Defy Expectations—See In a New Way

6 Aug 2013

No matter the venue, the accepted rule of thumb is that a painting should always be hung just above eye level. As a result, many artists create paintings with this point of view.

Living Room, Wide Angle and Kitchen by Mitchell Long, 22 x 28, oil on paper.
Living Room, Wide Angle and Kitchen by Mitchell Long,
22 x 28, oil on paper.

Louisiana artist Mitchell Long seeks to subvert this expectation by manipulating vantage points in his paintings of landscapes, cityscapes, and interiors. He often makes the horizon line loom low or stretch high, or manipulates the picture plane so that viewers feel small—or as though they are floating a few feet off the ground.

A plein air painter of more than 20 years, Long tends to revisit a handful of locales again and again, but by investigating new approaches and compositional presentations he assures that each work resonates on its own. “I latch onto ideas or techniques that mean something to me visually,” the artist says. His desire to create dynamic visual effects has involved creating works painted in high-key ranges, using grids to overtly structure the picture plane, and developing monoprints.

Crete Street Afternoon by Mitchell Long, 22 x 30, oil on paper.
Crete Street Afternoon
by Mitchell Long, 22 x 30, oil on paper.

Although Long paints solely from life, he has recently begun experimenting with visual manipulations that are largely the domain of photography—panoramic views and fisheye effects. Sometimes the liberties he takes with perspective are a matter of circumstance. “I figure out how to make a composition work within the design or space,” he says. “A few years ago I was interested in doing a painting of my bathroom, but the space was so small that I couldn’t fit my easel in the room, so I decided to work directly on the wall. The wall became my easel. At one point I even painted while standing on the toilet and looking down.”

With his panorama paintings Long solves the challenge of being overwhelmed by too much detail by turning his back on his subject—literally. As he works, he turns away and quickly looks over his shoulder, to prevent himself from fixating on any one detail. He gets a sense of the scene at a glance, much in the way a passing viewer in a gallery or a museum would. In some paintings he alters the focal point, bringing the periphery to the fore or painting central sections in acute detail. “There’s a quote from Cezanne that I keep in mind,” Long says. “He said that if you turn your head just 90 degrees, you see a whole new world.” A slight turn of the head or twist of the neck can alter an artist’s whole perception, taking a painting to unpredictable and intriguing places—and taking a viewer along for the ride.

Hennessey Street by Mitchell Long, 16 x 28, oil.
Hennessey Street
by Mitchell Long, 16 x 28, oil.

Even with all his experimentation, Long is committed to work that combines the visual memory of how the eye sees and direct observation, much like the Impressionists and other artistic masters. “Right now I am really drawn to drawings by Cezanne and Van Gogh,” he says. “In their drawings, they articulate spaces so beautifully with so little. With just a dot and a line, the form is there.”

Long’s use of multiple vantage points makes viewers feel part of the altered state of the paintings, probably much more so than if his work was created from more conventional positions. Such experimentation came about after years of practicing art. With the formal concepts firmly in place, Long had the confidence to break the rules and take his work in new and interesting directions.

In a similar way, Inside Acrylics explores the various possibilities offered by acrylic painting—and steers its artist-readers toward discovering new ways of working. Great acrylic artists are represented and the book shines a light on deserving practitioners whose work can continue to inspire you today and well into the future. Enjoy!

Magazine Street, Early Fall by Mitchell Long, 40 x 12, oil.
Magazine Street, Early Fall
by Mitchell Long, 40 x 12, oil.



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Antonin2 wrote
on 16 Aug 2010 9:07 AM

Thank you for this article Courtney. I really like this artist !

on 16 Aug 2010 1:19 PM

I like this  type of work, it does give you a tickle in your stomach to view things differently, like hanging upside down or being on a roller coaster.  Things that were fun when I was a kid.  Wouldn`t ride those rides now!

gaylekirton wrote
on 7 Aug 2013 8:27 AM

these are great, innovative and thinking outside the box, an inspiration for someone like me who is a comparative beginner, also love the style. Learned a lot from reading the article.

on 11 Aug 2013 7:18 AM

Thank you, I liked this article  very much. I also have been using the Fish-eye perspective.