Multimedia Artist Langley Spurlock

an Eclectic Amalgam

by Judy Pomeranz

Strong believers in the right brain/left brain dichotomy might find Langley Spurlock to be an enigma. Holding a Ph.D. degree in Organic Chemistry, he worked as a researcher, university instructor, federal employee and association executive over the course of a 35-year career that predated his embarkation upon career number two: full-time artist. 

Perhaps more surprising than his consecutive careers is the fact that, throughout much of his life, he has managed to successfully combine art and science, practicing simultaneously and seriously two seemingly very different disciplines. Far from being the stereotyped post-retirement Sunday painter, Langley worked diligently for many years to reach his goal of becoming a professional artist. Steadily taking courses, making art and showing his art while fully engaged in his scientific and executive pursuits, he was ready -- both practically and psychologically -- to dive into his second career as soon as he retired from his first. 

“I’ve always envied people who found exactly what they wanted, and people who’ve had vastly different careers,” Langley says. “I’ve done a lot of interesting things.” That, as a matter of fact, is a bit of an understatement, and it is also an apt description of his art, which is nothing if not varied and interesting. 

His art is as eclectic as his personal interests. He skips freely and happily from painting to sculpture and from printmaking to assemblage, working not from a plan but intuitively: “It’s a matter of feel, of interest, of being intrigued by something at the moment.” Which is not to say he is undisciplined; quite the contrary. He follows a self-imposed rule which prohibits moving on to a new work before an old one is finished, thereby obviating the bane of 


“[Langley’s painting process is] knowing where to

surrender and where to impose your will…” 


so many artists, the studio filled with half-finished pieces. “That would drive me crazy,” Langley says, betraying perhaps just a hint of scientific meticulousness. 

But then the artistic temperament comes to the fore when he describes his working methods. Just as he does not plan ahead what medium he will work in at any given moment, neither does he attempt to preconceive or preordain what a piece will look like upon completion. Rather, he generally begins a work with one particular object, image, shape or texture in mind and lets the piece grow and evolve from there. 

In an assemblage, for example, he will begin with an object that appeals to him and then simply add other objects as they strike his fancy. The final product is generally an amalgamation of unrelated items that invite the viewer’s interpretation. Of course, if a viewer chooses to simply enjoy the aesthetics of a piece without regard to any “meaning,” that, according to the artist, is his or her prerogative and is perfectly acceptable, as well. 

Since he doesn’t start with a plan, one might well wonder how Langley knows when a work of art is complete. This is where the “aha moment” comes in, which is how he describes the inevitable but indefinable instant in time when he realizes the mix is finally just right. Perhaps the ability to recognize this magic moment in time is what most distinguishes the true visual artist from the rest of us, for knowing when to call it quits is every bit as important as knowing where and how to begin. 

When Langley ultimately determines a work is visually complete, it’s time for the feisty right-brained fellow to assert himself. Langley readily acknowledges that much of his work, particularly in collage or assemblage, involves “a few hours of creativity and days and days of engineering” in order to render sturdy and permanent the vision that has evolved over the course of his playing with and incorporating objects. 

These feats of engineering are particularly noticeable to even the uninitiated in Langley’s three-dimensional works, due to his fascination with introducing elements of dynamism, action and energy into them. He greatly enjoys creating works that, while utterly stable, appear as if they are about to tumble, topple or otherwise lose their bearings. 

Every bit as fascinating as the tipsy sculptures are the recent works in Langley’s Borrowed Fortunes series. Each is composed of collaged cutouts clipped from a single issue of a Museum of Modern Art publication combined with rather peculiar “fortunes” in the style of those found in Chinese restaurant cookies. The whole montage is then covered with odd and assorted pieces of cut glass and Plexiglass, creating works that meld the intellectual interest of words with the colors and textures of paper clippings and the shimmer, shadows, shapelines and crisp hard edge of glass. 

Langley also works in more traditional media such as painting and printmaking, but gives even these his own peculiar twists. His process in painting is partly deliberate, partly instinctive, he says: “It’s knowing where to surrender and where to impose your will…” His recent paintings are composed of a rare and wonderful, highly saturated and beautifully toned German ink, complemented by pastels. They feature lyrical designs that bear a ghostly resemblance to their figurative references, but stand out as purely personal and original abstractions. While Langley once worked long and hard to perfect his representational drawing skills, they rarely are evident in his work: “When I proved to myself I could do it, then I didn’t need to do it any more.” 

Despite all the variety in his artistic methods and materials, one might wonder whether the artist misses his old profession, whether he ever regrets retiring into this very different field. “Not even for a nanosecond,” he says with conviction. “I’m having the best time.” And that comes through very clearly in his work. 


Reprinted from élan magazine December 2002 - January 2003

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