Experience Physical Sensation Through Color in Doron Langberg’s Paintings

At only 35, Doron Langberg is quickly becoming a cornerstone of contemporary figurative painting. His paintings are deeply expressive renderings of touch and sensation, which are present in the subject matter and the layered surface of the canvas. Through these oil paintings, the artist proposes dialogue of queer sexuality and sensuality, as the strokes vividly protrude into chunks of oil paint. As he explains below, Langberg uses his earlier drawings to explore the latest lines and figures in his current paintings. Read below to learn all about the artist and his background. 

Jenna and Mackenzie, 2019, Oil on linen, 96 cm x 80 cm, Courtesy of the Artist 

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and when did art first come into your life?

I’m from Israel, from a suburb of Haifa called Yokneam Moshava. I moved to the US 14 years ago for undergrad at PAFA in Philly, continued to do an MFA at Yale, and then moved to New York in 2012. Art was part of my life since I can remember. I started taking classes and painting in oil when I was about 6, and attended art middle school and high school. I’ve been fortunate that my parents were very supportive and encouraging throughout my path. 

Fouad, 2020, Oil on linen, 24 cm x 18 cm, Courtesy of the Artist

Has your work always taken on the style it currently embodies? 

No, it actually changed a lot! I still feel very connected to the work I made in 2008-9, which were these small, very direct graphite drawings from video stills of me with other guys. These works are really the foundation of my practice today and were my first attempt at connecting the materiality of a piece with its subject matter. After that, I took a detour through work that was very collage based, where a cacophony of patterns would coalesce into an explicit scene. I was thinking a lot about the slow reveal of images and how a variety of marks and techniques communicate a range of feelings. But I wasn’t able to integrate all the elements I was using to a coherent statement. Only when I delved more into color and allowed myself to use my observational skills, I felt that all these different ideas and impulses came together to create a deeper emotional language. I still feel that I’m charting my path and hope my work continues to grow. 

Fucking 2, 2020, Oil on linen, 24 cm x 18 cm, Courtesy of the Artist

What is your process like? How do you begin a work? 

My process starts with an image idea usually based on an experience I’ve had. Once it solidifies into a composition in my mind, and I have an idea for the color or paint handling , I start collecting source material. I work mostly from observation whenever possible, so I’d invite the person I want to paint to my studio or go to their space and make a small painting from observation. I then use these smaller pieces as starting points for my larger ones. My large works begin with a loose compositional drawing and then I’d make a few large gestures that cover most of the surface and dictate the feel and atmosphere of the piece. From that point it’s a responsive process where I would follow my original idea, but continuously gauge if my piece is actually delivering the emotional impact I’m going for. So there’s lots of planning and thinking, but also improvisation and surprising turns I can’t foresee that come from the process. 

Lilies, 2020, Oil on linen, 24 cm x 18 cm, Courtesy of the Artist

Walk us through a day in the studio.

I’m not a morning person so I’d usually work out or do admin/emails to be productive before my brain gets into painting mode. At studio I work on two or three pieces at a time, so depending on which is dry or which I have an idea for, I’d start working on it. I set goals for myself for each day of what I want to accomplish- finish this figure or work out this part etc. I try not to be too hard on myself and be happy if I left the studio having made my painting better. Bad studio days can really bring me down so I try not to make rash decisions. There’s definitely a lot of looking and thinking. My favorite days are when I start a new large piece or have a friend over to sit for me. I love painting from observation and it gives me a lot of joy. 

Mike, 2019, Oil on linen, 24 cm x 18 cm, Courtesy of the Artist

From where do you draw inspiration? 

As I touched on before, my ideas come from situations, moments, and relationships in my life. I try to hold on to how the experience that inspired me made me feel, and let that guide me. The painting process itself is very inspiring for me as well. I love discovering different ways of moving paint around, or to be surprised by a move that didn’t come out the way I imagined it would. Those “happy accidents” often open up material ideas for future paintings. And of course, it goes without saying that the history of painting is a big influence for me.  So many of my ideas come with references, sometimes without me consciously meaning for them. Like right now I’m working on a large scale landscape that’s somber and tumultuous, and after I made the first layer I realized it’s super Munch, which makes a lot of sense with the subject matter. So it’s a pretty fluid relationship to art history and painters I love. 

Lovers 3, 2020, Oil on linen, 24 cm x 18 cm, Courtesy of the Artist

Your work is mainly composed of paintings and drawings. Have you delved in other mediums? 

I love printmaking and am always excited to work with printers when I have the chance. But I’ve been painting in oil for so long I feel it’s an extension of my consciousness. My thinking is very tied to the materiality of paint, so it’s hard for me to imagine having that kind of relationship with other media. 

Sleeping, 2020, Oil on linen, 96 cm x 80 cm, Courtesy of the Artist 

What source material is your work based off of? 

I mostly work from observation. Throughout school I loved painting and drawing from a life, but when it came to my own work I saw it more as a skill and not a tool that could have meaning. After working from photo references throughout grad school and a few years out, I began to feel that tethering my work to an outside source was holding me back. Switching to observation allowed me to include more drawing into my painting process and also shifted my subject matter. In retrospect it was a really meaningful decision that expanded and deepened my practice. But I’m not a purist and I’d use whatever is useful or available. 

Zach and Craig #3, 2019, Oil on linen, 24 cm x 18 cm 

Does your work reference any art historical movements?  

Not specifically, but I think you can definitely identify the artists I’m obsessed with, like Bonnard or Kitaj, by looking at my work. Realism, Post Impressionism, Nabis, and the School of London were very influential for me. But also so many other artists and time periods. 

Lovers 2, 2020, Oil on linen, 80 cm x 96 cm, Courtesy of the Artist

What’s next for you? 

Right now I’m working on my 2021 show with Victoria Miro Gallery in London, which I’m super excited about. 

Edgar and Olive, 2020, Oil on linen, 24 cm x 18 cm, Courtesy of the Artist

At the end of each interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love and would like for us to interview next. Who would you suggest? 

Sarah Faux! She’s a brilliant painter and a close friend. Her work sits on the cusp of abstraction and figuration, and her use of color and paint is forever inspiring to me.