Bert L. Long, Jr.

(American, 1940-2013)

The Couple (Chest of Material Wealth), 1977

Acrylic on canvas; 36 x 48 in.

Acquired in 2021

Bert L. Long, Jr. was an artist intent on elevating Houston’s art scene, establishing communal projects such as its first art magazine, Art Scene, and helping to found Project Row Houses. His social praxis was in part informed by his childhood in the “Bloody Fifth”—Houston’s Fifth Ward—where he was challenged by an environment of poverty and violent crime. Long saw his work as an artist in part as a ticket out of, as he describes it, “the worst ghetto.” After holding a series of jobs as “the man of the house,” he would eventually nourish a creative spirit, first during his time as a renowned chef, creating decorative foods and experimenting with ice sculpture. And, starting in 1977, as a full time professional artist.

Long did not shy away from responding to the modern-day, capitalistic reality that his contemporaries encountered. “The days are gone when you could create your art in a little community and some king or some church would come and find you and commission you.” Thus, he believed that there should be no shame in artists adapting and merchandising their work to sustain themselves as artists. Still, he critiqued the necessity of this strategy in The Couple (Chest of Material Wealth), which shows both the rewards of the extrinsic pursuit of success and what is lost in such pursuit.

Here, on the right, he depicts a “spirit-beings.” These figures originated in African art and are common in African American outsider art. They are a recurring motif for Long, complementing his themes of what he referred to as his “vision of the Spirit of Art.” Although he was also known for his performance art, sculptures, and assemblages, painting was Long’s primary mode for expressing his own creative spirit. He believed in art’s redemptive, elevating, and healing power. “Our jobs as artists are to paint what we come in touch with and to help people diagnose the ills of society. Once we diagnose them then we can cure them.”


University of Houston-Downtown

One Main Building

4th Floor, adjacent to the O’Kane Gallery

Bert L. Long, Jr. | Research

Learn more about resources on the Houston artist Bert L. Long, Jr.

Bert L. Long, Jr. Papers

Access the finding aid for the Bert L. Long, Jr. Papers at UH Libraries Special Collections.

Other Artwork by this Artist

The Force (or Bottom Bound), 1977