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Paintings by Francesco Longenecker

Francesco Longenecker’s studio, Brooklyn.


The month of October has been nothing short of remarkable for Brooklyn based painter Francesco Longenecker. With a host of events including a large group exhibition in New Jersey and a solo exhibition in NYC, the emerging artist is happily among the more prolific of his piers so far this season.

This recent flurry of activity is in fact only the latest installment in a meteoric rise to imminent international recognition. Over the course of the last two years Longenecker has gained not only his M.F.A at the New York Academy of Art and Design, where he was awarded both the Merit Award and the Chairman’s Travel Scholarship Award, but also representation by RARE Gallery (521 West 26th St., NYC) who opened his modestly titled solo exhibition Paintings on October 11th – this was not only the artist’s debut with the gallery, but also, having only exhibited since 2004, his first solo show to date.

Paintings installation view. Image courtesy of RARE Gallery, NYC.

Paintings consists of five new abstract canvases that comprise a complex synthesis of references as diverse as abstract masterpieces, street art, and flea market finds. While one recognizes historical references, Longenecker places his work in a contemporary context by infusing it with the physicality of graffiti – specifically the struggle of layering which occurs when blocks of color similar to the original color of the wall are applied in an attempt to obliterate it.

Canopy, 2008. 79 x 108 inches. Oil on Canvas. Image courtesy of RARE Gallery, NYC.

In Canopy (2008), a landscape appears to be the final layer, seeming to block our view of earlier layers of paint.  Yet an ambiguity arises as to whether the landscape is obstructing our view of what lies beneath or is in fact being blocked by what our eye may have fooled us into thinking are earlier passages. Longenecker moves beyond this area of inquiry by replicating the effects of color separation in early printing processes and the discoloration resulting from fading that is found in vintage stereoscopic slides of landscapes.  These traits are also observable in Field (2008), which exhibits a camouflage pattern akin to the effect created by a double exposure in photography.

Field, 2008. 82 x 132 inches. Oil on Canvas. Image courtesy of RARE Gallery, NYC.

In response to Longenecker’s recent outbreak of success we contacted the owner of RARE Gallery, Peter Ted Surace who had some very pertinent things to say:


What does Francesco Longenecker represent for you?

Francesco’s abstracted landscapes are a breath of fresh air — they give the impression of being utterly spontaneous, and I think to a large degree they are.  While representation in art, particularly painting, has been the rage over the last half decade or so, and make no mistake about it, I love representational work, Francesco seems to buck the trend with his large, all-encompassing, gorgeously messy abstract canvases.  What I also admire is that while he references Ab Exers like de Kooning, Mitchell, Rothko, and Diebenkorn, and even Gorky and Hoffman here and there, Francesco manages to maintain his own voice and not let his work get smothered or bogged down by the weight of art history.

Site, 2008. 79 x108 inches. Oil on Canvas Image courtesy of Rare Gallery, NYC.

Where do you place Francesco Longenecker within the NY context and the wider art world?

I am not sure where or how I would place Francesco in a NY or wider art world context, mainly because I don’t care about these things when I select an artist to exhibit at RARE.  I look for originality, emotion, guts, and great technical mastery.  I let other people do the pigeon-holing; I am not interested in that sort of thing.

Site, 2008. 60 x 96 inches. Oil on Canvas Image courtesy of Rare Gallery, NYC.

What separates Francesco Longenecker from other emerging artists that you work with?

Each of our artists has qualities that separate him or her from others.  I think two of Francesco’s most outstanding qualities are the lack of preconceptions he brings to a work — he doesn’t paint with a specific end in mind, he just allows his painting to take him where it will.  He works without a net, he takes risks, which in turn present a challenge to viewers to figure out what it is they are seeing — is it this, is it that, is it representation, is it abstraction, is it both?  Who knows?  And what is especially gratifying is that Francesco doesn’t really care what viewers walk away with, as long as they walk away with something.

Paintings installation view. Image courtesy of RARE Gallery, NYC.

What appeals to you most about Francesco Longenecker’s work?

Franceso’s work makes me want to come back over and over again to discover things that I missed on the previous go-round.  I never have his paintings fully figured out, and I think that really is the definition of great art — the ability to remain open-ended■


Clearing, 2008. 405 x 565 inches. Oil on Canvas Image courtesy of Rare Gallery, NYC.

Painting’s at RARE Gallery, NYC, closes on November 8th. If this is too soon and you too revere painting in the flesh (or rather detest its reproduction on the web!) then a group show presenting bespoke work by 31 artists from New Jersey and New York including Longenecker titled The Red Badge of Courage Revisited, opened on October 21st at the Newark Arts Council in New Jersey – a 14,000 square foot space in downtown Newark.

Curated by Omar Lopez-Chahoud, the exhibition is based on the life and work of 19th century writer/poet/journalist Stephen Crane, a native of Newark. Although he died at the tender age of 28 Crane’s work and life have provided consistent inspiration: His portrait was used by the Beatles on the cover of their album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, the 2001 film “The Dark Riders” was based on a Crane poem, and there have been a number of film versions of his seminal 1895 novel “The Red Badge of Courage,” which tells the tale of one young soldier’s feelings during the American Civil War as he wrestled with fear and the reality of battle – the most famous of which was directed by John Huston and released in 1951.

“The rushing yellow of the developing day went on behind their backs. When the sunrays at last struck full and mellowingly upon the earth, the youth saw that the landscape was streaked with two long, thin, black columns which disappeared on the brow of a hill in front and rearward vanished in a wood. They were like two serpents crawling from the cavern of the night.” — Stephen Crane.

More than one hundred years after Crane’s death, the artists in the show “Red Badge of Courage ReVisited” will use historical references as a tool to interpret and represent their concerns with contemporary society. Although Longenecker’s contribution to this show is not as diverse nor volumous as his solo show at RARE Gallery, the artist’s varied experimentations with paint application, surface quality, and his intuitive development of shapes, remain to plumb the tension between the visual disjunctives of distortion and disguise.

Procession, 2008. 40 x 62 inches. Oil on Canvas Image courtesy of Rare Gallery, NYC.

Catching an artist at the beginning of what will doubtless be a long and prescient career is exciting. It is a rare instance that in wading through the copious detritus that New York has to offer, in terms of contemporary abstract painting, to come across good work. Relatively undiscovered and with that elegant gifted brightness so synonymous with early abstract painting, Longenecker represents, at least for me, an opportunity for the genre to recoup some much owed gratitude; and for once, lacking in susceptibility to seduction by the cheapening corruptions of popular culture machines, a role model for those hopefully following in his footsteps[.]


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Paintings by Francesco Longenecker