A collaboration between the band Wilderness and the artist's collective Curious Notch: Charles Long, Loren Hartman, Carolyn Hiler, Rafe Mandel, and Gene Jerskey-Long. Video by Carlton Bright.
Born 1958 in Long Branch, New Jersey; lives in Los Angeles, California
Charles Long’s interest in opposing formal and metaphysical forces informs a complex sculptural lexicon marked by radical stylistic shifts that are difficult to categorize. Incorporating an extraordinarily rich range of media, his process-based sculptures continuously show the artist’s struggle to connect the cosmos to the physical world, inside space to outside, through what the artist describes as the “implosion or explosion” of materials. Though visually the organically shaped sculptures recall the modernist works of Constantin Brancusi, Isamu Noguchi, or Theodore Roszak, their nonrepresentational ambiguity encourages surrealistic interpretive free associations.
The Amorphous Body Study Center (1995), a collaborative project with British pop group Stereolab, and Long’s 1997 Whitney Biennial contribution, epitomizes his colorful, blobby, biomorphic sculptures of the 1990s. Over the past ten years, this anthropomorphic style has mutated into white, gray, and pastel-colored sculptures that are now nearly devoid of Pop references, while still wittily limning the space between abstraction and figuration. Two recent exhibitions at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York and Brown University’s David Winton Bell Gallery demonstrated how Long has elaborated personal life experiences to comment on the human condition and the artist’s ever-evolving definitions of beauty.
Since relocating from New York, Long has mined the Los Angeles River both for materials and as a source of rich meanings. Poem of the River (2005) is a steel armature covered with plaster-coated debris collected from the river basin. Placed upside-down as it dried, its frozen drips of plaster emulate the detritus clinging to river basin trees in the poststorm ruination following heavy rains. Agnes Martin Kippenberger (2005) is a conflated homage to two artists representative in Long’s mind of control versus chaos: from a metal base, several copper poles—“rational supporting elements”—protrude upward to hold skull-like forms cast from cement mixed with riverbed sediment. At Brown University in 2005, these haunted, postapocalyptic works were exhibited with sculptures incorporating bare lightbulbs that enhanced the spectral atmosphere through shadow while emphasizing dynamic shapes and textures. Also created from scavenged river junk and silt, papier-mâché, and plaster over steel armatures, the sculptures in Long’s 2007 exhibition knowirds at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery are his most abject and apparitionlike works to date. Reminiscent of Alberto Giacometti’s frail figures, these pieces are modeled after the great blue heron excrement that streaks the concrete river embankment. Long sees his tall, desiccated ghosts as harbingers of death that paradoxically assert the resilience of life through their inclusion of every imaginable type of refuse. All untitled, these pieces were exhibited alongside framed albumen photographs of the heron droppings to which they allude. Here, Long has arrived at forms that are as concise as his notion that making artwork is both treacherous and life affirming. TRINIE DALTON