Woodie Long grew up in a family of twelve in a racially mixed sharecropping community in Plant City, Florida. As a young man, he worked as a sharecropper and itinerant laborer. He told me that he had picked just about every crop that existed in the southeastern US. Most of his life, Long was employed as a professional contract painter. This work took him as far as Saudi Arabia, where he met his wife, Dot. Long said that there he became acquainted with the Prince, now King, while painting the Palace and other Royal buildings. Dot and Woodie subsequently traveled for a year in Southeast Asia before they settled in south Alabama to be near family.
Long began his memory paintings in 1988 while recuperating from a respiratory illness brought on by long-term exposure to oil paint. He was a great storyteller, and was often encouraged by family and friends to recount his own experiences. He saw his wife’s hobby watercolor set as a good way to record his memories. Long certainly knew how to handle a brush and during his career had experimented occasionally with painting figures. He told me that on jobs, he often created a large image on each wall before painting over it.
I presented an early solo exhibition titled, “Woodie Long’s South” in 1991 at my gallery in Winston-Salem, NC. The exhibition was reviewed by Tom Patterson in the Winston-Salem Journal (10-6-91).
Long applied paint in a direct manner, like a calligrapher, seldom retouching anything. He created figures out of quick brushstrokes and then filled in background with solid shades. His best work has a lively presence manifested by an inventive use of pattern, color and balance. He had great perception of human posture and created a genuine sense of movement in his paintings.
“Long’s rich subjects and keen visual balance appear so natural, as if they are taken for granted. Their positions (of figures) recall Matisse and Chagall but their happenstance is all Woodie Long.”1 Long was a prolific painter and his work has been very widely collected. In his art, Long can make even the hardest circumstances seem idyllic, such as his depictions of picking cotton. Perhaps the reason his paintings have such broad appeal is because they are bright, carefree and cheerful. Mose Tolliver once said about his friend, "Woodie is just full of fun".
1 Christopher Payne, “Woodie Long a ‘relaxed counterpart’ to Matisse,” Montgomery Advertiser, date unknown, 1995.
George Jacobs Self-Taught Art
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