44 Addie Langford


Born Louisville, Kentucky, 1974/BFA, Rhode Island School of Design; MFA, Cranbrook/Lives in Detroit

Four years into an architectural program at RISD, Addie Langford found herself confronting a hard truth: she missed making things. All the theoretical design emphasis in her formal studies could not replace the importance of the hands-on process of creation that had always been a fundamental part of her practice.

Retreating from architecture into an all-encompassing two-year stint of architectural tile-making, under the tutelage of well-known Russian ceramics artist Sergei Isupov and his then-wife, Dana Major, Langford used that time in her native Kentucky to recalibrate. Her next move was a Masters study of ceramics, which included fiber and a Fulbright Fellowship that took her to Madrid to research “Renaissance Tapestry as a Harbinger of Contemporary Collage.” However, Langford has not truly abandoned architecture, and her subsequent explorations in ceramics, painting, and textiles all pay deep attention to the indispensible architectural factor of structure.

This consideration may manifest as a rigorous testing process; in ceramics and painting, Langford is interested in the limits of her materials, pushing the porosity and structural integrity of clay and paper. In her works on paper, she piles layered washes of watercolor or acrylic atop a mixed-media matrix of collage, strengthened with a backing layer of gesso. The collective density of these materials defies the paper base to hold together; each piece can absorb as much as five gallons of water by the end of the process. These large-scale works balance repetitious horizontal geometrics, established in the collage layer, with the chaotic overlay of vertical drips, forming colorful abstractions. The more strongly geometric works, such as Blue/Yellow/Green (2014) could pass for textile designs; the looser works, such as Hanging Gardens: Sea/Red (2013) seem to be landscapes, as viewed through an obscuring mist. In ceramics, these explorations include the 2011 “Soft Compression” series—a compressive stress-testing of porcelain, creating forms that Langford characterizes as, “bodily, without being figurative.” As installed, these lumpen and partially-glazed vessels were surrounded by fabric in dense, padded piles, almost as though offering comfort or ease to the pressurized porcelain. This work is perhaps an extended abstraction of her 2006 series “Seven Breaks,” which contains sculptures like Bone (2006) and Wheel (2006) that, in their viciously desiccated skeletal armature, more literally suggest a violent collapse of bodily or mechanical structure.

“There’s very rarely a moment of rest in being an adult,” Langford says, somewhat wistfully, in terms of her attraction to bearing down hard on her materials. Her work is quite emotional, but the dramatic, underlying feelings are channeled through a deep layer of abstraction, leaving little trace of self-portraiture. If the tendency of her works on paper to be overwhelmed with content, or her ceramics vulnerable and in need of material comfort, is indeed a reflection of Langford’s interior existence, one must know the artist well to see it—the face she presents to the world is smooth as porcelain (certainly smoother than the porcelain rendered by her hand).

Steeped in art history, Langford cites Simon Hantaï, François Rouan, and Richard Tuttle as influential to her process, but is also swift to credit influences as close to home as her mother’s domestic quilt-making. For her part, Langford is relentless in her pursuit of more perfect expression, and exceptionally exacting in her definition of accomplishment—most recently in her preparation of large scale accretions of fiber on canvas that will be included in a solo show at Simone DeSousa Gallery. There is something chimera-like about Langford’s forms enabling them to encompass divergent sources, occupying a space between rigid formalism and raw emotion, architecture and art history—all held in a tense conglomerate of materials pushed to their breaking point.

Rosie Sharp, February 2016

Copyright Essay’d 2015