Doron Langberg is one of the young queer artists revitalising Intimism, an artistic movement which originates in mid to late 19th century Impressionism, depicting intimate yet banal interiors. A famous example of this shift in perspective from religious and historical painting, to personal intimate subjects are Degas' famous series inside Parisian cafés, homes and brothels including L'Absinthe (1875). Today, Doron’s vibrant paintings expand to “create a sense of intimacy from a queer point of view”. He portrays people from his life in tender, vulnerable or mundane domestic scenes. Characterised by flowing brush strokes of magenta, cyan and marigold his paintings create an emotional and physical space where there are no harsh boundaries, only a sense of fluidity and connection. We talk to Doron about the impact of the pandemic on his style and the importance of allowing queerness to represent wider themes and stories.
Are there any contemporary artists who inspire you at the moment?
For sure, there is so much great painting happening right now! I’m most inspired by the work of my friends like Sarah Faux, Jennifer Packer, Gaby Collins Fernandez, Julia Bland, Salman Toor, Jenna Gribbon, Louis Fratino, Felipe Baeza, Kenny Rivero, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Michael Stamm, and Oscar yi Hou just to name a few.
Pre-pandemic, you frequently sketched and painted from real life subjects and developed larger paintings from this observation. How have restrictions within the last year impacted your routine?
More than not being able to work from life as often as I would like, I miss having the social experiences that inspire my work. I think we all feel a growing sense of heaviness as the pandemic drags on, and it’s definitely getting to me. Since Autumn, the emotional tone and palette of my paintings became almost Munch-like, whose best-known work is The Scream. Not being able to hang out with friends freely, or travel to Israel to see my family this whole year brought up a lot of painting ideas about longing for home and the people I miss.
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Your work has been described as part of New Queer Intimism, what does this mean to you?
When Tyler Malone wrote that beautiful piece about my work and the work of my peers, I was very excited, because it’s the historical context I’ve imagined for myself for years. I’ve been obsessed with Bonnard and Vuillard since I first saw their work when I came to the US for my undergraduate degree. The colour, dappled paint handling, and play between flatness and depth were very inspiring for me. I was so taken by how an everyday scene, like a family sitting around, a loved one taking a bath, or a still life, can hold such emotional intensity
What inspired or led you to working in an Intimist style, exploring and observing interior scenes and their quiet moments?
Figurative paintings that create an intimate connection with the viewer have always been very compelling to me. Van Gogh, whose art was my first love, is a great example of that. Looking at his work, one gets access not only to the people he painted, but to him and his emotional world. That’s what I aspire to do with my paintings. So, when I started working with personal subject matter, it felt very natural to follow in the footsteps of artists I admired. I wanted to harness the same empathic power as I saw in the works of Van Gogh, Vuillard, Bonnard, etc, and create a sense of intimacy from a queer point of view – giving everyday queer experiences the same weight and complexity that I felt was present in Intimist work.
Are there any colours that you associate more exclusively with a feeling or emotional state?
I’m not sure! I definitely think color in paintings elicits specific feelings or sensations, but I don’t think it’s a direct causal relationship to any particular pigment. I use a lot of the same colors in my work- Scarlet Lake which is a warm transparent red, Indian Yellow, Phthalo or Ultramarine Blue and Magenta- but I’d like to think each of my pieces express different feelings, as the shared colours exist in different contexts.
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To what extent do you plan your work in advance? Or is your art something which develops more intuitively in the moment?
Part of my process is making small paintings from observation in preparation for large works. In these pieces I work improvisationally, letting the experience of being in front of the subject inform my colour and mood choices. The small paintings anchor my large works, giving me an idea of what I want a large piece to feel like and what colour world I’m working with. But since there’s lots of unknowns in the painting process, I can never really plan out a piece start to finish- I’m mostly responding to what’s on the canvas, trying to gauge if it’s getting at what I’m trying to achieve.
The original Intimists worked especially with interior spaces which is a theme young queer artists inspired by this tradition are updating and exploring. However, with the pandemic stretching far longer than many of us ever imaged, how has this impacted your relationship with domestic spaces?
I’m naturally a homebody, so home for me has always been an environment that relates to comfort and safety- a place I can relax in, surrounded by people and objects I love. I’ve been going to my studio since around May of last year, so luckily I didn’t have to deal with painting at home for too long. Being able to leave my apartment and “go to work” every day has definitely kept me sane. So, my relationship with domestic spaces hasn’t changed much. Rather, it’s my relationship to all the other spaces I inhabited, like the subway, bars, and restaurants, that has become much more fraught.
Have your paintings become a space you may escape into away from daily life? Or are they more of a mirror held up and reflecting your day to day?
I think they’re both! I see my work as an aspirational space where queer experiences can embody more than just what they depict. Which is how images of straight desire are read. If you think of Courbet’s Origin of the World, or Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, there’s a gravity to these images and a freedom to take major themes like creation and war as their subject matter. That is not afforded to representations of queerness.
So, my paintings are both a 'real' reflection of my everyday experiences, and an alternate reality where queerness is allowed to be expansive and generative.
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In previous interviews you have discussed the relationship between artist, subject and viewer and your hopes to invite the viewer into the emotions and inner life of both the subject and the painter. This reminded me of contemporary discussions around gaze. It struck me that your work breaks free from the traditional male gaze, which is inherently heteronormative and possessive. Instead, your work allows for a more reciprocal, intimate relationship between all the parties involved: subject, artist, viewer. Is this something which resonates you?
I love that! Thank you for that observation. I think that because I paint people who are close to me, there’s a sense of familiarity, trust, and vulnerability that comes through. The “male gaze” is inherently dehumanizing, and I’m interested in the complete opposite – making work that connects us through our shared humanity.
What would you like to see more of in the contemporary art world?
Sustained support for a variety of voices. The current “return to figuration”, that's figurative painting, has highlighted amazing artists, and has definitely helped the reach of my work, but I think that focusing so narrowly on this or that kind of painting is ultimately not useful for artists and artistic discourse. These cycles come and go, whereas our individual projects as artists are a long-term exploration that take a lifetime. I think everyone would be better off if we didn’t let the market overshadow everything, but instead invested in artists on their own terms.
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