“At the Edge of All We Have Built” is a series of eight mixed media paintings currently on display at the Homer Public Library. Blending science fiction and outer space with the everyday and personal, the paintings feature silhouettes standing alone on the edge of precipices and looking out into vast, colorful landscapes, with the precipices depicted by geometric shapes and the landscapes by swirling colors resembling the cosmos. Appearing in contemplative isolation, the silhouettes are intended to be anonymous, so that they at once represent any of us, or all of us.
“This entire body of work is unified by looking at the profound moment of the individual engaging in something vast, in coming to a decision, and coming to a brave step of just saying “yes” to whatever that thing is,” said Homer artist Counsel Langley, whose work will be on display at the library through March. “It is the questioning of boundaries and taking time to look beyond what we’ve created and have assumed to be true.”
Visually, the series takes a cue from scenic turnouts — those opportunities to pull off a highway, get out of our car, and walk to the very edge to gaze at the beauty of nature before us. In fact, “At the Edge of All We Have Built” was inspired during a drive Langley made to Seward.
“I stopped at a wayside and was moved by the way our infrastructure will take you right up to the edge, to a spot to gaze at the poignant beauty,” Langley said. “I began thinking about people at the edge peering out into the landscape, into whatever is out there, with just their thoughts and questions keeping them company. And if we moved off planet, wouldn’t we still build those opportunities? A chance to view a particularly stunning nebulae, galaxies, birthplaces of stars, while contemplating our place in the Universe?”
Raised in Puget Sound, Washington, among shipwrights (her father), foundry workers (an uncle) and boat builders (a grandmother), Langley has long been inspired by the strong traditional skills and respect for materials she witnessed growing up. At college, she studied science and art, eventually shifting to art full time, exploring metalsmithing and painting. While she enjoyed metalsmithing and carrying on the family legacy, she was more intrigued by the plans she drew than the building of those plans. In 1999, she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Massachusetts College of Art. While painting is today her primary medium, she said her work remains rooted in a metalsmith’s approach to making art.
“I’m not a painter’s painter because I paint with the mindset of a metalsmith,” she shared. “The rigor of metalwork honed my discipline, steady hand, attention for detail, and love for surface treatment — rough, smooth, matte, shiny, sparkly, natural, mechanical, etc.”
Using tools similar to those an architect might use to draft plans — compass, ruler, tablets, and larger circle makers, she incorporates basic geometry into her paintings as she strives for detail and balance. Because she uses the same tools to create her work, the same shapes of simple geometry emerge repeatedly, no matter whether she is cutting, drawing, or painting.
“In every series I’ve done, I’ve realized that there is balance between the simple geometry of those tools and looser, more natural flows and rubbing light layers so I get light misty forms or splatters,” Langley said. “I like to pair those things because that’s what I see when I see human beings — that we want to be a part of the natural world and that we’re tool users.”
In her painting, “The Student,” she is doing a dance between listening to how she talks to her three children and thinking about the choices they will make down the road, she said.
“When I talk to my kids, I’m always trying to reinforce that their education isn’t going to stop one day. That my hope is that their education will continue to come at them from all difference directions and that they can pursue it from all different directions,” she said. “That’s what I’ve tried to show in this painting – that there is such a vast swirl of things happening around us all of the time and we can be simultaneously open to that and focused so that we can gain new information and process it without being overwhelmed. That we can understand it for its various layers.”
A full-time working artist working from her home studio, Langley co-parents her three children, ages 11, 16, and 20, alongside her husband, Kwin. She said this exhibit also portrays a parent’s view, standing on the precipice of watching children as they prepare to leave home.
“You have built a family, helped your children develop skills, morals, and a collection of experiences and you build all this together so that they take it to the very edge, peer over and ask themselves what is over there,” she said. “And then off they go to find out, to collect experiences.”
Langley has been exhibiting in both solo and group shows since 2000. Along with painting, she also enjoys illustration. Her work has been featured in a Microsoft Surface Launch Campaign and held by the Seattle City Light Portable Works Collections and Arts WA Public Collection, in Seattle Magazine, City Arts Magazine, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Trickhouse, and Beautiful/Decay blog. She has shown at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art in Anchorage, Bear Gallery in Fairbanks, and in Washington state in the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, Washington, Roq La Rue Museum in Seattle, PUB Gallery at Peninsula College on the Olympic Peninsula, and Bridge Productions in Seattle, to name just a few.
She has also exhibited outside of museums and galleries in cross discipline projects, including with literary publications such as Filter Literary journal and Poetry Northwest Magazine, as well as having created several album covers.
Langley and her husband, a commercial fisherman, and their children moved to Anchorage in 2018 and to Homer in 2020. She said living in Alaska inspires her current work, from the winter colors to the sense of scale. She is currently working a winter palette series that is formatted on radial symmetry and will be her closest step back to her days as a metalsmith.
“I’ll be incorporating brass elements and the final pieces will function as wall hung candleholders,” she said. “I love low-tech special effects and the idea here is that paintings will have their own light source — a wavering, natural flicker that will bounce and reflect off the many shiny and sparkling elements that are incorporated into the paintings — like light on ice and snow.”
In addition to exhibiting, Langley taught art at a variety of venues for more than 15 years, from home schools and public libraries to public and private schools, and is interested in teaching art again. Anyone interested in following or contacting her can do so on Instagram and her website, counsellangley.com.