Photo by Christopher Tobutt
Charles Long has been recording everyday life in the Cayman Islands for nearly four decades. His paintings show meticulously delineated landscapes and carefully simplified forms which, like crystals, show forth the pure essence of a thing.
The latest exhibition of his work took place at his own studio in Savannah on Thursday, 29 August.
Sometimes people have likened the elongated, rather flat figures that appear in Mr Long’s paintings to the English painter L.S. Lowry. The artist, however, cites the French naïve painter Henri Rousseau as one of his influences.
Unlike Rousseau, Mr Long’s paintings tend to use very flat figures, standing up like paper or cardboard against a bright background. Also, Mr Long has had the benefit of some years’ formal training, so cannot be called a naïve artist; rather his style is the product of incremental choices taken over a period of time.
These have resulted in progressive refinements as he carefully records the things that he sees around him- everything from tourists walking by the waterfront to builders working with their wheelbarrows and concrete blocks. The beauty of each form, each action, is preserved through being observed, understood, and recorded, without the need to augment or sentimentalize.
Mr Long often paints using thin, translucent washes of acrylic, layer upon layer, usually on board of some kind rather than canvas. Very often the white foundation shows through the colours, making them vivid and alive- the hues of Cayman in bright sunshine.
In the latest exhibition we can see two different styles emerging. One is full of detail- the boats, cars, or buildings in the picture have specific and very definite characteristics. These paintings, Mr Long said, are painted from photographs that he takes with his digital camera and prints out, carefully copying all the details that he would otherwise forget.
The other style is less particular, and more dreamlike- and is painted from Mr Long’s imagination, rather that from a photograph. Each figure is still neatly delineated, but the landscapes in which they find themselves summon the feelings of certain kinds of surroundings rather than being full of picture postcard-style detail.
Foliage is painted especially carefully, in either style, and while Mr Long is not one of those painters who wishes us to see every single leaf, the recurring pattern of the leaves is expertly executed and recognizable and often very pleasing.
The simplification of form, and often of tone and colour, coupled with the clear and sometimes stark delineations, show us that this painter is wishing to not so much tell us a story in each painting, as carefully capture a moment, and let the voice of our minds become the narrator.