If Doron Langberg isn’t on your list of artists to watch, then there shouldn’t be a list at all. The painter, born and raised in Yokneam Moshava, Israel has been painting since he was six. He remembers his first oil painting—one of the little mermaid—and he still has it. Langberg currently resides and works in New York City and is preparing for an upcoming solo show at the Yossi Milo gallery. His recent works have consisted of layered portraits of the people close to him: friends, family, and lovers, and show his viewers the world through his own lens.
As a queer artist, Langberg explores interpersonal relationships through his medium and portrays human experiences revolving around love and desire. His paintings aim to bridge the gap between how he views himself and how others view him by taking his experiences, emotions, and desires and turning them into something tangible.
Having had an artistically conservative education in his undergraduate experience at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (think landscapes, still lives, etc.,) Langberg branched out during his time at Yale, pursuing his MFA. It was there that he began to explore intimacy and closeness in his subject matter as well as using images and videos from his own life as source material to work from observation.
I recently had the opportunity to visit Langberg at his studio in Ridgewood, New York and he walked me through what he’s been working on. We talked about his education, creative process, why he paints, and what’s coming in 2019.
BY THE WINDOW, 2019 CHRIS IN THE MEAT RACK, 2019
How do you bring a painting from start to finish?
A lot of my works are of people that are close to me, so like friends, family, lovers etcetera, so the painting usually starts with an idea about the image, like who I want to paint, and some sort of formal idea: either a composition, or a color scheme, a certain kind of materiality I want to use with the paint handling and that would be kind of the impetus to make the painting. Then I would invite the person to come to the studio, or I would go over to their place and make drawings and paintings from observation and take photos for reference of the space and stuff like that. Then I would take the source material and start putting the painting together. A lot of times with the bigger works, they start with large washes of color, just to establish a sense of space and light and then the layers would get built up over time. It’s important for me to have an idea for like the final feeling of the painting that I'm like aiming towards, because then a lot of decisions will have to be built on top of that. In terms of how much to cover up, how much to keep.
What do you want to achieve with your pieces? Is there an emotion that you want people to feel when they look at your work?
I think that because I work with people that are so close to me or that the relationship that I have with someone is what prompts the painting, I want the viewer to feel that sense of intimacy and closeness. I feel like for me that's also part of the way that I use the material, it's very gestural, it's very physical it's very tactile, and it's brings the viewer closer to have an experience of the painting in terms of the process how it was made and the physicality of it. Does that make sense?
Yes! How much time do you spend with each piece?
They each take weeks, and when you look at them they seem very fresh or gestural and the physical process of making them doesn't take that long unless it's a particular material that takes like a long time to dry but it's really the process of figuring out what's the next step that takes the longest, so even the small portraits that could only be like 2 or 3 sessions of work it could be a few weeks between the sessions to understand what the painting needs.
Who are some of your early artistic influences and how do they compare to people that influence you now?
It's funny because the people that I really admired when I was like seven, eight, nine, ten years old are people that I still look at. I feel like my biggest influence would have to be Van Gogh, which I think he is so many people's first artist that they love, but I think there’s something about how he's able to breathe a sense of life and emotional intensity into everyday objects that I'm still floored by, and the materiality of his paintings and the colors are things that I go back to. Another person that I had a really strong experience with when I was young is Lucien Freud, he had a show in Israel when I was thirteen or so, and the sense of intimacy and how real his figures felt is something that I still go back to. I think today though maybe what changed in terms of the people I look at is the idea of queerness and how to represent queerness, which is something that I've been thinking about more in my twenties and thirties more so than when I was a teenager and I think that's the biggest shift in what guides my work and in terms of who I look at.
How did you decide that queerness was something that you wanted your paintings to represent?
Well it's funny because when I was in undergrad, like I was saying, I was in kind of a traditional program, so we did a lot of still lifes and landscapes, and then when I got my own studio, the first body of work that I made were these really small drawings where the source material was a video that a friend and I made when I was in Israel of us hooking up essentially, the purpose of the video was just for fun, it wasn't for anything artistic but there was something about these images of me being intimate-- being with another man -- that served as a gateway into thinking about materiality in an erotic way. The eroticism of an image has a parallel in the eroticism in the process of making. I feel that connection between subject and process is something that was huge for me and that was and still is a guiding force in painting.
Do you ever feel pressure to follow along with trends in the art world? Things like techniques or color palettes... or do you always stick to your gut and what feels authentic to you?
I feel like the only way to survive as an artist is to stick with your gut. These trends change every five years, that’s just not for me. I can't sustain a practice if the intention and the passion doesn't come from what I want to do. I feel like the older I get, the more focused I am on what it is exactly that I want to do and what it is exactly that I want to talk about and that’s the only way the work can even progress. How can you make decisions based on someone else's practices? It has to be something that's very personal to you.
When I was in undergrad, even in grad school, I was asking myself, "are these too romantic? are these too sappy? is this too obvious? a gay guy painting other gay guys..." there's all these doubts that are destructive, in the end they're taking you away from what's at the core of your work as opposed to helping you materialize the work you should actually be making.
Do you feel as though your paintings are a reflection of who you are? Or just the world around you?
I think of my paintings as the way that I see the world. So it's the world around me but how it's digested through my experience. That's where the ideas about queerness come into the work, some of the paintings are very explicitly queer, like describe my desire or describe a subject matter that could be identified as queer. But some of them are really casual, like people sitting around, friends. The way I think of it is that because my sexuality affects every aspect of my life and every aspect of my experience regardless of how I dress, how I walk down the street, my group of friends, I want to reflect that with my work.
Is it ever difficult to make things that are so personal to you and then go on to share that with the world? Do you ever just make work that's explicitly for you?
In a way all the work is for me. But I find a lot of joy in sharing the work with other people. For me to be able to have a conversation with my community and be part of this world is a privilege.
What can we look forward to seeing from you in 2019?
So I'm gonna have a solo show with Yossi Milo Gallery which is kind of the big project I'm working towards which is going to be be in the fall. As a very slow painter, I am in the thick of working on it. And then I have a few group shows in march, one of which is the invitational show at the American Academy of arts and letters uptown, also I'm gonna do the armory with Yossi. That's what's coming up.