An Artist Exposed: The Many Lives of Langley Spurlock  (2002)

By Keith Skillman

It takes only a little time spent with the Washington, DC, collagist, painter, and sculptor Langley Spurlock to sense the similarities between the artist and his art. He is meticulously arranged and comfortably inviting, singularly focused and widely multidimensional, deeply reflective and wittily whimsical. On a calm, crystal summer day, he spikes a deliberate, detailed conversation about art and its impetus and influences with wry realizations, delivered deadpan, his sparkling eyes dancing and the trace of a smile marking recognition of the humor in the moment.

The 30-year Washington resident’s creative output is like that, too, composed as it is of disparate natural and industrial materials—simple forms in paper, wood,aluminum, copper, glass, acrylics, and ink—that coalesce in intuitive abstract arrangements that are mindful of haiku, only in color. “In creating my artworks, I live for the ‘Aha!’ moment, when the structure suddenly completes itself, and all that’s left is refining the piece,” says Spurlock. “Reaching that moment is the great joy of artmaking for me.”

Indeed, an element of experimentation exists in all of Spurlock’s work, informed as it is by a flash of intuition and executed with a scientist’s precision. There’s little surprise in the latter, as Spurlock holds a doctorate in organic chemistry and built a career around science before pursuing art full time. Yet the spirit of an artist paralleled, coexisted, and even complemented his nearly 35-year career in science. His artistic underpinnings extend from   zoological and botanical drawing as an undergraduate to his participation in an advanced group of artists exploring expressiveness and technique with William Christenberry at the Corcoran. And, as Spurlock points out, science itself is full of “ambiguities, frustrations, even poetry”—it is not all solid truths and unequivocal facts. There is no denying, he adds, that his training in scientific thought underpins all that he does in art, particularly in its execution.

Typically, Spurlock works on the floor, arranging into appealing forms shapes that might not seem to belong together yet in their final execution do. A set of nine collages that he calls his “Borrowed Fortunes” series, for example, is made by combining shapes clipped and modified from MOMA magazines with surreal, faux fortune cookie fortunes. Overlays of forms cut from glass imbue each of the beautiful, colorful pieces with a three-dimensional quality. The collages, once arranged to the artist’s liking, are pressed between sheets of clear acrylic. Of his process, Spurlock says, “I usually start with one image that I find attractive, and then I build something around that. The process of experimenting with this and that translates from my background in chemical research. That’s what you do in science, too—you arrange and rearrange until it either rings true or it doesn’t.”

Truth resounds in Spurlock’s solo show, “Exposing Other Lives,” September 4-29, 2002, at Studio Gallery in Washington, D.C. Like the “Borrowed Fortunes” series, the show’s other images emerge from disparate materials as new incarnations formed by the artist’s intuition and technique. The exhibit title, Spurlock explains, as much reflects the many lives of the images that occur in his art as it does his own varied experiences—as chemist, association manager, academician, artist. And then, he smiles, there’s the conclusion of the seer who told him he had an “old soul,” having lived many lives. “Many of them were East Asian,” adds Spurlock, “and perhaps that shows in the work.”

“Exposing Other Lives” runs September 4-29, 2002, at Studio Gallery in Washington, D.C., with an artist’s reception from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on September 12 and “Meet the Artist” nights on September 19 and 26 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. A Galleries of Dupont Circle First Friday reception will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on September 6, also at Studio Gallery.

In addition to Studio Gallery, the West Virginia native’s work has appeared in exhibitions at the Provincetown (MA) Art Museum, the Corcoran College of Art, the Eklektikos Gallery of Contemporary Art, the American Chemical Society Headquarters, and other locations. Collectors in Washington, New York, Cleveland, Detroit, Providence, Los Angeles, Seattle, London, and Rome own his works. His creative output ranges from paintings and various works on paper, through etchings and monotypes, to collages, assemblages, and sculpture. Recently he has added digital prints to his array of work. For more information about the artist and to view some of his works,go to

Keith Skillman is a Washington, DC, writer and the Editor in Chief of Association Management magazine.

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