“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child,” – Pablo Picasso
Bunnies dangle cat puppets, dogs sprout wings and fish fly in watercolor visions.
Lesley Long’s animal menageries merge with Marc Chagall’s whimsical imagery and children’s illustrations to form a visual wonderland all her own.
Originally from Bellingham, Washington, the artist has lived in Albuquerque since 2015. She sells her work at Tortuga Gallery, The Next Best Thing to Being There and in a benefit exhibition at the New Mexico Cancer Center. Her work also is available at etsy.com.
Long began as a serious portrait artist, even studying at the Art Institute of Chicago before her brushes turned to whimsy.
That all changed one morning in her Washington studio.
“It was having an epiphany one day in my studio room,” she said. “I got tired of ‘What am I going to work on today?’ I thought, ‘I’m not going to work on anything.’ I did a painting and I was amazed; it was animal stuff,” Long continued. “It was very spontaneous with wild colors and animals. I was thrilled.”
The portraits vanished.
Long moved from Washington to New Mexico, first to the East Mountains in 2008, then to Albuquerque in 2015.
“I really wanted to warm up and dry out,” she said. “I just got tired of me and the dogs being wet all day.”
She never plans out her watercolor work, instead allowing a combination of intuition and imagination to lead her hand. Her influences range from Paul Gauguin’s vibrant island paintings to the unrestrained artwork of children.
“One particular line or shape leads into another,” she said, “and the animals and other components begin to take shape. As this is going on, I can finalize composition along with the personalities of the inhabitants of the work.
“I’ll just start with some lines and squiggles and I smudge it with my finger and what comes out is animals,” she continued.
Long was the kind of imaginative child who saw a lion’s face in the whorls of wood in the family bathroom door.
Over the years, her style has loosened. She’ll sometimes create a frame with pick marks or by adding gold leaf.
Facial expressions are critical; cats smile or scowl; horses glance furtively in a sidelong glance.
Long’s next project involves coating her work with resin.
“I love things that are not (a) square or rectangle,” she said. “Now I take an original drawing and measure it. Then I get a piece of wood; I’ll cut a corner off and get a pentagram. The drawings are mounted on the wood.”
She might add gold leaf or old typewriter keys to the composition, then coat it with resin.
She knows her Chagall-in-Wonderland style is instantly recognizable.
“That wasn’t my plan, but I think that’s a very high compliment,” she said. “I think it’s joyful. It makes people smile. People say to me, ‘Where did you get the flying dog?’ and it just comes out of my head.”