So I no longer needed to be on Main Street and didn’t need that presence.”

“We survived 36 years because we watched what was going on,” he added.

Being off Main Street has also significantly lowered the rent roll, allowing Mr. Humphrey to spend more time at his studio in Manhattan, where he can also meet with his clients.

“My work has caught on with interior designers,” he said. “I do well because of the contemporary trend.”

Mr. Humphrey’s favorite part of his job is visiting people’s homes to see where they need artwork and working with clients to find just the right piece for them.

“No other artists get to do that,” he said. “I meet the people buying the art. I have good clients and that’s the exciting part.”

Staying abreast of the latest trends in art and design has been a vital component of Mr. Humphrey’s business acumen. It’s a skill that has served him well and one that, in many ways, first developed in the most unlikely of places—his home state of Oklahoma, where his father was the director of an art museum and worked as an art consultant making major art purchases for Williams Energy Group.

“My dad was driven to educate the people of Oklahoma about contemporary art,” noted Mr. Humphrey, who also has his father to thank for getting him out of Oklahoma, in the most literal sense possible.

At the time, Mr. Humphrey had just completed a master’s degree in painting from Ohio University and was back in Oklahoma trying to figure out what to do next with his life.

Then his father approached him with a proposition.

“He was flying to New York once a month looking for art for the company,” Mr. Humphrey said. “One day, two weeks before Thanksgiving, he said, ‘Your mother and I are flying to New York on Williams’ private plane. There’s room. Do you want to come?’

“I said, ‘I’m not going for the weekend … I’m moving there.’”

He did, and three years later, Mr. Humphrey met his partner, Larry Rundie, who had a home in Southampton.

At the time, Mr. Humphrey was working as a manager at A.I. Friedman, an art supply store in New York City, and was visiting the East End on weekends. When Mr. Rundie suggested he move to Southampton so they could start their own business, Mr. Humphrey was quickly onboard, just like that plane to New York,.

“Larry said, ‘Why do something for someone else? Why don’t we do this for us?’” Mr. Humphrey recalled.

And so they did—opening their first shop at 82 Main Street in Southampton Village.

“When we started in 1980, we were a gift shop with $6 Chinese kites, beach bags, whirligigs from Massachusetts—we bought them for $4 and sold them for $9,” Mr. Humphrey said.

“We also had posters and prints, and included framing, just in case—and that took off,” he added.

Mr. Humphrey explained that in 1980, nobody out here was doing professional framing on a major scale. But it was a skill he brought with him from A.I. Friedman and it turned out to be precisely what the area needed.

“For the first five years, I did framing on my dining table at home and then was going to work,” he said. “We were dealing with very high-end work. Having grown up in a museum, I knew you had to be very careful. And having a master’s in painting, I knew the artists whose work we were handling.”

Eventually, the framing services were integrated into the gallery and they have remained an integral part of the business ever since.

Mr. Humphrey noted that one of the keys to his long-term success has been the ability to stay nimble and transition as tastes have shifted. Two years after opening the store, the gallery moved to 95 Main Street and began selling vintage French posters.

“Then we started selling hand-colored antique botanicals,” he explained. “We would go to Paris twice a year and buy them. We had three people doing French matting, using marbleized paper. At one point we turned the gallery into almost an antique shop, with Hudson River landscapes, and Dutch still life. We had brass rails and antique rugs on the floor.”

When that style began to fade in popularity, the focus of the gallery shifted once again.

“Time after time we were recasting ourselves,” Mr. Humphrey said. “We have reinvented ourselves more times than you can imagine.”

Incidentally, that periodic reinvention has extended to his and Mr. Rundie’s home, where Mr. Humphrey isn’t afraid to mix it up if need be.

“The house is ultra contemporary minimalist. But I’ve done American country with the ox yokes over the fireplace, French country, Italian, then mid-century modern,” he said. “Abstract contemporary is what I’m happy with now. This is where I’m staying … and it looks like trends in art and decorating are going to stay that way too.”

So next time you’re in Southampton Village, stop by Mark Humphrey Gallery and say, “Hello.”

By the looks of things, they’re going to be there for a while.

Mark Humphrey Gallery is located at 10 Jagger Lane in Southampton. For more information, call 631-283-3113 or visitmarkhumphreygallery.com.

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