San Francisco

Brian Longe

Lawson De Celle Gallery

A combination of spatial exploration and primitive inference characterizes Brian Longe’s compositions. After painting a paddlelike form onto a traditional rectangle, the artist cuts it out, producing an irregularly shaped work. The unbacked canvas, on which the undercoating is visible, is then tacked tightly to the wall, creating a dialogue between the smooth wall surface and the painted canvas field. The illusion produced by the convergence of wall and canvas is heightened by the isolation of the individual canvases from one another within the gallery, as well as the paddle shape, which extends beyond the main part of the canvas, and which appears to pass through it. However, these paintings have an individuality that emerges from intended contradiction. For example, at the top of each work a dark, narrow, painted stripe suggests an imaginary stretcher bar and alludes to the anchoring of a Japanese scroll painting. The primitive aspect of the work is not only generated by the paddlelike object, but also by the repetition of the casual, roughly rectangular shape that is comparable to an animal skin.

Longe’s earlier works are the most subtle. Belle Isle, in which pale pink and yellow forms float on a gray field, reminds one of a 1950s color scheme. The later works, like Banana Noir, pit blue strokes against an intense, almost emerald-green field. In the later pieces, which are also larger, the stronger colors do not seem to juxtapose the canvas and wall as easily as the softer tones of the earlier works.

On close inspection Longe’s paintings evidence nuances of color and shape. Spatterings of color and calligraphic forms move through the field, intersecting the paddle shape. These subtleties—details that draw one in for repeated viewings—give the paintings a particular richness. This consideration for detail affords his composition two distinct readings, a physically distant and deliberate illusionistic response, and a near and more personal experience. The most successful aspect of the work, nevertheless, is the use of a vocabulary that implies antecedents without becoming trapped by extreme specificity. Longe’s compositions embody a humor and spirit that link them to a Funk sensibility. But his reliance on abstract motifs turns these paintings into nonliteral anecdotes.

Hal Fischer