They Call Her 'The Tanster,' And She's On A Rainbow-Filled Mission - 27 East

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They Call Her ‘The Tanster,’ And She’s On A Rainbow-Filled Mission

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Lance A. Gumbs, vice chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation Council of Trustees. ANISAH ABDULLAH

Lance A. Gumbs, vice chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation Council of Trustees. ANISAH ABDULLAH

Council Chairman Bryan Polite and Council Treasurer Seneca Bowen. ANISAH ABDULLAH

Council Chairman Bryan Polite and Council Treasurer Seneca Bowen. ANISAH ABDULLAH

author on Apr 14, 2015

The home on the corner of Farmstead Lane and Court in Water Mill could easily be mistaken for an artist’s workshop—and that’s because, essentially, it is.Cans of spray paint crowd every shelf of the three-tiered rack in the living room. Paintings and other pieces of art are stacked against the fireplace. The dark floorboards are stained with a rainbow of colors, and a sprinkle of glitter.

The rainbow, by the way, is literal.

This is the space where street artist The Tanster—she asked to remain anonymous, because she does not want her name associated with her artwork, as she feels it will alter the way people view it—has spent the past few months formulating a campaign to raise awareness for the Coalition for Women’s Cancers at Southampton Hospital, with her own personal twist on the effort.

Using yard signs that feature screen-printed images and a gradient of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet—the colors of the rainbow—she is spreading the word about the coalition across the South Fork by hanging her creations on trees and utility poles, with little notes taped to their backs explaining how to donate.

Thanks to a mass donation of spray paint from The Home Depot in Riverhead, The Tanster also refurbished and bedazzled a 1982 Mercedez-Benz with her signature gradient and sparkle, complete with stencil lettering “#CWCSHH”—short for the Coalition for Women’s Cancers at Southampton Hospital—that she drives around the South Fork to promote the project. And she calls it “Rainbowsparklebenz.”

The fundraising initiative is part of The Tanster’s personal community project, titled Gemeinschaft Projekt, or the German translation for that phrase, she said.

“I wanted the community project to have a focus, so I needed a charity that everybody already liked, and a problem that everybody could really relate to—which, tragically, is cancer,” according to The Tanster. “We all connect to the hospital. We all understand the anguish of cancer. So that’s why it’s to help them.”

So far, The Tanster’s efforts have yielded more than $1,000 in donations. Her ultimate goal is to raise enough funds to open a wellness center—a place for cancer survivors to practice yoga, meditation and tai chi, as well as to swim and participate in support groups.

The wellness center is the brainchild, and dream, of Susie Roden, founder and executive director of the Coalition for Women’s Cancers. “We are thrilled. We are very happy to be teaming up with [The Tanster]. Nothing is better than rainbows,” she said, referring to the artwork. “I’m loving it. And when I talk to her, and when I’m with her, she is so enthusiastic.”

Most of the inspiration that fuels The Tanster’s colorful work comes from her circa-1970s childhood—a groovy decade filled with rainbows, glitter and automobiles. But the inspiration for the community project stems from some unusual suspects: Napoleon Bonaparte and Kim Kardashian.

The Tanster has studied the French military leader extensively and describes Gemeinschaft Projekt as something “he would love,” as it is an effort to make the community stronger.

“I mean it—he was, like, a road builder. He wanted the water to be cleaner. He really cared about quality-of-life issues,” she said. “And I’m much more a social person, so I’m taking this Napoleonic vision and applying it to the things I care about—women, art, politeness.”

So where does Ms. Kardashian come in? The Tanster once worked as a photographer for Getty Images and spent about three years capturing the whereabouts of the famous socialite and her celebrity counterparts. But following celebrities for so long exposed her to the darker side of human nature, a side said she did not want to see in her own community.

“I don’t want to be mean, but we’re, like, going in this narcissistic direction that troubles me. How about that for motivation?” she explained. “I’m so troubled by the self-absorption, rudeness, et cetera. What am I going to do about it? Everybody’s getting ruder, meaner.”

The Tanster knows firsthand. After she began hanging up her work outside of businesses in Southampton Village, with permission, she was eventually approached by village officials and asked to take it all down. She then went to a board meeting in January and made a proposal of her idea but ultimately was rejected. Now, she avoids Southampton Village when heading out to distribute her art, but still hopes to get officials on her side, as Southampton Hospital is the center of that community.

“It’s not encroachment. It’s really polite,” The Tanster said. “I can’t just forget about the village. I really want to find a way to get them to want to help.”

For the time being, The Tanster is sticking to the remainder of the South Fork as the stage for her psychedelic creations, with the hope that her colorful influence will be mirrored in the Coalition for Women’s Cancers future wellness center.

Ms. Roden certainly has no objections.

“[Rainbows make] you smile. [They] make you think, ‘Oh, I can get through today no matter what it brings me,’” she said. “A rainbow house would be fantastic.”

For more information about The Tanster and Gemeinschaft Projekt, visit thetanster.com, or follow the artist’s Instagram, @.gemeinschaftprojekt. Donations to the Coalition for Women’s Cancers at Southampton Hospital can be made online at cwcshh.org/tanster.html.

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