Chronicles of Cayman life

A prolific painter of an estimated 1000 pieces of artwork, Charles Long delighted visitors with his recent exhibition held at the Visual Arts Society at Pedro St James. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull chats with the artist to find out what keeps him painting after all these years.

Charles Long’s artistic career in Cayman spans 40 years, beginning with his arrival in the islands in 1969 with his parents after studying art at Farnham School of Art in England. He was a founding member and secretary of the Visual Arts Society back in the Seventies and it is therefore fitting, over thirty years later, that he should have such a wonderful exhibition dedicated to his inimitable talent.

Inspiration and technique
A keen observer of everyday life, Charles’s artwork has always been a highly sought-after documentation of scenes of Cayman and an interesting visual representation of how the island has evolved over the years.
 
Charles says: “In particular I am drawn to George Town, where my wife’s family originates. I love to paint the sea so the George Town harbour front has always been a big draw for me and it has been fascinating to watch this area develop over time. I rarely tire from painting such scenes and if I do I take a break, concentrate on another project and usually get rejuvenated very quickly!”
 
His other passion is Cayman’s flora and breadfruit trees, sea grape and palms all feature delightfully in his work.
 
Using photography as a base from which to create his paintings, Charles says he takes a scene and places his own unique style upon the canvas.
 
His style is unmistakable and has often been compared to the English painter L.S. Lowry, whose depictions of Northern English life back in the early part of the 20th Century were filled with his signature ‘matchstick men’.
 
Although Charles’s paintings do have the ‘matchstick’ element to the figures and animals and they do depict everyday scenes of life, stylistically that is about where the comparison with Lowry ends, since Charles’s use of colour could not be more different from that of Lowry’s. Where Lowry used brown, Charles uses turquoise. Where Lowry used grey, Charles uses bright fresh greens.
 
“I love to use bright turquoises and blues for the sea,” Charles says. “My use of bright and vivid colour has become a trademark of my paintings.”
 
Indeed each painting is imbued with a vibrancy that only a Caribbean painter could properly recreate, such is the intensity of the colour palette.       

Visual Arts Society exhibition
For his February exhibition at the Visual Arts Society’s wonderful Watler House location in the grounds of the historic Pedro St James, Charles has shown over 20 paintings mainly created last year, each still following his theme of everyday life observations yet each cleverly bringing a fresh perspective as Cayman’s landscape continues to evolve.
 
My favourite has to be ‘Another fishing boat off Strathvale House’ which depicts the George Town harbour front complete with Casanova Restaurant and the Strathvale House buildings in the background. The painting’s success lies in its clever juxtapositioning of the old (fishing boats) and the new (new buildings on the harbour front). Interestingly I perspective is from the sea looking to shore with the fishing boat in the foreground taking up the majority of the painting, perhaps a testament to their continued importance to Cayman life, even in the 21st Century.
 
‘Building III’ is another favourite painting which stands out as an interesting chronicle of Cayman life, with busy builders hard at work with cement mixer and breezeblocks.
 
“I have been involved in building as my mother had purchased a large piece of land and I took part in some elements of the construction of buildings,” Charles says.
 
Clearly fascinated by the process he has painted a slice of life all-to-frequently seen here in Cayman as development continues, yet rather overlooked as far as artistic depiction goes.
 
‘Under the breadfruit and almond trees’ could take us back to yesteryear when such vegetation was prolific in Cayman yet one look at the attire and hairstyles of the young people in the painting (on trend t-shirts and jeans) tells us that this again is a contemporary piece, reinforcing perhaps the fact that there thankfully still remains plentiful flora in Cayman, even with so much development. 
 
Husband and wife Barbara deLello and John Derbin visit Cayman regularly from their home in the States (Barbara has been a visitor since childhood) and both enjoy Charles’s work.
 
Barbara confirms: “We have two of Charles Long’s early pieces. We are continually charmed by the simplicity of his work both now and the past, the way it conveys the feel, flavour and colour of the Cayman lifestyle.”
 
John adds: “Mr. Long’s work creates the image of Cayman that is vividly shared through my wife’s memories; the beauty of the people, the land, the sea and the sun. He shares this idyllic vision of a life at a different pace – divine beauty surviving a hectic pace.”

Chronicles-SM

The VAS team: l-r Ivan Burges, Dora Williams, Charles Long, Shirley Scott and Trevor Lloyds

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