BY LISA RUBENSON, WRITER, ART-LOVER AND CONTRIBUTOR TO HAPPENINGSCLT.
This post is the first in a series of articles highlighting the collaborative work of Charlotte’s visual artists.
Architect, developer and sculptor David Furman’s exhibit, “Architecture II,” featuring new works and a piece painted by abstract artist Robert Langford, opens September 11 and runs through October 10 at the New Gallery of Modern Art. Reception is tonight from 5 – 8 pm. The New Gallery is located at 435 S. Tryon Street, with validated parking available at The Green parking deck.
Proceeds from art sales go to Furman’s Centro Bono Foundation to help build supportive housing for the homeless.
Artists Collaborate – David Furman/Robert Langford
After lunch, David Furman and Robert Langford walk around inside Furman’s store-front studio. Near the windows, it’s all business. Moveable walls form an L-shaped gallery to display wooden sculptures that vary in size from table top, to seven-foot totems, to those nearing the ceiling. Each is painted a monochromatic earth tone with a stoic, matte finish. Two sleek chairs are positioned for optimal viewing.
Behind the makeshift walls is a massive, garage-like space where Furman creates his art. There’s a paint room, table saws and what seems like three attics’ worth of salvaged wooden objects: a bin of claw-foot table legs snapped off their bases like giant wishbones, pineapple finials, headboards and the flotsam and jetsam of dismembered rocking chairs, kitchen tools and children’s toys.
They stop to look at several of the assembled, but not yet painted, sculptures. Each piece is a carefully constructed collage of these found wooden objects and, in their unfinished state, still have bits of their original stories to tell. Furman points to one of the medium-sized sculptures, turns to Langford and says: “Why don’t you paint this one?”
The first time Furman and Langford collaborated on a project, it was about the art of the deal, not the art itself. It was the late 90s, a time that Furman has called the “go-go years” in Charlotte: the economy was thriving, banks were loaning, and developers were busy building up the skyline. Furman and Langford were both immersed in commercial real estate ventures, and the word “artist” was nowhere to be found on their business cards.
The two met when Langford and his business partner were developing a mixed-use property in South End. Furman, well-established as an architect, developer and smart growth advocate, was interested in their plans for the property. When the retail component fell through, Furman stepped in and developed the land for residential use.
While Furman continued to grow his business interests, forming two successful design and development firms that are still very active, Langford was setting himself up for a career change. Though he had a degree in business, he was passionate about art history and painting – often coming home from work to paint late into the night. In 2000, Langford transitioned to art full time.
Years later, when the recession hit and development projects came to a halt, Furman found himself without any projects in the works – something that had not happened to him since his mid-twenties. Knowing he’d have to wait out the downturn, he looked for other ways to channel his interest in design.
“The word art was not in my vocabulary at that point,” says Furman. “All I wanted to do was create something interesting, desirable to look at, but also rooted in the principles of design – rhythm, scale, balance, hierarchical relationships. I wanted to have fun with it, but also do it right.”
He figured if he could design it, he could build it, though he also realized that he was an “urban dude,” with no tools and no studio space. One thing he did have, however, was first-hand knowledge of all the abandoned buildings in town.
“You could say I helped myself to a studio space,” he admits. “I rigged lighting, made tables out of doors, bought all the tools, then scoured places like Value Village looking for materials. It took me a year to get set up.”
He began making and selling the wooden sculptures in 2010, with all proceeds of his art going to his Centro Bono Foundation to address housing needs for the homeless. Furman would have stayed put in that location, had a random police chase not ended with a suspect’s car crashing into the front of his studio space. After that, he moved to his current location where he has been since 2014.
Meanwhile, Langford had been enjoying success as a full-time painter, engaging in group and solo exhibits throughout Charlotte and other parts of the country, including Art Basel events in New York and Miami. Furman and Langford kept in touch, supporting each other’s artistic endeavors and involvement in the community.
Furman’s invitation for Langford to paint one of his sculptures marks the first time the two have formally collaborated on a piece of artwork. Langford says he was both honored and intimidated at the thought of bringing his artistic interpretation to another’s work – especially a friend he’d known for so long.
“It’s an act of trust,” says Langford. “I had a hard time putting that first brush mark on David’s piece. To paint on a three-dimensional piece, versus a canvas, requires a new way of thinking. It’s also physically challenging, to get the right brush for the right detail. I felt like I was literally inhabiting the sculpture as I painted it, trying to find my own voice within his work.”
Furman, who has spent a lifetime collaborating in business, is pleased with the outcome and plans to include the piece, along with all of his other new works, in his upcoming show at the New Gallery of Modern Art.
[In addition to his architectural practice, David Furman is the founder of Centro Cityworks, The Housing Studio and Axiom Architecture. He is also the 2015 recipient of Charlotte Center City Partners Vision Award, honoring those who have made “the Center City a more vibrant, urban core.” To see his acceptance speech, click here.]
[Robert Langford’s studio is located at the Morrison in the SouthPark area. For more information about his paintings, visit robertlangfordstudio.com.]