Charles Long is a man of few words. Lucky for us, then, that the painter has enjoyed a long-standing “conversation” and prolific life, painting the landscapes and people he loves best.
Born on Sept. 30, 1948, in Kaduna, northern Nigeria, where his father Athelstan was a district officer, Long was schooled at Waterford Kambhlaba United World College, just outside Mbabane, Swaziland, and in the U.K., before eventually joining his parents in the Cayman Islands in 1969.
A shy and introspective child outside his small circle of friends, which included future journalist Matthew Parris, Long discovered a love of drawing, later painting, his surroundings as a way of further making sense of his world.
Long spent many months away from his parents due to the peripatetic nature of his father’s postings in the colonial service and found an outlet in art that was to last him a lifetime.
“I’ve been involved in art from an early age. My first paintings must have been done at school at the age of 10. I painted buildings, people and landscapes,” said Long.
Long’s first impressions of Cayman were favorable. “I was charmed by the riot of colors I saw everywhere and of the good-natured warmth of the people. My earliest recollections were of the beauty of the breadfruit trees and the ever changing colors of the sea. The wattle and daub houses as some of the oldest structures in Cayman struck me, as they were very different from the beehive huts of rural Swaziland.”
His pictures, a form of expressive realism, mirrored the everyday substance of life in Cayman capturing the bustle of street life and the tranquility of the landscape.
His work, in acrylic on board or canvas, has been influenced by European artists, as well as those of the Caribbean, particularly Haiti.
“My paintings have changed over the years, as with most artists,” concedes Long. “They have become more colorful.”
“In the process of creating work, I take a while to start and imagine the final picture before putting brush to canvas,” he says. “Once started, completion is fairly quick.”
Known as the Cayman Chronicler, since the major retrospective of his work, which was displayed at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands in 2002, Long has painted many scenes and buildings that have, in time, become historic. His work has been displayed in both group and solo exhibitions in Cayman, Venezuela and in the Dominican Republic, and he has several key works which form part of the National Gallery’s permanent collection. Among these are “Mitch Miller and his Ting,” “Caymanian House,” “Two Girls at a Vanity Table” and “Pedro’s Bluff.”
Looking back on nearly half a century of depicting Cayman, Long said, “I’m most proud of my painting of the Islander Cinema, which was on North Church Street. As an historic record, several of my works are a testimony of the life and times of the islands.”
Having produced more than a thousand paintings, Long has enjoyed an artistic longevity and popularity few have attained. First and foremost a painter, given the size of the island and its population, he could never commit himself full-time to his art and until the past few years has worked in a succession of jobs, including at the Mariculture Turtle Farm, the Nor’wester magazine, the National Museum and most recently, as an executive officer at the Department of Environment.
His advice to budding artists is to follow their instincts while working in the private sector as a means of supplementing their income and keeping in contact with the outside world.
When working on his own art and commissioned pieces, Long works out of his studio near Pedro St. James. His most recent work includes pictures of the Glass House and the new Government Administration Building.
He is currently selling some 70 paintings, which include some very early pieces. This is thought to be one of the biggest sales of his work in recent times.
Long’s murals can take up to three months to complete, whereas his smaller paintings are usually completed in a week.
Visitors to his studio should call him on 917-5741 and make an appointment.