One of the most talented and promising painters of our time, NYC-based artist Doron Langberg’s works exult a deep sense of physicality, sexual desire and beauty through a unique mastery of shapes and textures.
At the subtle frontier between abstraction and figuration, his vibrant canvases explore ideas of bodily rapports mostly inspired by personal connections, friends and love stories which conceptually reflect on what brings humans together.
The intimacy that transpire in the huis-clos scenes on view in Doron’s virtuoso work create pleasurable and safe spaces, while poetically reinventing the possibilities of painting and praising the mundane.
At the young age of 35, his work are already in the collections of The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. A reproduction of Doron’s Joe and Edgar, 2020, can currently be seen in New York as part of Public Art Fund’s Art on the Grid, a city-wide initiative featuring 50 emerging artists.
Here, the artist talks to Art is Alive about his inspirations, personal experiences, and a sense of belonging to a new School of Queer artists unafraid to openly celebrate sexuality, which includes Louis Fratino, João Gabriel and Salman Toor among any others.
Pictures are by Dusan Vuksanovic, a New York City-based photographer and a close friend of Doron’s, from his Brown Paper Series, 2020, featuring some of his immediate circle of artist friends, creatives and locals. The formidable photos titled Doron Painting His Lilies in The Pines, were shot in Fire Island in August 2020: “I took Doron to my friends’ gardens in The Pines (Fire Island) and spent an afternoon shooting him as he painted two flower paintings that were shown later this fall in the city.” Dusan said. They brilliantly illustrate the following interview with Doron.
I am really interested in your technique to achieve such strong works. How do you start your paintings: do you begin immediately with the subject matter, the content, or rather explore the colours and ‘shapes’ first? And do you draw beforehand?
My process is pretty straight forward. Once I have a composition or image in mind and some idea of the colour and materiality I start collecting source material. Usually I’d make a few small portraits from observation of the subjects I’m interested in and use those as a basis for a large piece. The big paintings start with a very loose compositional drawing on the canvas itself, then a few bold gestures that cover the entire surface almost. These expressive moves in the very beginning often dictate what the colour structure will be and how the piece will feel. From there, it’s a slow process of building the space and figures step by step, as I get more specific ideas about how I want different parts to be treated.
Your work seem both emotional and very descriptive / figurative of personal moments, of your intimacy. How much of your personal life do you draw into these works? Would you say that they’re a form of autobiography?
My personal experience is the source of my practice for sure. All the pieces I make come from relationships, situations, or moments that are meaningful to me. But I’m not interested in autobiography. I’m trying to use my point of view to talk about issues that are fundamental to the human experience, not tell a story about myself. I’m inspired by the artists I love the most like Alice Neel, Felix Gonzalez Torres, Bonnard, etc, who draw from their everyday life but are able to reach far beyond it, and speak to themes like love, death, and desire that everyone can share in.
Sexuality, carnal desire, and bodily landscapes are at the centre of your work: how do you approach the depiction of sex and love?
When I started working with sexual subject matter in undergrad, making pieces that depict myself with other guys, for the first time I felt I was making work that is my own. My expressive and gestural marks finally began making sense, creating a connection between the eroticism of the subject matter and the eroticism of the use of material. From that initial body of work the rest of my practice developed. For me, it’s always been about depicting sex in a way that feels everyday and mundane but also highly charged and passionate. I’m trying to make queer sexuality feel less sensationalized and more the intense, tender, vulnerable, and pleasurable experience I know it to be.
Would you say that you belong to a new ‘School’ of gay artists (including Louis Fratino, Kyle Dunn, Joao Gabriel, Salman Toor etc.) who are not afraid to reveal the poetry and beauty of homosexuality?
I hope so! A lot of us, including most of the artists you’ve named and also Jenna Gribbon, Jonathan Lyndon Chase, Devan Shimoyama, Anthony Cudahy, Jennifer Packer and more, were connected before we were contextualized together. It’s been incredible to find a community of such brilliant painters that share an interest but work so differently from one another. The multiplicity of voices and diversity of experiences allows each of us to not ‘speak for a community’ but actually be part of a larger conversation about the many forms queerness takes and how it intersects with other aspects of ourselves. It’s a real joy and I’m very grateful for that incredible context for my work.
Your work reminds me of Matisse, De Kooning, Cocteau and Elizabeth Peyton. Would you agree and how do you see your painting evolve in the future? Will you continue to push the ‘characters’ and explore depictions of personal connections?
I love all these artists! I’m especially inspired by the colour and freshness of Matisse and the freedom of De Kooning. As to the future of my work, I’m not sure! I’m continuously trying to be attentive to my paintings and identify the most compelling aspects of them.
Right now I feel like I’m excited by the moments that feel unencumbered, loose, and direct. So I’m trying to lean in to those impulses and really insist that every part of my painting feels that way. Each painting teaches me a bit more about where my works need to go and what it’s meant to be. It’s a slow organic process of growth that I can’t predict, I just have to trust that as long as I’m pushing myself, and staying honest, my work will continue to grow deeper and more meaningful over time.
Your favourite artists, dead or alive?
So many! All the artists I’ve named so far of course. My first love was Van Gogh which I’m still obsessed with, Velasquez, Degas… Honestly there’s just too many to name. I’ve been collecting art books since I was 10 and every time I get really into an artist I try to buy a book and I have hundreds of them from cave paintings to my friends’ work so it’s a pretty broad spectrum.
Who is another cultural figure that has influenced your work?
Björk. She’s my favorite musician and has gotten me through high school, coming out, military service, moving to the US and other turbulent times in my life. Her music is so beautiful, emotional, and complex. She has such a distinct voice and point of view but she’s always growing and changing. In short, everything I want my paintings to be!
Recent book you read and loved?
I do audio books at studio and most recently I listened to Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke which I’ve never read before! I was watching Sister Act 2 with my husband who’s a huge Whoopi Goldberg fan and in the movie her character gives young Lauryn Hill the book to inspire her to pursue her music. So the next day I listened to it myself and I was blown away. It speaks so beautifully about art and desire, and it’s so queer! I wish I had read it when I was 20!
Would you ever explore other media?
I’m such a painter. I love drawing and printmaking and in school I experimented with other media, but I’m so connected to painting.
I’ve been painting in oil most of my life, at this point it really feels like an extension of my body. I can’t imagine having the same intimate relationship to another medium, but maybe! I love it when painters do other things like Vuillard’s prints, Hockey’s drawings, and Nicole Eisenman’s sculptures.
Will we see an exhibition of your work in London and / or Europe soon?
Yes! I’ve recently started working with Victoria Miro Gallery which is a dream come true. So right now we’re planning a show for 2021.
Thank you so much Doron and Dusan.
Images: portraits by Dusan Vuksanovic: Doron Langberg, Brown Paper Series 2020 and Doron Painting His Lilies in The Pines, August 2020.
Artworks: Doron Langberg, Mike, 2019 © Doron Langberg; Doron Langberg, After Work, 2020 © Doron Langberg; Doron Langberg, John Arthur, 2020 © Doron Langberg; Doron Langberg, Lilies, 2020 © Doron Langberg; Doron Langberg, Lovers, 2020 © Doron Langberg;