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Collectors Rob & Eric Thomas-Suwall Share Standout Lots from the 2024 Fire Island Artist Residency Benefit Auction

The 2024 Fire Island Artist Residency (FIAR) benefit auction is special for both its cause and curators. This year’s sale, which runs from March 15th through 28th on Artsy, is curated by collectors Rob and Eric Thomas-Suwall. The couple is known for amassing an enviable collection of works by emerging and mid-career female-identifying and queer artists, which they share on their Instagram account, The Icy Gays.

Rob—a surgeon—and Eric—a political theory professor—have also channeled their artistic passions into support for arts organizations that align with their visions of supporting LGBTQ+ and women artists. They first came into contact with FIAR through a studio visit with the artist Chris Bogia, who co-founded the nonprofit. “We had been a big fan of his work for a while, and then found out about the residency,” Eric recalled.

Since FIAR launched in 2011 as the first residency dedicated to LGBTQ+ artists, it has become well known for its creative community. The four-week summer residency on New York’s Fire Island offers a selected group of artists free working and living space and programming, including visits from renowned artists and scholars, like Jeffrey Gibson, Derrick Adams, and Abigail DeVille. Past artists in residence include rising artists Marcel Alcalá, Paolo Arao, Elijah Burgher, Moises Salazar, and Willa Wasserman.

Bogia invited the Thomas-Suwalls onto the board of FIAR a few years ago. “What we love about Fire Island is this sense of community, celebration, and artistry,” Rob said. “That’s what FIAR does and we wanted to help support their mission.”

The 2024 FIAR benefit auction features 28 lots from a stellar list of artists, many of whom are either past FIAR residents or artists from the Thomas-Suwall collection. The sale features works by the likes of Sara Anstis, Deborah Brown, Elizabeth Glaessner, Molly Greene, and Robin F. Williams, among others.

In April, the couple will also open the exhibition “FULL DISCLOSURE: Selections from the Thomas-Suwall Collection” at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, North Dakota, curated by Anne-Laure Lemaitre. “It’s really exciting to be able to celebrate all of these queer artists, feminist artists, and galleries that have been such a part of our story,” Rob said. “Many of the artists who are in this auction and who have worked with FIAR are going to be in that show. We as collectors are so thrilled to be able to give their work a larger audience through the museum show, but then also through this auction.”

The auction, a testament to both the support for FIAR and the caliber of artists involved in the residency, features works starting from $1,000. “You not only get to live with something that’s amazing, but you also get to support and celebrate this important artist residency,” Rob added.

Here, the couple share five of the standout works from the sale.

Robin F. Williams, A Sound Around No One, 2024

Robin F. Williams is an artist that the couple came across through New York gallery P·P·O·W (which represents her). They first encountered a drawing by the artist that left quite the impression. “I lost my mind,” Eric recalled of the experience.

Williams, who has an upcoming retrospective at the Columbus Museum of Art in April, contributes the drawing A Sound Around No One (2024), which depicts a figure shouting in a forest. “When she paints she does all these amazing techniques. She’s like a wizard with paint, but with the drawings you actually can see her hand in it, and I think there’s an emotion to the drawings that she talks about as an integral part of this process of making these paintings,” said Rob.

This emotive aspect comes to the fore in this work, he added: “There’s an honesty to this emotion that we kind of all feel at some point and I think you can certainly feel it from Robin’s drawings,” he said. “Robin is certainly exploring this kind of feminine anger in a way that feels so honest and so moving. We couldn’t be more thrilled to have that work be part of the collection.”