Interview with Jeremy Long, Contemporary American Figurative Painter
By Hall Groat II, Chairman, Art and Design Department, SUNYBroome Community College
To learn more about the work of contemporary painter, Jeremy Long, please visit his web site at:
All paintings included are painted in oil on stretched canvas
HGII: Within many of your early landscape and architectural pieces it seems that you often gravitated towards compositions that presented complex, interlocking elements. For example, in this piece below you choose to emphasize the linear nature of the telephone poll wires. Did you decide to paint this particular scene due to the spatial complexities it offered? What initially inspired you to paint this scene, and where is it located?
JL: The painting was painted in Ithaca NY and is a motif seen at the end of the driveway when I lived there three years ago. The decision to make this painting was in part due to the time I spent standing at that particular location waiting for the school bus to drop off my son from school.
HGII: The large, animated tree within this piece has an incredible amount of sculptural weight. What initially attracted you to this particular composition? Was it the atypical form of the tree that caught your eye, or was it the idea of looking through the intertwining branches, and how they accentuated the sense of abstraction within the space?
JL: This small painting was done in Washington D.C. during my last year in Graduate school. I spent my last year in Washington making a series of paintings that were conceived of as portraits of trees, these paintings were painted outside while standing in front of the trees/bushes depicted in the paintings. The year before I worked exclusively in my studio making paintings of head-like forms that were not done from observation. These paintings done in the studio at this time began to run their course and I eventually moved outside to paint things I could describe instead of invent.
HGII: Do you feel that the landscape compositions that you selected (or perhaps selected you) during your early years are naturally emerging within your more recent figurative work? There appears to be an underlying structural similarity between your landscape pieces and your figurative pieces?
JL: Working from the landscape taught me how to paint. Painters that paint outside are a completely different breed of painters. Standing outside and starring into the face of God and trying to come up with something is no easy task. I worked from the landscape for ten years and still go outside to paint when I’m not working on these large figure paintings.
HGII: I see that your family has become a major subject within your figurative work from more recent years, and have read that these large pieces take several years to complete. Are these pieces based on drawings and sketches, or do you work from memory or digital imagery? As the pieces evolve over time, does your family often have a degree of creative input and perhaps make comments on the paintings that influence your creative process? Is your studio located within your home? One can really sense the profound love you have for your family within your work. Which idlylls from history are you most inspired by? Anderson has also painted them throughout his career. In a few of your idylls (as in the ones below) one can sense the struggle between balancing everyday domestic life and your love for your family with your desire to paint.
JL: There is anywhere between 10-12 smaller paintings and several drawings that are made first. These paintings are cursory in nature and have the appearance of simple shapes that are organized in several different compositions. Before long shapes suggest figures in spaces and I can begin to find a placement for them. I keep these paintings around and look at them and pick them up one at a time and paint into it them. After a while of doing this specific situations are depicted that lend themselves to the appearance of the large painting.
My studio is at the University, but I worked at home for years before that. Often my wife whose studio is at home needs time alone to get her work done so I bring the kids to my studio and ask them what they think about what I’m doing and ask them for suggestions.
I have kept allegiances with certain painters of the past because you can only become a good Painter by copying the masters. Unless you try and do something in the shadow of these great people, it’s all pointless. Realizing this allows me to understand that if I am not feeling the difficulties of my own efforts then nothing counts. I have always worked from dissatisfaction and I always feel it could have been better; and quite often I feel it could have been different.
HGII: I’m very fascinated by how you build form, construct space and handle the paint. With the pieces you paint from observation, how do you go about deciding how to distill the forms into the varying sized, interlocking planar shapes? It seems like the approach to observation is heightened, similar to Cézanne. For example, in the backyard piece the lawn in the foreground contains an incredible amount of intricate shapes and variations in green that visually vibrate. The paint has a real visceral, concrete nature to it, too.
JL: The foreground is always my biggest concern. When looking for a place to paint I want several spatial zones as well as any opportunity to activate my corners. But the painting has to be anchored down with a thoughtful foreground. There is a certain degree of labor that goes into getting the foreground painted, similar to how someone might approach a still life. If I can convince myself of the forms that are six feet from where I am standing then I can walk the painting further back into space.
HG: I see Tom Tomc (Chicago painter, far left) has found his way into this figurative peace.
How do you decide on whom to include within your large figurative pieces?
I have a sense of the creative process involved in developing the actual physical painting, but can you describe how you come up with these complex narratives?
Do you have an idea of who you want to paint prior to completing all of the small precursor drawing and painting studies, or do the abstract shapes that naturally emerge within these studies begin to resemble people and experiences within your life?
JL: With the painting mentioned it was a simple decision because Tom lived down the block and we met regularly. Tom would visit and we would discuss several different painting issues, so when it came time to decide who goes where in was only natural to include him. Other narratives develop from thoughts about my marriage and my relationships to my children. The people in the paintings are pretty consistent, so there’s never any speculation as to who’s going to appear in the painting.
Which artists from the past (or present) are you most influenced by? I certainly can see Stanley Lewis in your work who is an incredibly gifted painter. I’ve always thought of Stanley as an artist who developed a new archetype for conceptualizing the landscape, similar to what Paul Cézanne once did.
Stanley Lewis, American artist
JL: Well I certainly think your right about Stanley being a painter whose accomplishments can hang next to Constable and hold his own. If I got anything from Stanley it was who to look at as well as important ideas about structure. Painters that I have been paying close attention to are Piero, Poussin, Courbet, and Seurat.
HGII: Is Wright State University, where you currently teach, predominately a classical art program that’s grounded in formalism?
JL: I think there is some of that, mostly we try to teach students how to look at paintings as well as how to paint from observation. There are three painting professors altogether and we each bring something different, there is very little overlap with regards to how a painting is made but we all have similar understandings of what makes a painting work.
HG: Within this pluralistic art world it seems like formalism has become less of a concern within many Fine Art programs, and that multi-media conceptual art is what’s being peddled to students.
What’s your approach to teaching painting? Do you demonstrate at all within the classroom, or focus on explaining to students how to see what’s before them?
JL: When I do demonstrations in class it’s done mostly in Beginning Painting classes and they function as examples of how to get a painting going. The idea of having to make a decision completely on your own when starting a painting can be very frightening. I also talk quite a bit about how to see and paint color relationships in nature as well as being aware of the total.