By Annette Hinkle

While Sag Harbor has a wide selection of galleries that cater to the varying tastes art lovers, there aren’t a lot of artists actually creating their work in the space in which they exhibit.

Then there’s Sabina Streeter.

At Streeter Gallery on Madison Street, the German born artist has turned the historic Vail House into a working studio. It’s an intriguing reuse of the 1820 structure, and throughout the winding space with its wide planked floorboards and brick fireplace, Streeter’s larger than life artwork occupies walls, windows and back rooms.

“The space is to showcase my art and the work in progress,” explains Streeter who owns the space and just moved back into it this fall. “I have another studio in Munich. This is for my American client base.”

Streeter, who also makes short films, has installed a movie screen and dvd player in the front room to host screenings of her work and that of fellow artists. And while she’s reluctant to call Streeter Gallery “a salon” — it still is her private workspace — Streeter feels it’s an ideal spot for art happenings of all sorts.

“Salon is a little too social,” she says. “It’s not a commercial gallery. One of the purposes of it is to have some special events and movie screenings for friends of mine.”

This weekend, for example, she’ll host a reception for a small show featuring unique jewelry pieces designed by Alex Streeter, her ex-husband, and their daughter Lily. But the real focus at the gallery is Streeter’s own work — larger than life charcoal and pastel portraits rendered on colorful silk and linen that tell a story, set the stage and offer a unique narrative of the subject.

Whether it’s commissioned portraits or her own artwork, Streeter’s subjects inhabit another world, one in which they are the stars in their own film, paired with the people who provide the joy and drama in their lives.

“I was always very interested by cinematic references and that’s been a light motif in all my artwork,” explains Streeter, whose mother was a documentary filmmaker and father was an architect. “I was trained in illustration and my teachers were of that era of 1950s and ‘60s European filmmakers – and it’s what I do now apart from portraiture. I photograph scenes that I like from movies by Visconti, Fellini, Antonioni and Fassbinder and then redraw them.”

“The basis of the work is cinematic and it’s based on an archive I have of movie stills and Photo Roman — mostly Italian — which are these photo novellas,” adds Streeter.

Photo Roman can best be described as 1950s romance novels in comic book form. These European stories of love and betrayal — no doubt for an adult audience — were told through dramatically staged photographs with pithy captions..

In Streeter’s stylized artwork based on Photo Roman, such as those from her “Divas of Doom” series, illustrations of couples in the throes of dramatic situations are subtitled with French, Italian or German text beneath.

“Je suis desole, mais mon coeur appartient a un autre…” reads the caption under one couple’s scene. “I’m sorry, but my heart belongs to another …”

But Streeter’s artwork is not limited to imagery from classic films and 1950s romance magazines. She has also used source imagery such as passsports or bank notes to create work that offers more of a political commentary. And in her commissioned portraits, Streeter lets her clients set the stage in work that is both stylized and personal.

“They are very reduced and sophisticated in drawing style. They’re not labored,” says Streeter of her work. “I put people in glamorous settings, but also the subtitles are always evocative and suggestive. I have people tell me their own subtitles and have them written underneath.”

“Someone commissioned me to do a portrait of herself and a long deceased film star as a composite,” adds Streeter. “And a friend of mine married into a royal family and they wanted a portrait of themselves in a big car in Europe.”

Streeter starts the process with a photo shoot, in which she captures the subjects in just the right pose. She then works with the subject to come up with the scenario and their own lines if they’d like to go that route.

“I’m not being provocative or warping them in any way,” explains Streeter. “I want them to be what they want.”

The final product is a simple, yet elegant, rendering that is gestural, fluid and unfussy. It’s a look that Streeter works hard to get just right.

“I like the immediacy of charcoal or pastels,” she explains. “You can’t over work them or erase. What looks like I’ve done in five minutes actually took sketches and sketches. The moment they look overworked I get rid of them and start over.”

“It’s a complete reduction of the image,” she adds.

While this unconventional style of portraiture might seem out of place in the grand ancestral homes of many of her European clients, in fact, Streeter finds her modern take works well, even alongside traditional family oil paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries. She notes she has even been commissioned to create portraits of clients’ ancestors using old photographs.

Streeter, whose work has been in exhibits around the world, and in the windows of Barney’s where, in 2002, it starred in a display titled “Euro-Pulp” explains that she was greatly inspired by her uncle, himself a caricature artist, who taught her to keep it simple.

“He reminded me to keep it as reduced, eloquent and economic as possible,” notes Streeter. “Because so much of it is in the hand, I have to work standing and that’s why it’s on this big scale. When I try to work smaller it has a tendency of not having the same immediacy.”

Streeter Gallery, 25 Madison Street, Sag Harbor, will be open from 5 to 8 p.m. this Saturday, December 17, 2011 for a viewing of vintage jewelry and new designs by Alex Streeter.