The Art Five, Issue 23, with Artist, Charley Peters
CP: I love having a studio practice where I can work in my own space but whenever I’ve made paintings outside of the studio it’s given me an opportunity to produce work that is more ambitious in terms of scale and visual impact. I enjoy the challenge of breaking the format of the rectangular canvas to paint on surfaces in the real world, and for the work to be seen by an audience outside of traditional gallery visitors. For me, one of the most exciting things about being an artist is to make work that can touch people’s lives and make them see the world differently and working in public spaces is a great way to do this. In January 2020 I made a wall painting in Southampton City Art Gallery as part of an exhibition of work made by artists involved in a recent Hospital Rooms project in Bluebird House, a secure mental health unit for young people in the New Forest. It was a way to showcase the amazing work that Hospital Rooms do within the mental healthcare system and for an audience outside of the hospital to see the work made onsite. I wanted the painting that I made in the gallery to feel like it was related to the work in the hospital but had its own identity that was unique to the space it was installed in. The hospital work was a full-room installation, like a painting that you could walk into, but in the white walled gallery space I made something less environmental and more of a ‘painting’. I used the same colour palette and basic triangular forms from the hospital painting but translated them into two almost-touching geospheres – spherical shapes made of triangular facets. I wanted them to look large but weightless, and for there to be a relational tension between them – like they were almost touching or kissing. Some of that work was made by the room itself, once the protective covering was removed you could see the reflections of the spheres in the polished gallery floor, giving the illusion that the spheres were three-dimensional and floating in space. I love that you can’t compete with the architecture of spaces but that it eventually becomes part of the work…it’s like a collaboration.
The painting at Facebook was made over lockdown in February/March 2021. From the initial meeting to signing off the work at the end of the project was only around three weeks so it was a fast and dynamic project to work on. The painting is in a dominant space in the Facebook building, just beyond the main entrance, so I wanted it to feel positive and visually impactful as it will be the first thing that most Facebook employees will see on their entry to work. In the studio I can generally paint what I want to and work things out as I go without much planning but with paintings in public spaces I usually have to provide a proposal or sketch of the work I’m planning to install. For the Facebook painting I developed a composition of overlapping circles that for me suggested the many different networks that social media enables us to develop both professionally and socially, which has been even more pertinent over lockdown. The wall was an odd shape too – but I made something that worked with its eccentricities and played with perceptions of spatial depth and scale within the space. One of the best things about working on wall paintings is that – unlike the isolated practice of painting in the studio – I’m able to work with other people to realise larger projects. At Facebook I worked with The London Mural Company, who are all skilled artists in their own right, and I learned so much from them in terms of planning and managing a large project and working more efficiently. My work is usually intuitive, and I ‘feel’ my way through things and until Facebook I’d mix wall painting colours onsite like I would do in the studio. For the painting in Southampton I only used around five different colours and then mixed them with each other or black or white to vary the colour and tone. This is a difficult and messy process, and I wasn’t able to do this at Facebook for lots of reasons. Instead, we premixed around 80 colours before we started painting and then we mixed just a few in the building. We worked with around 100 colours in the end. It’s important to acknowledge that moving the context of your work from the studio to the world outside isn’t just a case of scaling up what you already do, it involves a lot of logistical planning and the ability to respond to unfamiliar environments. It’s all worth it though, having big spaces to work in is a great opportunity to make paintings for a lot of people to enjoy.
CP: I believe that art is for everyone and it can make people think or feel differently, or just improve their day if they see something cool that makes them smile. My work is very visual and I think that allows people to relate to it in an honest way – you can have an understanding of it based on pure aesthetics and how it makes you feel when you look at it, or if you have a more academic knowledge of painting you might see different things in it; either response is valid to me, I’m not interested in long and wordy explanations of what art ‘means’ in order for people to relate to it. Because some of the motifs in my paintings are often familiar from popular culture I think that they transcend ‘learned’ knowledge and can make people connect to their own lived experiences in a natural and unique way. I think that this is only a good thing and can have a massive impact on people’s wellbeing as it encourages people to slow down and feel something new as they go about their busy and complex lives.
However, I do feel that it’s important to have a variety of artistic voices in public spaces – public art works can be intrusive and should be approached with sensitivity. There is sometimes a tendency for public artworks to follow trends rather than to consider a diversity of more thoughtful or experimental approaches. But when it’s done well, art that is embedded in everyday life can challenge, improve and inspire. For me the best art is that which is a sensory experience that takes my mind out of reality and into a more intangible internal space where I can feel enriched, stimulated, moved, or see things around me in a new way.
I’m not sure that I have specific dream locations, I love being in the city and would like the opportunity to make artworks in public outdoor spaces…sculptural works or things that are physically present in a space. I’ve recently been working on a series of digital ‘propositions’ for works that don’t exist in reality, visualising works on billboards that would be encountered around the city. I often think of my paintings as being like me creating my own fantastical worlds and I’d like to see my imaginary spaces translated into more real spaces in the world.
