Debbie Long is an artist who works with Light. You might be mistaken in thinking her medium is glass through no fault of your own; the cast glass objects she creates are in and of themselves exquisitely crafted sculptural pieces, but in actuality they are merely conduits for the light that Debbie manipulates into these otherworldly experiences that are the sum total of her work.
Debbie was Ken Price’s studio assistant for many years and that long apprenticeship has paid off in spades. Although Debbie is certainly linked to Price’s creative lineage which includes artists Larry Bell and Ron Cooper among a few others, her work defies simplistic definition, nor can it really be compared to the aforementioned artists except in terms of their exploration of light.
This is art made from dreams. Dreams, but also dedication, discipline and hard work. A poetic inner vision made crystalline and manifest. Deep water and deep space converge here in these installations with their alien yet inexplicably familiar forms that capture, refract and reflect the light Debbie bends and shapes.
Light as we know, travels in the form of a wave – white light contains every colour in the visible spectrum – and with these pieces Debbie has somehow conjured a way to capture these waves as they travel faster than our eyes can see, to confine them in these fragile vessels that will contain them for as long as they remain unbroken.
Her Naima piece, a chamber of amethyst light inside a rusty old trailer, where hundreds of handmade cast glass objects collect light from the sun, transforming the interior as the fiery orb moves across the sky, was built for High Desert Test Sites 2013, an exhibition curated by David Hickey. Andrea Zittel, Libby Lumpkin and Aurora Tang, where the artist’s projects were sited in the desert along the I – 40 from Los Angeles to Albuquerque. The Naima Trailer was sited in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree.
Debbie describes her work as a slow read, an apt analogy. Whilst visiting her huge new studio last week, where Naima is installed, I sat for a while inside another light chamber she has built into the underneath of her sleeping loft. Amber light shifted and became golden, then deeper shades of tortoiseshell as I relaxed, looked up, felt washed by waves of warmth flowing inward from without – or was it the other way around? In that tight space that could have just as easily felt utterly claustrophobic, I experienced a moment of transcendence beyond colour, beyond verbal description. It was as if a deep thirst had been quenched.
I came out of the little enclosed cubicle into the large, open room she works in. An assortment of amethyst glass objects were grouped on a table along one wall. They glowed with such intensity after the gentle golden light I’d just been bathed in, it was difficult to look at them for too long.
I crossed the room and stared out of a high window watching a few birds gather on the bare branches of a tree. I glanced down at the big table that serves as her desk, covered with papers, sketches, books and other bits and pieces of a meaningful life in progress and noticed a torn scrap of lined paper peeking out of a pile. I had to walk around the table to read what was written on it.
“What makes the desert beautiful,” says the little prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well.”
(From The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
For more information on Debbie please visit her site linked below.
Portrait of Debbie Long by Paul O’Connor