BATAVIA — Jonathan Langfield’s first commissioned artwork was so bad, it was painted over. And since he didn’t have the heart to tell his mother, he allowed her to believe that the mural painted over his, was in fact his creation.
The charade began when, at 18, Langfield decided he was an artist and began introducing himself as such around his Massachusetts hometown. When word got around to the mother of one of his friends, she asked if he would like to paint a mural on the wall of a new toy store in Providence, Rhode Island. Armed with some paint and one fan brush, he took the job.
It didn’t go well.
When Langfield and his mother attended the store’s grand opening, he found his pirate mural had been replaced.
“They had done another similar mural on top, but it was way better than what I had done,” he explained. “So I was posing in front of it, and my mom was taking pictures. She had no idea that it wasn’t my painting.”
Langfield has come a long way in the 10 years since that incident. He has developed his art to the point that he now makes a living from it. And his latest exhibit, “Impromptus,” is now on display at the Rosalie “Roz” Steiner Art Gallery at Genesee Community College.
The exhibit opened Thursday and features 12 abstract paintings. Each is numbered, rather than titled, since, as Langfield put it, they are all one piece.
“I could have titled them, but I wanted to reference music again in calling them impromptus,” said Langfield, who now lives and runs a studio in Philadelphia. “That’s a musical improvisation structure within rules. I look at them as different pieces of music on one album.”
Following his mural incident, Langfield took art much more seriously. He earned a bachelor’s degree in painting and printmaking from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in 2010 and a master’s in fine arts from Pennsylvania Academy in 2013.
Langfield initially found his niche in creating graphic images of vomit, urine and severed limbs. But that became too much for him.
“It was just adding to the noise that was already out there, and I didn’t want that,” he said. So my paintings became really sparse, like landscapes with nothing in them, depressing in a way. Then everything started getting more minimal. I started getting rid of the figures and all of a sudden all I was left with was lines. That’s where I still am.
“I’m just not guiding the viewer, telling a story, because I think other mediums just do it better. I wanted to make a painting that had to be paint and that’s it. It could not exist in any other form.”
Langfield’s exhibit features bright, vibrant colors — “I don’t really have black in my palette,” he said. — and scribbled, textured lines. The paint is thick, creating a more three-dimensional feel when viewed up close.
While abstract art is often dismissed as something a toddler might create in pre-school art class, Langfield spends anywhere from a week up to a year on each painting.
“I begin a painting by drawing a lot,” he said. “I draw and draw and draw, like hundreds of drawings for each painting. I map out the composition. Then I’ll do a small sketch in acrylic on a piece of paper. I like that they look very improvised but they are actually very planned out.”
“Impromptus” is the first exhibit of the 2015-16 school year at the gallery. Director Mary Jo Whitman said the size of the paintings — most are 5 feet by 6 feet — adds to the effect of the work.
“It’s really great to see it in scale and in person,” she said during Thursday’s artist reception. “Seeing the pictures of it is very different than seeing it in person.”
The Rosalie “Roz” Steiner Art Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. There is no admission fee.