Celebrating the idiosyncratic and sometimes chaotic nature of contemporary life, Charlie Roberts is an uncompromisingly energetic and uninhibited artist. Acrobatic amazons with hip hop swagger pull shapes like they fell out of a Matisse painting and into the 21st century, competing for attention with vibrant hand-carved totem poles that look like archaic incarnations of 90s computer game characters, and his earlier complex landscapes that stagger down the page in a torrent of spontaneous action. Charlie Robert’s debut London solo exhibition opens on Thursday 19th February 2015 at Atomica Gallery.
Interview by Hazel Perryman, an illustrator and writer based in South-East London.
First of all, can you describe a typical working day?
My work days vary depending on the project. When I’m making carvings I tend to try to get a jump on things and start early and work a solid 8-9 hour day. With the smaller watercolors I will often start after my son is in bed and work through the night. I’m also working a lot on the road which is nice. Going with the flow seems to work for me.
Your recent work is more figurative and has a more singular focus than your earlier work, for example focusing on a single interaction or part of a story. Can you explain a bit about the journey your ideas have taken to get to this point?
It was an unconscious transition from the overloaded pictures to the more refined subtle pictures. As I began to think more about the architecture of the picture and the color combinations I think they naturally simplified. The older works were started in one corner and basically filled up, whereas now I draw the structure first. There is more control in the new system.
Do you think living in Norway has affected the content and aesthetic of your work? How?
Norway has certainly affected the work. The palate became more subdued. The light here is different and the aesthetics are much cleaner and more muted.
The figures in your new paintings are monumental and sculptural. Do you think there is a connection between your practise as a wood carver and these paintings?
Good observation. I think you are the first to mention it. Yes the system of drawing out the sculptures and the necessity to keep things simple and elegant have influenced the lines in the flat works. Also the way objects and figures overlap and lines connect and relate in the new flat works comes directly from the sculpture practice.
The content and presentation of some of your early work suggests to me you’re a bit of a cultural anthropologist, documenting the artefacts and social customs of the people around you. What story do you think you wanted to tell?
The story paintings were manic and scatterbrained. They tended to be either exaggerations of stories from my youth in Kansas or genre explorations. The beats in them were influenced by Hollywood genre movies. They were less about the story and more about the action, as any action movie worth its salt should be.
You said recently that your early paintings were like stories, and your recent paintings are more like poems. What affected this change?
I think that is just growing up. Realizing the optimum use for the medium. If you’re going to tell stories make movies, flat pictures require mystery to be successful.
What is inspiring you at the moment?
Always the new Rap and Pop music. Lil Bibby, Ot Genasis, Dej Loaf, Fat Trel, Og Maco, Cheif Keef. Charli XCX, and on and on. I’m a sponge, sucking up all of the good shit.
Finally, what direction do you see your work taking in the future?
Join us for the opening reception of Charlie Roberts solo exhibition ‘SOFT LIFE/HARD NITES’ on Thursday 19th February 6-9pm.
All work will be available to purchase. To request a copy of the preview catalogue please email firstname.lastname@example.org
‘SOFT LIFE/HARD NITES’ CHARLIE ROBERTS SOLO EXHIBITION
19th February – 7th March 2015
Opening Reception: Thurs 19th Feb 6-9pm
Atomica Gallery, 7 Greens Court, London, W1F 0HQ