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Hamptons Life

Jun 4, 2018 11:22 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Golf Artist Lee Wybranski's Work Goes On Display At Southampton Cultural Center In Time For U.S. Open

Jun 6, 2018 1:20 PM

The 118th U.S. Open, the United States Golf Association’s (USGA) premier annual tournament, comes to Shinnecock Hills Golf Club next week for the fifth time.

While the viewing stands at Shinnecock will be packed from June 11 to 17 with spectators, reporters, announcers and journalists all following the fate of the world’s top golfers as they make the rounds through the course, up the road in Southampton Village, golf lovers looking for a different view of the sport will find just that in an exhibition at Southampton Cultural Center.

Lee Wybranski, perhaps the most renowned golf artist on the circuit today, creates commissioned artworks and published editions related to golf—including landscapes, portraits and posters. From June 7 to 30, “Lee Wybranski Art in the Hamptons” at the cultural center will showcase original watercolors by the artist. All of it was created for various golf championships and clubs around the world and nearly all of it is for sale.

“It’s really the first show of its kind for me,” explained Mr. Wybranski in a recent phone interview from Flagstaff, Arizona, where his studio, Lee Wybranski Art & Design, is based. “It’s essentially kind of a mid-career retrospective. I’ve been doing this 20 years and this is the first time I’ve collected a large body of my artwork to be on view.”

That’s because, although Mr. Wybranski’s golf imagery is seen by the masses, it is typically viewed as reproductions in poster or print form. Very rarely are the originals displayed.

“It’s an unusual model,” said Mr. Wybranski, who is attending the U.S. Open and will be on hand for the exhibition’s opening reception at the cultural center on June 9 at 7 p.m. “In general, the posters exist as a retail product with some limited corporate and hospitality uses. Sometimes at smaller amateur events, the art might be the cover on the official program and banner signage.”

The timing of the exhibition couldn’t be better, as Mr. Wybranski’s latest design is the official 2018 U.S. Open poster, which features his watercolor painting of the iconic Stanford White clubhouse at Shinnecock Hills with foreground views of the greens. It’s the 11th consecutive poster he has designed for the Open. Over the years, other clients have included The R&A (Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews), The PGA of America, and private clubs such as National Golf Links of America.

Among some of the noted originals that will be on view at the exhibition will be paintings for the 2014 and 2018 U.S. Open Championships at Pinehurst and Shinnecock respectively; the 2015 and 2016 Open Championships at St. Andrews and Royal Troon; the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National, as well as the 2016 and 2017 PGA Championship originals from Baltusrol and Quail Hollow. There will also be several smaller drawings and paintings of notable private clubs on display.

“This show is an opportunity to share beautiful stuff. The Ryder Cup poster is seen by 5,000 people, but no one sees the original paintings,” he said.

Though Mr. Wybranski’s very first U.S. Open design came in 2008 when the tournament was at Torrey Pines in San Diego, his relationship with the USGA actually began in 2004—the last time the U.S. Open was played at Shinnecock Hills.

“Shinnecock was the first championship logo I designed and this is the first time I’ve done a Shinnecock poster,” Mr. Wybranski explained. “For that reason, Shinnecock holds a special spot in my professional heart. It’s the first time I had my work seen on such a big stage on any level.

“So this is completing a circle so to speak. I’m very excited to do the Shinnecock poster.”

Capturing the unique features of a specific course is Mr. Wybranski’s primary objective in his work. It’s all about honing in on the identifiable features, be it the train tracks that run along the edge of the course at Chambers Bay in Washington State, or the views of the cliffs as seen from Pebble Beach Golf Links on Monterey Peninsula in California. Whatever the scene, he explained, it should convey to golf aficionados right away which course it is and do so in a compelling and original way.

“You want create a picture where it’s recognizable enough to appeal to a broad audience and those who know the course can picture where it is,” Mr. Wybranski said. “A big part of my job is to find something well photographed—like the Shinnecock clubhouse. You end up trying to find a way to make something that has been seen many times new, different, distinct and presented in a unique light.”

For his painting of the Shinnecock clubhouse, for example, capturing the scene at an unexpected time of day turned out to be the key to finding that unique light.

“We did an early evening view,” Mr. Wybranski said. “I usually render these scenes as they would appear on a Sunday afternoon at a championship, with blue skies and a high sun,” he said. “But I wanted to bring some different colors in for this one. I tried to add warmer hues in the sky and the shadows.”

“Lots of times, I feel an important part of the process to unearth my version of the view is to have members, the club chairman or superintendent give me stories of the course or tell me if there’s been big changes or renovations in recent years,” he said. “It’s tremendously helpful.”

Also helpful is walking the course to take in the views. Because Mr. Wybranski knows well in advance when he will be creating a U.S. Open poster, he is able to plan ahead by visiting the subject course in person with a camera and sketchbook in hand.

“I typically visit six to nine months in advance. I was at Shinnecock last August,” he said. “Jon Jennings, superintendent of the club, hosted me and showed me the special spots. I spent another day and a half running around to find the little views. I like posters to have a lot of punch. You do that by showing something new.

“I’m gathering impressions and looking for something interesting,” he said. “I try to identify the top two or three elements at a particular event or venue.”

Mr. Wybranski prefers to work in watercolors, but he handles the medium in a somewhat non-traditional manner, grading and layering the paint in a more time-consuming process.

“Watercolor is often associated with a style that is loose, quick and sketchy, but these paintings are more polished and refined,” said Mr. Wybranski, who prefers to paint onsite when projects allow.

The final pieces have a distinctly vintage feel about them, and that, notes the artist, is intentional as he is strongly influenced by posters from the early 20th century.

“It was really a golden age of poster design across a lot of the artistic world,” he said. “There is the famous WPA imagery and the Arts and Crafts movement, the National Parks posters, the Monte Carlo travel posters, British railway posters.

“Even though these genres are different from each other, these things are what I look at and put in a pot and let simmer,” Mr. Wybranski said. “I hope with what comes out, you can see the influences, but it looks distinctly like mine.”

For someone who spends so much time these days studying the world’s greatest courses, the logical question, just like the chicken and the egg, is which came first for Mr. Wybranski? A love for the game of golf or the art?

“The art came first,” Mr. Wybranski said. “I caddied at 13, but I was skinny and nearsighted and terrible. I never got into golf.”

After graduating from art school, Mr. Wybranski began creating architectural drawings in pen and ink. That’s when the Winged Foot Golf Club of Mamaroneck in Westchester County came calling, asking him to do a drawing of their famous clubhouse.

“Golf art is such a status-driven genre. After Winged Foot, doors started opening and I got a few other golf club clients,” he said. “The more and longer I worked in the game, the more I would receive invites to play. I was declining those invites because I didn’t want to dig ditches on their fairway.

“Then in my mid-20s, I got bitten by the bug. Now I play as much as I can, but I turn down a lot more invites than I take up.”

And what about Shinnecock Hills? Has Mr. Wybranski ever tackled that legendary course as a golfer rather than an artist?

“I did play Shinnecock about a month before it hosted the open in ’04, so that was the last time,” he said, before adding, “It was difficult.”

Lee Wybranski’s golf art will be on view June 7 to 30 at the Southampton Cultural Center, 25 Pond Lane, Southampton. There will be an artist’s reception on Saturday, June 9 at 7 p.m. For more information about the artwork or to view it online, visit leewybranski.com or call SCC at (631) 287-4377.

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