Jim Long

Curated by Rackstraw Downes

September 7 - October 14, 2006



Jim Long was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1949, received a B.A. in Art History from Swarthmore College, and attended San Francisco Art Institute.  He moved to New York City in 1976, and began exhibiting work in galleries and museums here and in Europe in 1981.  He worked in set design and technical production for dance and theatre, and has taught for many years in the summer program of the Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation.  He is a contributing writer at the Brooklyn Rail.  


Rackstraw Downes was born in England in 1939.  He took his B.A. in English Literature at Cambridge University, England in 1961 and his M.F.A. in Painting at Yale in 1964.  He has since divided his time between New York, Maine and Texas.  He has had solo shows in New York at the Kornblee; Hirschl & Adler Modern; Marlborough; Robert Miller; and Betty Cunningham galleries; and at Texas Gallery, Houston.  His work is represented in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; the Carnegie Institute; the Hirshhorn Museum; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Ludwig Museum; the Museum of Modern Art; the Nelson-Atkins Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art.  In 1979, Downes edited Art in Its Own Terms, Selected Criticism 1935-1975 by Fairfield Porter.  In 2000, Downes published In Relation to the Whole: Three Essays from Three Decades – 1973, 1981, 1996 (Edgewise Press) and Under the Gowanus and Razor-Wire Journal: The Making of Two Paintings (Turning the Head Press).  In 2005 Princeton University Press published Rackstraw Downes by Sanford Schwartz, Robert Storr and Racsktraw Downes.  Downes received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1998 and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1999.



Juggernaut is a group of four paintings I made between 2003 and 2006.  They are works in a series that began in 1988.  At the time I was looking for impersonal visual material: spatters, stains, visual “noise”, complex accidents.  I combined incompatible materials like water or crushed ice with oil paint and ink.  In trying to create an accident, most of my effort showed manipulation when what I wanted was facts.  A real accident is hard to come by.
    In 1991 I noticed that oil paint left floating in water formed small interesting structures, like cartoons that existed in dimensions between two and three.  I caught some of these configurations on paper, and later found out what I was seeing was the fractal irregularity of the “classic mess” I was looking for years before.  It was the same phenomenon the botanist Robert Brown had seen in 1827:  the physical trace of invisible molecular activity that kept pollen grains floating in water in perpetual movement.
    This is common visual imagery.  It’s a material/perceptual layer with elastic dimensions.  Scaling replaces perspective and illusion, figure and ground shift constantly.  Delacroix wrote in 1864 about drawing small rocks and seeing that their irregular forms were identical to those of nearby cliffs.
    A few years ago I was in an empty room and for a moment imagined four large discs covered with linear movement.  I recognized the images: thirteen inch mylar circles I had put aside ten years earlier.  When I thought about the amount of work it would take to translate them into large paintings “juggernaut” came to mind, though I wasn’t quite sure what it meant.  While I was working on the first paintings I looked it up and found the word comes from the Sanscrit name for Jagannatha, a title for Krishna and Vishnu meaning “protector of all that moves”, including things invisibly small.



The four consummate and monumental works that make up Jim Long’s show are collectively titled For Jagannatha, after the Hindu god.  In these works, the normally conspicuous stamp of human decision making appears to be absent, and art making resembles a protracted natural process, like the formation of stalagtites on the ceiling of a cave. 
    In For Jagannatha, Long’s process creates colonies of matter made up of tiny warm dark branchings, lying on a blonde surface of natural cotton duck and dispersing towards a proto-circular periphery.  In their slight but bewilderingly endless internal variations these colonies image a society held together not by laws, hierarchies or leaders but by an indivisibly affiliated consistency of substance.  Long maps them on the most singular of geometrical areas – only one directional decision determines the periphery of a tondo – and the one to which they most nearly, and almost, correspond.  But they behave organically; like garden vegetables in rows, or versals on backgrounds in illuminated manuscripts, they spill over the tondo’s confines and offset its inflexibility.  At their boundaries, where the dispersing energy appears to conclude, they mass more densely in an act – so it seems – not of territoriality but of self-defining completion: to the viewer they say with satisfaction: “Now I am whole”.



YOUNG ART CRITICS ESSAY: Stacey Allan on Jim Long