Lieberman Finds His Balance, In Surfing And In Art - 27 East

Arts & Living

Arts & Living / 1503946

Lieberman Finds His Balance, In Surfing And In Art

icon 5 Photos

"Blue Eggs and Ham" by Bruce Lieberman.

"Mussels" by Bruce Lieberman.

Bruce Lieberman's painting

Bruce Lieberman's painting "Papaya Compost."

Bruce Lieberman in his studio in Water Mill.  DANA SHAW

Bruce Lieberman in his studio in Water Mill. DANA SHAW

Bruce Lieberman in his Water Mill studio.  DANA SHAW

Bruce Lieberman in his Water Mill studio. DANA SHAW

authorStaff Writer on Aug 5, 2019

Bruce Lieberman had only stopped at home in Water Mill for 10 minutes before he was back in his truck, on the road again.

“My Toyota has become my office,” he said.

The artist was starting his hours-long odyssey to Montauk for a late-afternoon surf, after wrapping up his summer painting class as “Professor Bruce” at Stony Brook University — and enduring 90 minutes in traffic back to the East End.

But coming out of retirement is well worth the commute, he said. He had missed the classroom, having spent nearly four decades as an art teacher, first in Mineola and then in East Hampton — not far from where he will participate in the group show, “Open Table,” starting Saturday, August 10, at BCK Fine Arts Gallery in Montauk.

“When I’m home and busy, I don’t miss it. When I’m there, I miss it,” he said of teaching. “If I stayed there, it would be fine. But once I’m back in my studio, who wants to be interrupted?”

His 24-foot-by-24-foot-by-24-foot studio is a natural extension of his farmhouse-inspired home, which he built 25 years ago.

“My carpentry skills are pretty shitty, so it was the perfect aesthetic,” he said. “You have to really like that aesthetic or you’re in trouble.”

Decades later, his abilities have improved — “When I do something, it gets a little better, but not much. You still have to watch me to make sure I don’t get lazy,” he said — and his zeal for life has only maintained. Every anecdote is doused in enthusiasm, his humor ,sharp, and his unfailing inability to recall dates, consistent.

“If it wasn’t for teaching two days a week, I couldn’t tell you what day it was,” he said with a laugh. “I could tell you where the wind’s coming from and when low tide is, but I can’t tell you anything else. Like, how old am I now? I think I’m 61 or 62, something like that.”

With certainty, Mr. Lieberman was born in Brooklyn in 1958 and raised in Old Bethpage on the edge of a potato field that he would often roam. Complete with a milkman, “it was a Timmy and Lassie life,” he said, excluding his frequent trips to New York as a child. His parents would take him to the opera and the Museum of Modern Art, where he played on the floor in front of Picasso’s “Guernica.”

As he grew older, painting and drawing as a young boy morphed into aspirations of becoming a professional artist — what felt like a lofty goal at the time, he said.

“I didn’t think you could be an artist. I’ve always been interested in nature, so I went to college to study marine biology,” he said. “I don’t think I had study skills. The chemistry and the calculus, they got me. And I realized I liked biology from a poet’s point of view, not from a scientist’s.”

He promptly dropped out of college and moved to California, attracted to the surfing lifestyle that dissolved after a year.

“I ended up broke and sick — I had the ‘Russian flu’ — and I couldn’t get a job,” he said. “So I felt like, ‘I might as well go back to college and get a job. My mother didn’t raise me to be a bum,’ but I didn’t know what to study. So I figured I might as well study art.”

Mr. Lieberman landed at none other than Stony Brook University, where he learned from some of the greats — landscape artist Mel Pekarsky, art critics Lawrence Alloway and Donald Kuspit, and sculptor Robert White, who shifted the trajectory of the young painter’s future career.

“I went late to this figure drawing class, it’s a big class, and Robert White wanders around and stops at every single person,” he recalled. “But he gets to me and he’d sigh and grumble under his breath, and I was never hitting the mark.

“I remember I was surfing one day and I was thinking of dropping out because I wanted to be an artist and I couldn’t even draw and this guy didn’t approve,” he continued, “and I remember saying, ‘Well, screw it. I’m just gonna have fun.’”

At the next class, Mr. Lieberman tossed aside every rule he knew. He just attacked it, loose and free, his creativity emerging out of a fog — the same artistic process he uses in his still lifes to this day, from capturing scenes of table scraps to peaceful moments in the garden.

And when Mr. White made his way around the room this time, he slapped Mr. Lieberman on the back and said, “Now you’ve got it! What the hell happened to you?” before he moved on to the next.

“I was like, ‘Whoa.’ So the answer was throwing yourself 100 percent into it, but to lose yourself in the process,” he said. “That was a big moment to me. You’re trying to struggle to find out what ‘good’ is. In a way, it doesn’t matter. ‘Good’ is just when you’re honest to yourself.”

He tells this story to nearly every class he teaches, he said, and he hopes it encourages each of his students to find a voice and form of self-expression, as well as a little humility. And he is always sure to walk around the room, just as Mr. White did.

