Art Watch: Jeff Long at JayJay

March 30, 2010 at 11:08 am (look)

Exploring Sacramento’s galleries every month, I rarely come across a show as striking as the one currently up at JayJay. Through April 24, the East Sac gallery is presenting the first Sacramento exhibit of longtime San Francisco-based painter Jeff Long, and it’s well worth a visit. (Long is paired with local artist Roger Berry, whose curved and twisted bronze sculptures are stunning feats of engineering.)

After years of paintings that were abstract yet still tied to concrete things, from boats to landscapes to temples in Thailand, Long’s current work has become “content-less,” in his words. The paintings, in a palette of blue, ochre, red and black, “have oblique references to design motifs, both Western and tribal, but really aren’t about anything in particular,” Long told me when we talked earlier this week. “My work has gotten lighter, more purely formalist.”

Translation: there’s no need for mental contortions to figure out what it all means. Just look at the paint. Jerry Saltz, the art critic for New York magazine, recently criticized the “idiotic academic proscriptions against visual pleasure,” and Long isn’t afraid to make paintings that are simply beautiful, the kind that you want to stand in front of for hours just because they are so good to look at. (Rex Ray, another San Francisco artist and master of shapes and patterns, offers similar visual feasts.) For a piece like Creek 1/Creek 2 (pictured above; at a combined size of 8’x6’, it anchors the exhibition), the fun is in letting a thin orange helix carry your gaze across a flat red backbone to a black and white curve that, like a water slide, deposits you into the subtle, textural layers of a neutral background. But even the backgrounds stay close to the surface in Long’s paintings. Despite the presence of shapes passing in front of or ducking behind others, or of overlapping forms taking bites out of their neighbors like Venn diagrams, the paintings avoid depth of field or indications of space.

(Untitled-4)

With their interplay of sharp edges and organic, biomorphic forms, Long’s paintings draw from 20th century Modernism in both fine art and design, echoing the flattened geometry of Modernists like Mondrian along with the curves of a midcentury Eames chair.

“There was a playfulness that intruded into 20th century design at that point, with kidney-shaped pools and lava lamps and that kind of thing,” says Long. “It was a way of bringing ideas to the masses that might have originated in painters like the Surrealists and [Arshile] Gorky and the sinuous shapes he used.” Now, re-injecting design into painting, Long is completing the circle–and giving hippies a far better way to decorate their living rooms.

(Loopy 23)

With all the fluid curves on display from both Long and Berry, the whole show can leave you feeling a little loopy. But both artists balance verve with restraint, and the results are elegant. It’s another strong outing for JayJay, and an exciting Sacramento debut.

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2 Comments

  1. Art James said,

    `
    Smile.
    Beautiful.

  2. em said,

    I’ll take Eames chairs, a Jeff Long painting, AND a lava lamp, thank you very much. ;)

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