Artist's Thoughts

One of the first questions people ask me about my work is, “Where do you find your wood?” and while the answer is easy (East River pier detritus, the country, abandoned chairs on the street), the underlying basis of the question is worth discussing.

Clearly, one of the first aspects of my work apparent to a viewer is its physical aspect: the tactility of the surfaces, the roughness of the forms, the forthright quality of one shape butting against another, the joinery. The materials I prefer to use come with a previous history which has taken away their sharp edges and their innocence – they come to this reincarnation older, wiser, less naïve and, perhaps due to the fact that they no longer have to fulfill their original functions and assert their biological or structural independence, more willing to cooperate with me to create something else.

One of the pieces in this show is partially constructed from a discarded police barricade. When my wife and I (we’d had a few glasses of wine) were walking it home one night past a couple of bored police officers on the street, I realized this aspect clearly: we were all agreed that this chunk of stuff was ready for chapter two, whatever that was going to be.

The second question is inevitably, “How do you put them together?”, and again the answer is easy: any way I can. I use the usual array of furniture and cabinet making techniques, plus whatever ingenious tricks I can think of when the going gets rough and complicated. Each piece presents its own individual problems of joinery. Generally, I try to overbuild, thinking toward the future, and tuck secondary systems behind the piece where they don’t intrude on the viewer’s consciousness. I would like the pieces to betray their own joints and articulations without making a big deal of them like a strip show.

I of course also hope that the subject matter of my work is of interest. After an increasing use of the figure as motif beginning some years ago, there has been a steady shift from a frontal, symbolic, almost Egyptian character to more rhythmic, sensual, and asymmetric aspects recently. Now, I think that I’m seeing more emphasis on a kind of metaphoric change that can occur within the pieces themselves (a friend of mine called one piece of mine “arachnid lady”, and another “woman with a nest head” when he first saw them). Certainly, this kind of change has been a central theme in previous work, but when I look at the batch of work I’m about to bring over to the gallery, I think that it has reached a crisper, more surprising and unpredictable level.

Much about my work has remained the same: I still hold some prehistoric cave and wall painters and carvers to be my heroes in the art panoply, and Nature to be the Great Humbler when one is looking for a competitor – most art on the walls looks pretty stiff, contrived, and boring when held against the average wind-torn leaf one has picked up from the street just before entering the gallery. This is a contest I cannot win, but I continue to love the attempt.

Keith Long
16 November 2010

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