Mystery Solved: Artist Michael R. Zotos Is Man Behind 'Spontaneous Entities' - 27 East

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Mystery Solved: Artist Michael R. Zotos Is Man Behind ‘Spontaneous Entities’

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From left: Tiffany Brenes, Emily Lowry, Dario Vasquez, Miguel Flores and Gabriel Guambana graduated on Saturday afternoon. AMANDA BERNOCCO

From left: Tiffany Brenes, Emily Lowry, Dario Vasquez, Miguel Flores and Gabriel Guambana graduated on Saturday afternoon. AMANDA BERNOCCO

Shells that the Daniels family has collected.   DAWN WATSON

Shells that the Daniels family has collected. DAWN WATSON

Dining area and outdoor living room.   DAWN WATSON

Dining area and outdoor living room. DAWN WATSON

An example of the work of  Oehme, van Sweden at LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton.

An example of the work of Oehme, van Sweden at LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton.

Victoria Elenowitz wond the Margot Carpenter Award for work of great beauty using predominantly fresh flowers.   DAWN WATSON

Victoria Elenowitz wond the Margot Carpenter Award for work of great beauty using predominantly fresh flowers. DAWN WATSON

author on Sep 9, 2014

Look carefully. These creatures can be easy to miss.They are posted on telephone poles all throughout the Hamptons—along County Road 39, down Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton and toward Sag Harbor, on corners in Southampton Village, and in front of Water Mill storefronts.

They are colorful, yet small. They are whimsical, yet mysterious. Or, as their creator Michael R. Zotos says, they are “spontaneous entities.”

Mr. Zotos, who lives in Holtsville, describes his art pieces as nothing more than freely drawn characters, done in the spur of the moment, accompanying each burst of creativity that pulses through his being. The cartoon-like doodles, which he re-creates on plywood after an initial sketch, he explained, are simply a combination of energy and imagination.

“To me, it looks kind-of plant, kind-of animal, kind-of biomorphic,” he said last week during an interview at his home. “When I find one called a ‘sweet spot,’ that’s when I do more with it. It jives. That’s the point—it’s got a jive.”

In May, the alien-looking pieces began popping up here and there—seemingly out of nowhere—without any explanation, raising the eyebrows of many East End motorists, with good reason. Mistaken for advertisements, or some kind of campaign—some even wondered if they were gang symbols—it turns out they were none of the above. Just an artist trying to give his work more exposure.

A long-time doodler, Mr. Zotos found himself craving an artistic outlet after working for more than two decades in real estate. He began with simple, white, papier-mâché sculptures mounted onto black backdrops that he displayed in Manhattan, usually in Union Square.

But one year, when he approached a gallery in the city about showing some of his work for the summer, he was denied.

“Nobody comes here,” Mr. Zotos recalls being told. “They all go out east.”

So he followed them.

It was approximately five years ago when the artist displayed his first pieces in the Hamptons, large, emotionless figures carved from blank sheets of plywood that he installed on the front lawns of a few businesses in well-traveled areas. Some of the pieces stayed put, others disappeared. But, either way, the experiment gave Mr. Zotos exactly what he wanted: a way to display his work.

“I realized it was effective. And effective is good,” he said. “The key to making something is having a lot of people see it.”

This time around, Mr. Zotos added color to his palette. His spontaneous entities are now more like little creatures instead of looming, empty silhouettes. The edge of each is outlined with a bright color, and the bodies are decorated with lines, shapes and splashes of paint—incomplete without a funky eye or two, and a mouth for some personality.

Out of the Closet, a vintage clothing store on Montauk Highway in Water Mill, is easily the largest hotbed for Mr. Zotos’s creations, apart from his own home. The spontaneous entities are all over the place: installed on the front lawn, affixed to the building and mounted on the store’s walls.

Lucille Martin, co-owner of the store, said she has developed a great liking for the kooky illustrations ever since Mr. Zotos approached her about displaying them at the beginning of the summer season, and selling them for $250 to $650 each.

“They’re whimsical. They make people smile,” Ms. Martin said. “They made me smile, and I love them.”

The spontaneous entities, big and small, have become Mr. Zotos’s artistic signature, scattered about his home in Holtsville. In his basement, the black-and-white papier-mâché pieces of years past line the walls, while the remaining rooms in his house are dotted with his more recent work. Last week, he even wore a spontaneous entity himself—a shirt covered in fabric paint and glitter, featuring one of his eccentric creatures.

To date, the artist has created more than six dozen spontaneous entities for the East End, and he isn’t finished yet. He plans to tackle a few more locations in the coming weeks in order to truly leave his mark. Although every spontaneous entity is unique, they all have similarities that make them one-of-a-kind, unmistakable Michael R. Zotos designs.

“There has to be a consistency,” he said. “You still have the image from the hand, the initial spontaneous gesture. It’s the same hand.”

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