Sunday, June 8, 2008

Putting The Hamptons in Perspective...
Grant Haffner “Napeague” Acrylic, Pencil on Wood 12 x12 inches, 2007
Line Drawings - LIPA Lines and Poles: A Bane for Some, a Muse for Others
By Susan M. Galardi

The season has begun in the Hamptons. There's an excitement, an energy, a buzz in the air - literally.
The buzz isn't news of P Diddy's next party in Landfall or the redwing blackbirds squawking from the bulrushes, although that's happening too. The buzz is coming from the new LIPA poles - literally. The poles themselves are buzzing. In the last several months, there's been much controversy, politicking, progress, wins and losses connected with the installation of new electrical lines and poles in Water Mill and East Hampton's Northwest Woods. LIPA recently agreed to bury lines in Water Mill along Scuttlehole Road, and just last week, they agreed to bury part of the line in Northwest. But not all of them. Most - 90% - are being replaced and while LIPA spokesperson Ed Dumas said, "It's my understanding that they're the same size and width" as the previous poles, the old poles seem to be a needle in the haystack compared to the monstrosities replacing them. Dumas said that the poles seem larger because, "when we change over our apparatus to new poles, we typically cut the head off the old pole." That head seems to be about 10 feet high, and for some reason, the new apparatus hasn't been placed at the same height as it was on the old poles.
And there's the buzz. Near the corner of Hands Creek and Alewive Brook Road, there's a pole that I call the Iron Giant. It looks like something from that animated sci-fi film and while it doesn't utter robot speak, it does emit a very loud buzz. According to Dumas, "That's a transformer - they should not be audible from the ground." On Friday, Dumas said he informed operations, and that they'd be "sending someone out to see if there's something wrong with the transformer."

Living in the Hamptons, and having lived in the city, there are things you can fight and things you must just accept. Right now in Northwest, that latter category includes inchworms, the buzz of the iron giant (for the moment) and the monster poles that look like they belong on an industrial site or superhighway. We East Enders like our views - bays, oceans, farmland, horse meadows - and we pay big money to keep them. Not to mention, before LIPA chose to bury the Scuttlehole lines, residents had planned to protest at the risk of being arrested.
All because we don't like seeing big poles and electrical wires muck up our sky view. But we do like sitting by the pool, working on our computers, connected to the Internet via Airport and having our cell and cordless phones ready at the draw. Considering that, sometimes I psych myself into believing that the tall poles are okay - after all, the apparatus is hidden higher in the tree line - at least until the leaves drop or the inch worms decimate them.
I'm not alone in my acceptance of the poles and lines. At least one other person, 28-year-old local artist Grant Haffner, not only likes them, but has built a career on them. "There is something so beautiful about the way the power lines dance along the side of the road," he said, "something so familiar because we are all aware of them."
Haffner grew up on the East End, the son of parents who were into the art scene, always doing "the wine and cheese thing at galleries," and they took him along. After a brief stint at SVA, he came home and started painting East End landscapes. When Haffner first began painting, he edited what he saw. But one day, he asked himself "Why don't I include the telephone poles?"
From then on, Haffner's landscapes have featured if not glorified the poles. His passion for them was a motivator to get involved in the Scuttlehole scuttlebutt - but in a different way.
"I admit that while the Scuttlehole power line debate was going on I took the liberty of photographing them, a lot," he said. "It's funny to me that it's such a huge debate, but I guess I am one of the few who thinks they are historically beautiful in design. I loved the way they looked. I think they're strong, romantic. They carry everything across the planet."
Haffner has his supporters, too. His fluorescent sunset painting of Route 27 east, where it intersects with Sagg Main, earned him the Best Landscape award this past spring at Guild Hall. The painting features the poles - totems to a society that once was and still is, for now, but not for long.

Recently, there's been talk about burying the lines in Montauk, where Haffner did much of his early landscape work. One wonders how this might affect the young artist's muse. "Burying the lines is a good thing," he said, "and I guess it's a new beginning for me as an artist. But there's nothing wrong with a new beginning. I love starting over. It will be a time to adapt and change how I look at things."

So as the debate to bury the lines or raise the stakes continues, Grant Haffner will continue to paint the skies as he, and we, see them. Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.

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