By Dustin Fitzharris
That sinking feeling is upon us. The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting cooler. The picnics in the park are fading. The long walks on the beach are winding down. And the sad reality of saying goodbye to a summer love is weighing heavy on our hearts. Soon all we’ll be left with are the memories of another summer gone by.
Painter and writer Richard Stabbert, however, has found a way to not only hang on to the season, but also capture it in all its beauty. In his first book, Provincetown Memories, he writes charming, yet intimate stories of the town that reads like pages out of his personal journal that tells the tales behind many of his paintings.
“There’s a magic to Provincetown that every year it changes, but the magic still remains,” Stabbert, who lives in Red Bank, N.J. says. When in Provincetown he feels completely at home. He can often be seen on the red bike he rents every visit. While riding he stops and listens to the handsome accordion player on Commercial Street. On his morning walks he collects shells and barnacles the bay has left in the retreating tide. Even after all these years, the area holds a special place in his heart.
“I first came here when I was 22,” Stabbert recalls. “I went with a girl, and I did not have any sex, but I wanted to go back. I liked the freedom. I like the fact that in the early ‘80s you could walk down the street holding hands and you could be free. It still represents freedom.”
Interestingly, at time when gay people finally have the right marry in all 50 states, they are perhaps more elusive than ever. Gone are the days when you’d have that nervous, but intoxicating feeling of catching someone’s eye across a room and wonder if anything would ever come of it. That’s been replaced by checking an app on the phone and seeing if there have been any responses to your profile or at the very least a ‘wink’ on Grindr. Stabbert’s words remind of us of days gone by and leave us longing for what can still be possible — if only in Provincetown.
“Sitting up now, I can see as you stand with water up to your thighs, the slight waves teasing the seams of your trunks as you bend and dive into the sea. If I don’t act now, the moment will pass.”
Writing is a relatively new process for the self-taught painter, but he found that once he started reflecting on his memories the stories came to him in vivid illustrations. “It’s half fact, half fiction and somewhere in there it’s all the truth,” he says about the book. “Writing is something that seems very lonely to me. Painting isn’t. Painting is just being there with the paint. With the writing, it was always in my head. I was constantly looking for words and searching for phrases and being conscious of repetitiveness.”
Much like the sweetness in his words, his paintings also show another side of gay culture; a playful one. In the past art has often depicted gay life and love as dark and erotic. Now with society embracing the gay community more than ever there has been a cultural shift. Suddenly Stabbert’s work, which has been described as child-like and naïve, is almost cutting edge, and when he’s painting someone he’s in love with or has a crush on, his form of erotica comes through in his brushstrokes.
“My paintings are about intimacy, desire, freedom, love, and longing,” he says. “I think people feel the images are young, but when I look at them and when I’ve written about them, I don’t look at them as a past; I look at them as more universal.”
No matter how harsh the winter may be this year, the boys of summer will continue to live on for all of us in Stabbert’s experiences and fantasies.
“My soul is not that of a dancer, nor my heart that of a poet, but for tonight I silently thank the gods of summer, of beauty, of love.”