CP: Yes, I think so. I definitely don’t know anything much about the technicalities of colour, or not in a way that I can articulate anyway. I’m often asked to talk about colour theory but can’t do that with any authority, I’ve honestly never been interested in it. I’ve had a copy of Albers’ ‘The Interaction of Colour’ at home for years and have still only quickly flicked through it looking at the pictures. Colour for me is something that I work out as I paint, it’s very experimental and comes from a non-rational place. I start paintings thinking about colour temperature and tone – do I feel like making a ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ painting, on a ‘dark and moody’ or ‘light and illuminated’ ground? It’s not thought out in terms of how it relates to the work as a whole as I never know what I’m going to paint next. As I’ve made more paintings and start to understand more about how to achieve the illusion of light that I enjoy in my paintings, I’ve in part been able to apply more technical knowledge, but it’s mostly a process of me thinking ‘this colour would look cool next to that one’ and seeing what happens. Luckily it usually works out…I think for me it’s better to not know the ‘rules’ of colour and work things out in my own way. Other people’s rules never seem to make sense to me, it’s better that I make up my own otherwise I’m sure I’d never get anything done.
CP: My working process starts in a very intuitive way yet by the time my paintings are finished they have quite a refined sensibility. I’ve learned a lot of my techniques just from looking at a breadth of different references and spending time in the studio working things out in my own way. I don’t plan or make sketches before I start to paint but as I’m working my way through a composition I start to introduce a range of painting methods to suggest light, spatial depth, three-dimensional forms, and movement. I’m interested in graphic, visual imagery – as a child I loved watching cartoons and I was probably older than most when I realised that cartoons weren’t real. I thought that there were two worlds, the desaturated one that I lived in and the cool poppy one of cartoons, and I always wished I could move into that one as I was sure I’d like it more. In my teens and early 20s I played computer games, read Sci-Fi and horror literature with amazing illustrated book covers, and watched music videos on rotation for hours on MTV. I’ve always found a visual world that inspires me on a screen. I also love being in the city, I grew up in Birmingham which was mostly urban and grey, but decorated and illuminated by grimy graffiti, neon signs and car headlights. I love artificial lights and high key colours and that’s why I’m drawn to using acrylic paints as they capture the synthetic world so well.
I also love looking at other artists’ paintings. You learn so much from standing quietly in front of an Agnes Martin painting and understanding how purely and thinly she mixed her paint, and how her pencil lines gently wobbled across the surface of the canvas. The paintings I fell in love with at art school were the big ballsy American abstract paintings of the post-war era – Krasner, Newman, Stella, Frankenthaler, Mitchell and Reinhardt. I think that my work now combines a lot of knowing references to Modernist abstraction and more everyday experiences of visual imagery that we encounter on our phones or computers. It’s like a mega mix of things that I’ve spent time with over the years, reconfigured on a canvas.
I can’t start painting knowing what I’m going to make, my brain won’t let me begin with a plan…I can only start ‘seeing’ things once I’ve got colour on the canvas, then I can react to it by varying the tone and adding relational shapes. I draw scruffy little sketches in between each layer of painting and often work over things that are already on the canvas. People are often surprised that my paintings are quite lumpy and physical in real life because when you see them online they look very graphic and precise…but they are definitely paintings and not images, they have textures and inconsistencies and you can see the layers of work underneath the painting’s surface.
CP: Although I haven’t dropped any NFTs yet, I am currently in talks about doing so…so I might have more news on this soon! I’m still learning about NFTs but what I’m really interested in about them is the way in which they have the potential to democratise the art world and give artists outside of the traditional gallery system a voice. This is how I see social media too, it’s allowed me to be present and connect with more artists, collectors, gallerists or people who are just interested in my work than opportunities in the real world have ever allowed. It’s an important part of my professional practice each day and I’ve had some amazing conversations about art on social media, as well as finding cool projects and meeting people who have become friends in real life. I like showing images from my studio on social media and talking about how my paintings are made, I enjoy sharing these insights as I believe that everyone should have space in their lives to be creative and shouldn’t be scared to make a mark or express themselves. Being an artist is the best and I want as many people as possible to feel the happiness that I do in the studio each day.
Thank you to Charley Peters for participating in The Art Five, Issue 23.
Charley Peters will be showing new paintings at London Art Fair, 19 - 23 January 2022, with Virginia Damtsa / Virginia Visual Arts.
About Charley Peters
Charley Peters lives and works in London and exhibits internationally, showing recently at Saatchi Gallery (London), Eagle Gallery at London Art Fair (London), Hauser & Wirth Showroom (London), Fold Gallery (London), Z20 Sara Zanin Gallery (Rome), Yantai Art Museum (Yantai), Art 2 (New York) and National Museum of Gdansk (Gdansk). Her clients include House of Vans, Facebook, ITV, Centrepoint, Everpress, Boutique Kaotique and Hospital Rooms. Peters completed a PhD in Fine Art Theory and Practice in 2006, which explored notions of interior space in art and its relationship to Freud’s writings on The Uncanny, and she has contributed writing about painting to online and print publications that include Instantloveland, A-N, Turps Banana and Abstract Critical. Peters is a peer reviewer for The Journal of Contemporary Painting and on the editorial board of Turps Banana. She is a visiting tutor in Fine Art at City & Guilds of London Art School, a visiting painting mentor at Turps Art School and a Postgraduate Senior Lecturer at University of the Arts London.
All images courtesy of the Artist.