Julie Langsam’s artistic work references everything from the early American Hudson River School to modernist abstraction — often in the same painting.
“The skies [in my painting] are influenced by the Hudson River School of painters,” Langsam said. “And the buildings themselves, I use photographs. When I paint, I try to paint the representation of the photograph. And then, on the bottom of the painting, are little kind of excerpts, I call them, of other modernist abstract painters.”
Langsam will conclude the series of visual art lectures at Chautauqua Institution at 7 p.m. today in the Hultquist Center, where she will discuss her art and influences.
Much of Langsam’s work depicts architecture — either through paintings of buildings or through painted floor plans.
“I like to think about [perspective] as sort of the basic premise of my paintings, which is how do you depict different kinds of space in a painting, when it’s really just a flat surface,” Langsam said.
Modernist abstract painters went in the other direction, focusing on flat planes and the paint itself.
Langsam combines both influences into her art.
“I kind of like working with these historical models, and for me the blueprint or the floor plan is kind of a stand-in for an abstraction, an abstract painting,” she said.
For the blueprints, Langsam tries to draw in an element of the modernist traditions of Dada and surrealism as well. She gets paint chips from a store, and then she shuffles them and deals them out — painting each section according to the color that happens to be on top.
“And, of course, what happens when I mix the color is slightly different,” she said. “Or when it becomes a watercolor versus a matte, it changes. So I’m kind of interested in this — I call it ‘flippage’ — between the factual information and how it’s interpreted.”
While these blueprints are colorful and bright, not all the architecture Langsam paints is necessarily beautiful. Just last year, she did a show based on the buildings of her alma mater, SUNY Purchase.
“It’s very severe, it’s all brick,” Langsam said. “And at the time I went there, there was really very little greenery or planting or any kind of architecture to offset it. So it was kind of oppressive. A lot of people felt that it was depressing. I kind of liked it.”
Her current project is looking at the Bauhaus school in Germany, specifically the artists houses built in Dessau before World War II by the modernist architect Walter Gropius. The houses were split-levels, with one artist’s family upstairs and another downstairs.
“You had [Wassily] Kandinsky and [Paul] Klee, and these are two greats of modernist painting, and they are living in the same place,” Langsam said. “When you go to visit, they’ve reproduced every color of every wall. So, like one wall will be pink, and another wall will be gold leaf, and then a hand rail will be red and, you know, a stairway will be blue. And it’s this sort of kaleidoscope of color.”
This will be Langsam’s fourth time at Chautauqua, and she is happy to be back.
“It’s perfectly emblematic of the romantic ideal that I yearn for as an artist, where one comes to be intellectually stimulated and have a sensory experience with the landscape and be surrounded by people who are interesting and provocative,” she said. “It’s like paradise.”