Jeffrey Long, the elder son of a commercial graphic artist at Time & Life, was born in New York City in 1948.
In 1970 Long received a BFA in Illustration and Art Education from Rhode Island School of Design and had decided to be a painter. His paintings from this period were photo realistic portraits and figures set in landscapes. On graduation, he married and began teaching art in a Rhode Island public school system.
From 1971 through 1973 he was a resident artist at the Rockefeller-funded Pulpit Rock Community in Woodstock, Connecticut. Works from this intensive period were representational, highly dynamic, and borrowed from the vocabulary of cartoons.
In early 1974 Long moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he obtained a full scholarship at California College of Arts & Crafts (now California College of Arts).
There he received an MFA in painting in 1976. He established various studios in Oakland and Emeryville, while also working as a Curatorial Assistant at The Oakland Museum. The museum brought him in touch with such California artists as Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff, Manuel Neri, Joan Brown, Jay de Feo, Mel Ramos, Ansel Adams and Imogen Cunningham.
In 1977 Long was approached by an heiress of HC Johnson Company, important patron of contemporary art. This patronage allowed Long to work full time in the studio, and funded extensive travel in Asia, where introductions were made to important artists in several countries.
Long’s large format gouache on paper works from this period show the flattened space of Japanese wood block prints. In 1979 he showed these works in New Image/Bay Area, curated by George Neubert at The Oakland Museum. The same year, Long started a decade long relationship with Ivory Kimpton Gallery in San Francisco, where he staged annual solo exhibitions.
At the end of 1979 he established a San Francisco studio.
In gouache, then large scale oil pastel on paper and oil on canvas, Long’s landscapes were a synthesis of places experienced, rather than directly transcribed. The artist was attempting to convey the essential energy of nature in increasingly totemic and energized paintings.
Many of these large scale works are now in museums throughout the United States Including San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Oakland Museum, Crocker Museum, Sacramento, and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.
During these years Long was resident artist at the MacDowell Colony, Dorland Mountain Colony and Sacatar Foundation. Beginning in 1988, Long traveled regularly to many of the remotest parts of Africa, where he digested color and texture later to be employed in his abstract landscapes.
Moving gradually in the 1990s to a more geometric, collage-layered approach, Long’s project was to bring metaphor and oblique narrative to abstraction. Reflecting on the votive offerings of gold leaf on the interior walls of Buddhist temples he had seen in Thailand, he incorporated this element into his collaged surfaces.
The idea of the votive offering became a vehicle for the artist to visually address the AIDS crisis, which was killing so many of his friends. Many of the paintings portrayed light emerging from darkness. Others were chronologies listing names of the dead. Landscape was never far from the surface of these abstractions. But these were fragmented, gridded landscapes evoking a fractured paradise.
In 1998 Long, together with his partner, moved to New York for three years. The artist established a studio in TriBeCa. Here he continued oil and collage works based on abstracted landscape.
On returning to San Francisco in 2001, he began to introduce biomorphic shapes into a matrix of rectilinear structures, ending up with a colorful, content-free kind of abstraction.
In 2003, in acquiring a ranch in rural Lake County California as a part-time residence, Long’s contact with nature was reinforced. Evidence is seen in his abstract pieces based upon orchards.
Meanwhile, Long’s solo shows continued apace at galleries such as Andrea Schwartz, Fay Gold, and Toomey Tourell.
Although the artist has been chiefly known for his non-representational work, he often returns to figuration and more literal landscape.
For all its iterations over the centuries, architecture’s basic premise is the provision of shelter from nature. When a child is asked to draw a house the result, across cultures, is much the same – a roof supported by walls. A person considering setting up camp, either as a temporary recreational get-away or more permanently as a shelter of last-resort, envisions architecture as shelter in its most rudimentary form.
As the provisional structures and jerry-rigged encampments erected by marginalized people in this season of Late Capitalism spread across the land, the basic architecture of necessity returns to remind us of the thousands of years we lived on a subsistence level.
Americans like to think of a frontier past, even if many us are not descended from such a history. The simple cabins of Lincoln, Thoreau, and Muir found more recent echoes in the cabin of Ted Kaczynski and the shed of Jackson Pollock. All seemed to represent the individual man in nature. The camps of the homeless have not been similarly romanticized.
One of my long-standing projects in painting has been to convey my impressions of place, seen, remembered, and imagined. These are improvisational pictures, which riff on the geometries, hard edges and colors of shacks, sheds and huts. I try to disclose the visual poetry latent in structures and in landscapes that have been manipulated and fractured by man. My paintings, LITTLE HOUSES, ORANGE HOUSES, SHELTERS series, and HOUSEBOATS fit this category. I try to see the landscape for what it has become in the era of overpopulation and economic inequity.
In spite of the facts that the human population has more than doubled in the past fifty years, and that 96 percent of all animal life on the planet is made up of humans and the livestock of humans, there are still patches of relatively intact landscape.
My painting, PATH AT POINT REYES reminds me that even in Point Reyes, putatively a National Park, out of 71,000 total acres only 43,000 acres is designated as wilderness and potential wilderness. Another 28,000 acres has been turned over to a grossly polluting dairy industry.
My painting, SNAKE RIVER, set in a postage stamp-size natural reserve within a vast continent-wide cattle-filled landscape is a picture of the lost Arcadia of North America. The tonalist quality of this picture is due to the burning of millions of wild acres throughout the west.
YUBA RIVER references Thomas Eakins’ THE SWIMMING HOLE, another view of the American Paradise, updated.
LAS GALLINAS CREEK, a scene in Marin, focuses on stretch of marsh that still provides habitat for endangered species and migratory waterfowl.
ABANDONED BOOKS 2, works as a geometric landscape and speaks of many things, among them a post-literate society, and material waste.
The human element in nature is a connecting thread in Jeffrey Long’s broad swathe of paintings done over the past five decades.
His paintings, expressed in various visual languages, abstract, representational, figurative, narrative, and metaphorical, are meant to bring order to direct experience.
Jeffrey Long, now at Desta Gallery, launches a new series based on the idea of SHELTERS.
The artist carries over much of what he has expressed in his abstract paintings, which fuse Modernist and tribal design motifs. The SHELTERS series can be read, in part, for its purely rhythmic patterning and color.
Obvious to the casual observer, the provisional, ad hoc architecture of necessity is spreading exponentially as humans outstrip resources and lack opportunity. Shanty towns and slums seen throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia, are now blossoming in North America and Europe.
These piecemeal shelters evoke desperation and misery, but they are also emblematic of people doing the best they can under difficult conditions.