“I don’t think kids should come thinking they’re great geniuses and I don’t want to crush their little souls, but that’s part of the art of it,” he said. “I think I’m pretty hard on them. I want them to work like a son-of-a-bitch and then I’ll help them get through it.”

It is easy to suspect he is well liked among his students — “I might be an acquired taste,” he deadpanned — and finds himself learning from them daily.

“They keep me on my toes, I have to keep my brain active. You have 20 different personalities or 20 different problems you have to decipher,” he said. “There’s an excitement and an energy. They’re interested and it’s nice to exchange ideas with really intelligent people.

“They’re brilliant kids. It’s nice talking to young people and helping them on their way.”

“Open Table,” featuring work by Bruce Lieberman, Lynn Kotula and John Goodman, will open with a reception on Saturday, August 10, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at BCK Fine Arts Gallery @Montauk, located at 87 South Euclid Avenue in Montauk. The show will remain on view through Tuesday, August 27. For more information, call 631-594-1402 or visit

You May Also Like:

Artists Alliance of East Hampton Virtual Show

From August 1 through Labor Day, September 7, the Artists Alliance of East Hampton (AAEH) will present its inaugural virtual show, “Colors of Hope.” Taking inspiration from the pandemic, 37 member artists have created works to commemorate the unusual times in which we live. Whether their entries chronicle personal concerns or provide a tranquil respite from anxiety, their carefully-chosen works express an extraordinary moment in history when social distancing becomes intimate engagement. As catalysts in this time of isolation, their accomplishments empower all of us to reflect more deeply, immerge stronger, and impact our evolving society with passion, commitment, and ... 14 Jul 2020 by Staff Writer

Claude Lawrence’s Works From the Estate

Keyes Art Gallery opens “New Works From the Estate,” an exhibition featuring the work of Claude Lawrence, on Friday, July 17, from 7 to 9 p.m. Born in 1944, Lawrence is a product of South Side Chicago — a city that was on the forefront of the civil rights movement with its burgeoning arts, music and cultural scene, and jazz clubs of international repute. He picked up the tenor saxophone as a high school student and, after playing the Chicago jazz club circuit, in 1964 he set his sights on New York. It was the first of his many moves ... by Staff Writer

Take a Ride on Spaceship Earth

On July 15, Hamptons Doc Fest founder/executive director Jacqui Lofaro added access to the first-run documentary film “Spaceship Earth” on the website. Directed by Matt Wolf, “Spaceship Earth” (2020, 115 min.), almost like a science fiction film, tells the visionary story about an historic experiment involving eight men and women who built and in 1991 quarantined themselves for two years inside a giant, pyramid-shaped glass replica of the Earth’s ecosystem, called Biosphere 2, in New Mexico. Then something happens to the group that threatens the entire project. Wolf gathered 600 hours of archival footage about the experiment and was ... by Staff Writer

McGuire And Morfis At Grenning Gallery

The Grenning Gallery’s newest exhibition features the work of Tim McGuire and John Morfis. McGuire returns to the Grenning Gallery at a precipitous moment in his artistic career. Within this new body of work there is ample evidence of McGuire’s deft classically trained hand, but more importantly, the witnessing of a blossoming confidence as he claims the canvas as his own kingdom. McGuire was classically trained at The Florence Academy of Art, and also a regular workshop teacher who has recently moved to Nova Scotia to paint full time. He was a perennial student and teacher before he decided nine ... by Staff Writer

Inside the Artist’s Studio

“I have been photographing artists’ studios for several years in various parts of the world,” said East Hampton artist Daniela Roman. “Lica Roman, my mother was a painter/engraver, and I spent my childhood near her studio. That place, at the back of the garden, was magical for me. I was not allowed inside, except to pose, sitting very still on a chair. But everything attracted me like a magnet.” Roman has been photographing artist’s studios around the world for the last 11 years. In 2019, she began creating layered portraits of East End artists inside their workspaces. The Amagansett Free ... by Staff Writer

Mark Humphrey Gallery Celebrates Founder With A Show Of His Work

Mark Humphrey, a visual artist and Southampton gallery owner, died at the age of 71 ... 12 Jul 2020 by Staff Writer

The Work Of Cuban Artist Tomás Sánchez At Alone Gallery

Alone Gallery's “Spotlight 3” exhibition, on view from July 14 to 26, features paintings by ... by Staff Writer

Let The Revolution Begin

On Friday, July 24, at 6 p.m., Keyes Art Gallery of Sag Harbor will host ... by Staff Writer

Founder Of ArtHamptons Introduces a Virtual Reality Art Fair for Summer 2020

In recent years, every summer on the East End brought with it an art fair ... 9 Jul 2020 by Cayla Bamberger

Community In Crisis – A Visual Diary: An Exhibition of Photography

Introduction   The purpose of the exhibition Community in Crisis is to create a visual ... 8 Jul 2020 by Staff Writer

Welcome to our new website!

To see what’s new, click “Start the Tour” to take a tour.

We welcome your feedback. Please click the
“contact/advertise” link in the menu bar to email us.

Start the Tour
Landscape view not supported